The years pile up. Age creeps up slowly, hardly noticed at first. A woman lives in the same home for fifty years. She has a profession and develops it seriously. At home she shares the all-important business of raising a family, keeps the house, does community work, and gardens. Slowly, one by one, all slip away. In the end, it is only she and the house. It becomes imperative now that she make a big change. This is beyond her imagination and she rejects all insistence to do so.
Making a major move is trying at any time. At an advanced age it can be traumatic. Two known constants in life – inevitable change, and resistance to change – are now at loggerheads. More education regarding aging, and the timing and managing of major changes, would be very helpful in many cases. Where can ordinary people get good, reliable information about such a common experience?
When I hear people discussing old age, my mind flips back about seven hundred years to 1310 and a man named Dante Alighieri. His epic poem, “The Divine Comedy”, is revered by literary scholars. My knowledge of it is confined to one line: “Abandon All Hope, Ye Who Enter Here.” This is what Dante inscribed on his word-picture of the grim gates to Hell.
An unknown scholar who studied Dante’s poem made a psychologically astute statement. He claimed that the souls Dante depicted in Hell were those of people incapable of change. He said, “In thinking about Dante’s damned, one sees a quality familiar to all of us; the kind of person who would rather be miserable than change.” I find to my chagrin that once in a while I have to stop and ask myself, “Is this one of those times when I must change to enable me to handle this problem, or do I want to stay in a Hell of my own making?”
Being old, I see and recognize the commonness of resistance to change. It is present in myself and my peers. There are other adjustments, too, with which I struggle.
Nonetheless, struggle or no, it is impossible to avoid making decisions. Those I make shape my life – what I get from it, or give to it. If I have something to aim for, my decisions are better than the “spur of the moment” kind. And yet, as a society we seem to put off talking about, or doing much planning for, the years at the end of our lives. It is almost as if we believe that if we don’t talk about old age and death, they will not happen! As one example, I have yet to have anyone ask me, “When did your husband die?” The question is phrased, “When did he pass away?” or “When did you lose him?” Good, socially acceptable questions from caring, kind people, but I find myself answering, “He died over three years ago.”
So, how can we make better decisions? I endorse some accepted beliefs: informed decisions make living life better and easier; it is advisable to accept old age and death as natural, and plan for both; and we should start early in life to learn how to make good decisions.
“But where will I garner such important knowledge?” I hear you cry.
One place to start is to make a short list of what you think you need to live happily, interested in your day-to-day living, and confident that life can be handled – right to the end.
I can hear my readers’ frustrated complaints. “Where do I find the information I need? How do I decide what will make me happy and contented? Will I need professional help to work this all out? If training sessions are set up, who pays the cost? This is a democracy. Is there guidance for every level?”
I can’t answer all those questions, but my experience is that the short list, at least, is easier to do as I get older. Mine includes good and loving relationships with family – important all through life and especially in later years; close friends whom I can enjoy and see frequently; a good seniors’ residence, near to family; financial stability; and mental stimulation.
Of course, all my planning does not ensure that all will go smoothly. Remember the Eastern proverb, “Man plans, and God laughs!” Still, giving it a good try makes for more inner peace. And sometimes, it even helps me change when change is what is needed.
Enough for this time! Come with me next time as I wander through a series of “What ifs”, and see what develops. Can we improve and enrich our final years? What if we borrowed aspects from another culture? What if . . . and on and on it goes. I don’t know yet where the path will lead, but will start and see. Join me on the journey.
Credits to a granddaughter, Kate Shapiro Hultquist, for the title “Survival Guide for Old Age.” An oxymoron to join the other riddles! Also, thanks to the Manor’s Writing Class for sitting through another revision. MMG