Aging in Place is a Dynamic Self-determined Process of living in a home environment safely and INTER-dependently as you age.
This is a very personal post about the emotional rollercoaster that is witnessing the aging of our parents. Much has been written about it and more eloquently than I can muster up, but I want to share some hard-won insights.
It seems every week I read a Facebook post from old friends about the passing of their parents. The tributes are viscerally moving and many of them I knew personally. The loss is so final and unimaginable, and yet we all must go on without them. A professor I once knew had lost his father, and he described it as now being “the outer layer of the onion.” He was now the patriarch, a role that was reluctantly thrust onto his shoulders.
For many of us watching the slow steady decline of once vital and steadfast people in our lives is disorienting. We end up having conversations (often too late in the process) we never imagined we have–or doing caregiving tasks that once were family taboos, such as changing our parent’s diapers. We do our best to live at the margins of our working/family obligations while attempting to respond to what seems like a steady stream of crisis interventions; each leading to a lower bar of “new normal.” All the while we’re reminded of our own aging and thoughts of how it will be for us in the not-too-distant future. This can lead to a fear of our own aging.
Ending of Home
I’ve had to negotiate difficult conversations with siblings, wrestle with the medical system and negotiate the labyrinth that is modern healthcare, de-clutter my childhood home, go through and give away to charities or toss out an endless array of family artifacts (meaningful objects), read letters and cards from decades ago–a life review imposed by a deadline of rapid Senescence (and did I mention guilt?)…This is not for the faint of heart (and much more as you all know too well who are going through this).
Eventually, this all ends with the selling of the family home. I’m still trying to come to grips with this one…This was the built environment where we shaped our lives, it sheltered us, was a gathering place for life’s most important events, and essentially the aircraft carrier of our lives–a place we took off and landed from birth to death. It’s challenging to think it will not be in the family anymore; nor will the landline phone number that I called to report in my entire life.
This structure will soon house a new family, with new events and life will go on and the cycle continues…
I came across a book by Susan David, PhD, that has been of solace during this of change and loss. Emotional Agility is rich in concepts and a somewhat contrarian view of difficult emotions:
Emotional Agility is a process that allows you to be in the moment, changing or maintaining your behaviors to live in ways that align with your intentions and values. The process isn’t about ignoring difficult emotions and thoughts. It’s about holding those emotions and thoughts loosely, facing them courageously and compassionately, and then moving past them to make big things happen in your life (p.11).
The author, for me, hits the nail on the head concerning coming to grips with our aging parents with this following paragraph:
In fact, one of the great paradoxes of human experience is that we can’t change ourselves or our circumstances until we accept what exists right now. Acceptance is a prerequisite for change. This means giving permission for the world to be as it is, because it’s only when we stop trying to control the universe that we make peace with it. We still don’t like the things we don’t like; we just cease to be at war with them. And once the war is over, change can begin.
The gift is to help our parents, to be there for them as they were for us, and when the time comes, accept the change and prepare for the future.