By Connie S. At age 68 I have given some thought to the process of aging, and have determined that what is most daunting in it for me is the fear of becoming powerless. After all, one of the attempts of my husband and me, to counter the impression that we are becoming frail victims was to install a new doorbell. When pushed, it responds with a deep growl followed by several seconds of loud barking. Those who are unaware that my husband’s feet and my knees will not allow us to walk a dog will assume that we own a large, territorial animal, who will protect us and our property.
Thus, technology and other external supports have compensated for our diminishing abilities. For example, my husband, turning 70, just failed his eye exam for the renewal of his driver’s license. When my schedule will not allow me to drive him, he takes the bus or arranges rides with others. He has a new speech recognition program that allows him to compose on the computer without straining to see the keyboard. Another technology will magnify what appears on the monitor. His cell phone reads aloud text on the screen. We both listen to audio books. With all of those aides, our lives have not diminished.
Another antidote to aging is to recognize and honor the child within us. Sometimes, I take a Scrabble board to a friend who is homebound. For an evening, we play, laugh and sing. My heart is filled with a sense of renewal as I drive home. I get the same result from crafting; after all, isn’t it just an extension of the childhood activity of coloring? When I complete a greeting card, a well-composed page of a scrapbook or a small gift for a friend, I have concrete evidence that I can beautify my environment, rather than feel a victim to it. Recently, my husband dreamed that he was successfully fighting off aliens with stuffed toys of popular cartoon characters. I am sure his subconscious was reminding him of the power of play.
Maintaining a positive attitude, e.g., focusing on things other than our losses and pains will also give us joy in our declining years. New activities, such as learning Spanish and compiling our genealogy remove our minds from constantly taking our internal temperature, as it were. Being grateful is incompatible with being grumpy. Serving the needs of others – even if it is only to listen deeply and sensitively as they mourn their losses – will help us recognize that we are not facing changes alone and that we still have the power to improve the lives of others.
Similarly, we have the power to improve our own lives. We can eat the foods that will help, rather than those that will hurt us. We can gently exercise and can hydrate as we have been prompted to through the years. We can follow regular sleep habits, including a short nap to refresh us, if necessary, in the afternoon. At least, if illness strikes after all we have done to improve or maintain our health, we will not struggle under the additional burden of self-recrimination.
After all of these efforts to maintain control of our lives, the next two steps are the opposite. First, we need to “let go”: I knew a well-to-do woman who in her later years gave away all of her fine linens, bone china and sterling ware. She sighed – not with a sense of loss, but instead with great relief — and added, “You have no idea what freedom it is not to host dinner parties any longer, now that I no longer have all that stuff.” Another example of letting go is to ask for help. Many heavy physical chores are simply beyond us at this point. Sometimes we pay for help; other times we simply request assistance from a younger, stronger person.
Second, we can “let God help.” If painful illness or terminal prognosis does strike, in spite of all the above, there is one more tool available to help us. That is to take the long view. My father owned in his last hours that “[dying] is very hard work”. He and we who love him prayed to help him endure to the end. There is a loving God who answered those prayers with “the peace…which passeth all understanding” (Philippians 4:7). If we can, in the midst of the worst of it, turn ourselves over to His loving care, we may be assured that what is beyond our failing mortal powers is in the hands of the great, omnipotent being. We may, at that point, relinquish our need for control and rest in the certainty that there is peace in our limitless future.