Last Leg of the Journey: Dancing or Crawling

ElderlyParents

By Lorraine Iverson. There's transitioning and then, there's TRANSITIONING! Last month I talked about my own transition out of work and into a time for me. But I'm also experiencing, as many of us are, my own mother's transition. The big one! She's not in the active process of dying but she is definitely deteriorating. I'm examining all my emotions and reactions to that and trying to understand my sadness, frustration, fear and anger.

Sadness. This is simple to understand. The person who's known you longer than anyone is fading away. No matter your relationship over the years, there is sadness.

Frustration. This is also pretty easy to fathom. You've traded roles with your parent. You are now in charge of them and they aren't acting like you think they should. They won't eat properly. They don't follow directions. They are messy and clumsy. Just like all the stuff you did when they were in charge of you.

Fear. How bad can this get? How are we going to pay for what is needed between now and the end? I can't leave her alone, she'll fall. People can hurt her. Lots and lots of fear around taking care of elderly family. Perhaps the biggest fear underlying it all is the fear for ourselves. Are we headed in the same direction? Who will take care of me? How can I stop this train.

Anger. Now that's the toughest emotion I have to deal with right now. Why am I so angry? Why am I feeling like a non-compassionate b*tch? What is my anger really about? I believe the anger is a combination of all the other emotions we discussed with a big dose of "this is out of my control" thrown in.

In our home we are dealing with two elderly mothers. One's mind is going. The other's body is giving up. Which is worse? Both options suck. But I am having similar emotions in different order about each of them. A lot has been written about our age group and our challenges with our parents. Just about the time you think you can relax, retire, kick back and enjoy life, you're dealing with diapers on a whole new scale. I have had this same discussion with so many of my friends. We're all in the same boat. But I am also blessed with some "elderly" friends who are traveling on a different road than our mothers. Or perhaps I should say they are traveling the road in a different way. It is the way I want to travel.

My friends, Hope and Gail, are in the same age group as our mothers, but they are thriving. Sure they've had some health issues, set-backs and heartache in their lives, but they are not defined by the negatives. They are positive and hopeful and living in the now.

I asked these two amazing women three questions about themselves and the aging experience. Their feedback gives me optimism and courage.

#1 What is your belief about aging? A word that came up a lot in both my conversations was choice - that we have some choice in how react to the inevitability of aging. Hope also talked about how she had great role models in her family and friends. People who continued to learn and stimulate their brains far into their later years. People who enjoyed their dotage. Consequently she moved into that time of her life with independence and courage. And Gail lives in the belief that you are as old as you think you are. Nothing seems to slow her down. I was there when she came out of the operating room after her mastectomy. She sat up on the gurney and said, " Well, that's done. Now let's get on with it." And she did.

#2 Why are you still so vital and creative? Courage - to face life's tragedies and challenges but still maintain your identity, rather than collapsing under the pain and being identified by it. Both women left long marriages later in life because those relationships no longer served them. They set out on their own and created themselves as who they wanted to be.

Gail didn't even begin her career until she was 43. She ran a very successful financial management firm until she was 73. While she was doing that she went back to college to finish her bachelor's degree at 62 and her masters at 73. She sold her business to paint and travel. She's still doing a lot of both at 83.

Hope attributes her vitality to enthusiasm for life. She believes she inherited that from her father. That enthusiasm forms an aura around her. I always feel it in her presence. When she left her long-term marriage she sold the house, bought a van, packed up the kids and moved to California. No job, just a belief in herself to succeed. How's that for reinventing yourself!? She credits her involvement in causes, charities, church activities and family with keeping her vital.

#3 What have you done differently from others your age who decided to get old/elderly. Everything about these two women answered the above question. They ignored the number on their birth certificates. But, at the same time, they are proud to talk about their age. It's like, "Hey, look it me. I'm 83 and I'm kicking life's ass!"

They didn't let things like loss or even cancer define them. I also noticed as we talked how generous both of them are. They’re selfless without giving up who they are as women. They have kept their families close without being meddlesome or judgmental. So they remain deeply connected to them, which also keeps them young. They are both also deeply connected to their spiritual life. Not religious - spiritual. And in spirit there is no age.

I dearly love my mother and my mother-in-law. I will be by their sides as they travel their last stage of this journey. But I choose to model my own aging as Hope and Gail have - with joy and gusto.

Yes, we are all in transition. It's really all about how you choose to do it. Gail put it very well, "Death is inevitable, a blessing and to go toward it with as much grace as possible is my mission."