3498– Thursday, October 3, 2019 — Can We Really Grow Old Gracefully? Part 1

growing old gracefully_main

Let’s be honest.  Growing old is not like fine wine aging.  Growing old is not “golden years.”  Growing old means infirmity.  Growing old means watching friends and loved ones suffer and die.  Growing old means dealing with pain, doctors, medications, surgery and increasing illness.  In short, growing old sucks or does it?  Can growing old bring true happiness and meaning to our lives?  Can we really grow old gracefully?

Last week I went to a conference on care-giving.  My spouse Karen went with me.  It was held at the Wisconsin Indianhead Technical College in New Richmond, Wisconsin.  The title of the conference was “A Positive Approach to Care.”  The keynote speaker and also a workshop presenter was a remarkable woman named Teepa Snow.  To paraphrase a famous quote, I would say that the conference was “Not for the faint of heart.”  The participants seemed to be divided between professional caregivers like nurses and aides and family members who had care-giving responsibilities thrust on them due to the illness of a loved one.  Many more women than men were in attendance, but the demographics of the attendees included young and old alike.

The conference was a challenge for me because it touched on many topics that I would rather ignore.  If I can only keep my head down or buried in the ground perhaps the things that they discussed would never happen to me or anyone I love.  Of course, this last thought is fake.  These things are already happening to many people I know and love.  Two of my good friends are in homes as I speak with increasing dementia and not expected to live out the rest of the year.  They can no longer recognize old friends or deal with life in the forceful energetic manner that was once typical of them.  Before these things can happen to me, I want to run and hide someplace.  But there is no where to hide, is there!  The alternative is to find a way to succeed in dying and not to let dying succeed in diminishing us.  Death can take our bodies, but it cannot take our spirits.

I found ten attributes at the conference from listening to the speakers and observing and studying the stories that were told that I think can help our spirits as we age.  I am calling these “The Ten Attributes for Growing Old Gracefully.”  I have created a checklist for these attributes which I am going to use on a weekly basis to see how well I have done at following them.  If you prefer, think of these ten attributes as a multi-vitamin for emotional aging.  You may not need all ten of them each day, but at least one of these each day will certainly do you no harm and may help to make your life easier and happier.  The order of these is of no importance.

meaning and purpose

  1. A sense of purpose and meaning

You may well ask “What is the difference between purpose and meaning?”  Purpose is the things that you plan to do each day or with the rest of your life.  Purpose should be something you enjoy doing and are good at.  You get up in the morning with a purpose.  Meaning concerns the usefulness or strength of feeling that you have for your purpose.  Meaning comes from making a difference in the world or trying to make a difference.  Meaning comes from helping others or giving back to the world.  Meaning provides the world with beauty and grace.  Purpose without meaning is boring.

I like to think that my purpose now is writing.  I believe that I write well, and I enjoy writing very much.  The meaning of my writing comes from the sense that I hope my writing will help others find peace and joy in their lives.  I often receive comments attesting to the fact that others are helped by my writing.  This keeps inspiring me and helping me to continue.

“There is not one big cosmic meaning for all; there is only the meaning we each give to our life, an individual meaning, an individual plot, like an individual novel, a book for each person.”  ― Anaïs Nin,

courage

  1. Courage

If you are growing old, there are no doubt days when you wish you could just leave this world.  We all have days of depression, misery and pain.  Suicide is highest among the elderly.  Who among us has not thought of suicide as a viable option to growing old?  Thus, the saying that “Aging is not for the faint of heart.”

I have written about my good friend Brian who committed suicide about four years ago.  He was 68 at the time.  There are many things that could be said about why he chose this path, but they all seem irrelevant now.  I miss him and so do many other people.  Brian was one of the most positive people you could ever meet.  Nevertheless, the prospect of growing old in a nursing home dictated his actions.

Why, you might ask should we have courage when we are going to lose the battle anyway?  I guess it all comes down to how you want to face the foe.  Do you want to go to your death on your knees or with dignity and grit?  I prefer the route of true grit.  I try to keep in mind the famous quote from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar: “Cowards die many times before their death, the valiant only die once.”

