Survival Guide for Old Age

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


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10 Responses to Survival Guide for Old Age

  1. Jim Taylor

    Marjorie, I am filled with admiration.

    Jim T

    • Marjorie

      Jim – I always feel awkward about accepting a compliment – somehow feel it is more than I deserve, and that it may well be! However, thank you for your kind words. If you gleaned something from my essay, I am well pleased. Marjorie

  2. Joyce Schuman

    You have taught me so much. Thank you.

    • Marjorie

      Joyce – Thank you for being such a loyal reader! Tell me, what would that large, loving family of yours say about my musings? Their viewpoint could be different from ours, and would be of interest to me. Keep in touch, Marjorie

  3. Dorothy

    As usual, a thoughtful essay on a topic more and more of us are facing either personally or through friends and family. I had to smile at the line “when did you lose him” Of course it is well intentioned – but you have to wonder if a small child was listening would they think we went on a hike with our spouses and they somehow wandered off? Rather a scary thought! I do like how you always come back to taking responsibility for ourselves; that in fact the “Hell” is often of our own making, not because we set up the situation, but because we refuse to adapt to it. I look forward to the rest of this literary journey. Thank you Marjorie!

    • Marjorie

      Dorothy – It is hard to admit, but I miss things sometime, and Isabel just reminded me that I had not answered you! That was a mistake! Getting responses from my readers is what keeps me writing. We are all unique. Despite that we seem to experience so many of the same things – joys, fears, problems, successes. It is through these shared experiences I am sometimes able to reach and learn from my fellow travelers on the path. Thank you for your comments.

  4. Eveline

    Tomorrow we go to Edmonton for a Going Away party for Bruce’s brother. With his leukaemia diagnosis a month ago, it is what he asked his family to do. So we will meet, 70 of us, old neighbours, workmates, friends, extended family to do a family photo, to eat a light supper, share a glass of wine and celebrate a life with the person who has lived it.

    How is that for doing death differently, not being stuck in the old ways, embracing change?

    Thanks Marjorie. Thought provoking as always.

    • Marjorie

      Eveline and Bruce – thanks for telling us of this. Of course there is grief mixed with the love, but what a great thing to do! He will carry the warmth and love with him, for as long the leukemia lets him live. The memories of the family get-together, the pictures he can look at again and again – it will ease the passage. May he go easily. My love to you all.

  5. Judith

    What a well-written and important reminder about one of life’s important lessons. And I like Kate’s title!

    • Marjorie

      Judith – Always good to have my granddaughters onside! Thanks for the comments. Somehow life seems to constantly require changes. Guess we all have to keep alert – regardless of our ages.