for release May 31, 2002
by Melodie Davis
Note to Editors: This is part 3 of a special 3-part Another Way series on Aging
Reinventing the Way We Age: How to Face Aging
I don't want a fountain of youth. I don't want to live until I'm 200. But I would like to live maybe until I'm 100, and have at least a few family members and friends nearby. I don't want my kids to forget me. I want to be one of those little old ladies people call "cute" or "spry." In this column we'll look at how to create an environment where people have fewer difficulties in aging.
Aging is part of life. To try to avoid aging is to rob life of some of its beauty. That's not to say that everything about aging is beautiful. It can be painful-physically and emotionally. Those who work in the field of aging say there are three keys to aging successfully: 1) continue your education, continue to learn; 2) continue to develop relationships; and 3) continue to be involved in the community.
Barbara Thompson, a professor at the Institute for Medical Humanities, Galveston, Texas, has concerns about some of the anti-aging medicine that is appearing. "I worry that in our quest for continuing youth, we are perhaps not keeping ... aging in perspective. Aging is not all bad. As I talk to many of my older patients, I see the serenity they have and the long-range view. Aging offers opportunities to become more fulfilled as human beings." She feels that by embracing aging, we rise above the indignities, pain, and frailties.
One way to improve the caregiving picture for the future is to begin to expect that we will spend some time living with our children, or that our parents will live with us. Short of that, housing units that allow for intergenerational living can create an environment where old and young benefit from having other generations close by.
A recent article on immigrants pointed out that immigrants were more likely to have more people in their households, including generally a grandpa, grandmother, elderly aunt or uncle in addition to Mom, Dad and some children. Here in North America we are simply not as accustomed to this as the norm. We tend to think of those who have elderly parents living with them as the exception, rather than the rule.
One woman who took care of her elderly mother for over eight years said, "While we were going through it, it seemed endless. But now, here we are, and it is all over." This woman now looks back at those years with very good memories even though of course they were very difficult and many times she didn't know how she could possibly go on. Determination, love, faith, and a good sense of humor helped them through.
My aunt Susie had a wry sense of humor and she taught us many things about aging well. As she neared death she seemed to go back and forth between the actual world, the world in her mind, and the future world of heaven that she believed in passionately. We never knew what "world" we would find her in. She would talk about "eating cookies under the kitchen table with Jesus" and I thought, "She is just thinking so much about heaven she is imagining she is there."
She was particularly confused after one surgery that was intended to make her more comfortable. Anesthesia often makes elderly patients quite confused for six months or more after the surgery.
One day after surgery, her pastor came to see her. He and everyone thought that her life was surely nearing the end. He walked into the room and he thought she was asleep. But he put his hand on her shoulder and said, "Susie, it's John Murray here to see you." Susie opened her eyes, quickly grabbed his arm with both hands and with surprising strength, pulled him down to where his face was directly in front of hers. She said, "John Murray, if you're here, I must not be dead yet." He said he didn't know what he did to keep from laughing out loud and assured her that she was still very much alive.
Susie went on to live several more years and John continued to visit her. Shortly before she celebrated her 100th birthday, he wrote, "It is a gift to be able to walk with people like Susie in the later stages of life. Susie's example has shown me what it means to be faithful in life and to live in faith at the end of life. She has shown me that I don't need to fear either nursing homes or death, and that our spirit and God's spirit continue in communion even when our minds have become clouded."
And that's what most of us want, isn't it? To not fear aging or death. There are many keys to getting there and we've only scratched the surface of this subject, but I hope you've been inspired to think some new thoughts.
For a free booklet, "Growing Older Without Fear," or copies of this entire 3-part series, write to: Melodie Davis, Another Way c/o Name\Address of YOUR newspaper; or e-mail: Melodie@mennomedia.org.
You can also visit Another Way on the Web at www.thirdway.com.
Melodie Davis is the author of seven books and has written her column since 1987. She taught feature writing and has won awards from a number of organizations including the National Federation of Press Women, Virginia Press Women and the American Advertising Association. She and her husband have three growing daughters.
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