Perhaps a better reason for courage are the people that love you and care about you.  Would they choose that you leave the world earlier or later?  What difference can you make to them by choosing courage and the will to live?

“Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength, while loving someone deeply gives you courage.”  ― Lao Tzu

humor

  1. Humor

Did you have any fun today?  Did you see any humor is some recent news or event where others only see doom and gloom?  It is very easy to get all wrapped up in the misery and disasters that plague our daily news.  We live in a society that seldom seems to present us with much humor.  But what would any life be without some humor.

Each day when I get together with our local library group, we have some fun by laughing at some of the stupidity that surrounds us.  A social group that can laugh at the world is helpful to my sanity.  One of the guys is always good for laughs since he has a “fun meter” that he uses to gauge our group conversations.  It goes from blue to red.  When he is enjoying or having fun in a discussion, he moves his fun meter to red.  When conversations turns bleak or sometimes idiotic, he moves his meter to blue.  Not only is his meter a good source of laughs but he is always good for laughs with some of his other antics.

Can you find one thing each day to laugh about?  Do you build some fun into your life?  If your answer is no to either of these questions, you really need to start today to have some fun.

“And the sun and the moon sometimes argue over who will tuck me in at night.  If you think I am having more fun than anyone on this planet, you are absolutely correct.”   ― Hafiz

Finding-Joy

  1. Finding joy in your life

Sounds like the same as finding humor but it is not.  Finding joy in your life means to find things each day that you enjoy doing or just simply being.  For many people, it means finding ways to help others.  It is related to finding a purpose or meaning in life since it is hard to find joy without finding a purpose that makes you happy.

However, finding joy can mean simply enjoying a rainy day.  It can mean enjoying a good book or sitting on a beach and watching the tide roll in.  I can find joy in doing nothing, but it takes reflection to find joy.  You must think about what you are doing.  At some point, I say “Wow, I will really enjoy doing this or maybe today I will enjoy doing nothing.”  I don’t need a widget or gadget to make my life.  I am responsible for my own joy and happiness.  It is a thought that makes one miserable or happy and you can find joy in life when you choose joyful thoughts.

“Sometimes your joy is the source of your smile, but sometimes your smile can be the source of your joy.”  ― Thich Nhat Hanh

grateful

  1. Gratitude

St. Ignatius believed ingratitude to be “The cause, beginning, and origin of all evils and sins.”  Ingratitude makes us look at things that others have and want them.  Ingratitude makes us unhappy and miserable with our own lives.  Growing old, it is always easy to look at what others have and find a deficit in our lives.  Friends may have more money, bigger homes, better retirement living, more vacations, nicer cars, better physical condition and even “better” grandchildren.

No matter what the world brings, you can always find something or someone who is better, smarter and probably happier than you are.  It is not observing these things which will bring you unhappiness.  It is forgetting to see the good things in your own life.  No matter how bad life is or the cards we are dealt, there is always something that we can find to be grateful for.  I love flowers and every day; I look at the flowers that my wife has planted, and I am grateful for her taking the time and effort to try to make our home beautiful.  I can easily find people with nicer gardens, more flowers, less weeds, better displays but forgetting to appreciate what I have makes for an unhappy existence.

At the end of each day, see if you can find one thing to be grateful for.  If you start thinking about such a list, you will undoubtedly find several things to be grateful for.

“Do not spoil what you have by desiring what you have not; remember that what you now have was once among the things you only hoped for.”   ― Epicurus

Part 2 – To Be Continued.

I will share my 6 through 10 attitudes for graceful aging in the next blog I post.

3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Jane Fritz
    Oct 05, 2019 @ 08:39:56

    I hope you are following this excellent advice, John! 😏

    Reply

    • Dr. John Persico Jr.
      Oct 05, 2019 @ 09:51:07

      Jane, I wish I could honestly say that I always do but that is not always the case. BTW, one of the people I was referring to in this blog died last night. He meant a great deal to me. Someday I will do a blog just for him. He was a remarkable man.

      Reply

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