From ‘doing’ to ‘being’
By Liz Foss
You’ve probably heard people say, “Don’t ever get old,” or “Getting old is not for sissies.” This is usually related to physical ailments that are ever more present as the aging process continues. Some people deal with physical changes with equanimity, others seem to enjoy the “organ recital” (highly detailed descriptions of physical ailments), and some become depressed and discouraged as the body fails.
If the body that has served us so well no longer works like it did, that can contribute to feelings of frustration and anger. Loss of autonomy and dependence on a younger person is hard to accept.
Another challenge is locating new sources of fulfillment and joy when jobs, careers and family no longer dictate how our time is spent and give shape to our identity. What gives us meaning and satisfaction? If we are no longer “producers” of income or healthy children and families, what is our role?
Our early and middle adult years do not adequately prepare us for the new role of being an older adult. We are groomed to be productive, and shifting out of this role and into the unfamiliar role of retiree may produce feelings of despair and depression.
Then, if we live long enough, chances are we may outlive our life companion ~ and perhaps friends and other family members, as well. This may have effects beyond just the loss of the loved one. We may no longer be able to live independently. Having to move to an unknown place during a time of grief makes the loss even greater. Another component of the loss is losing the people who really knew you.
Whether the aging process facing you or your loved one is comfortable or filled with bumps and challenges, the process of “life review” is an important one. A reflection on the successes and failures of our life may produce the desire to tie up some loose ends or tend to some unfinished business. It’s a time of questioning as to whether there are things still undone or unsaid that need attention. Ask questions: If there are regrets, can anything be done now? How will I be remembered by my children and grandchildren?
Having some sort of spiritual grounding is helpful to many grappling with these issues of declining health, bereavement, changes in feelings of self-worth and purpose and even accepting one’s own death. Spirituality does not have to involve organized religion, although statistics show that older adults are more likely to belong to a religious community. An understanding and acceptance of yourself in all the stages of your life and in the context of a “greater power,” if that is part of your belief system, can be a great help in dealing with the challenges of aging. A spiritual person can see the beauty and connectedness in everyday events and take nourishment that way. Making the transition from “doing” to “being” is hard, but possible, with an honest review of your life, forgiveness of yourself and others and an acceptance of things that are beyond your control.
Many seniors find the practice of organized religion helpful and comforting, but it is not necessary to have a strong spiritual life. Music, meditation, doing things you love and letting go are all ways to be spiritual, even if you are not religious.
To quote Dolly Parton, “We cannot direct the wind, but we can control the sails.”
Liz Foss runs Seniors Helping Seniors, a non-medical, in-home care agency. Having worked as an accountant for nonprofits for many years, Foss now has her own business, which hires active seniors to help people remain in their homes for as long as possible. Seniors Helping Seniors provides services in Worcester County. For more information, visit seniorshelpingseniors.com/worcesterarea, call (508) 885-6004 or email Foss at email@example.com.