As I watch many of my older clients confront challenging aspects of the aging journey, I’m aware of the emotional angst that this sometimes engulfs them and often extends to family members who love them.
As with all of us, change is not easy and can feel overwhelming.
Emotions are triggered and a sense of control over life seems lost.
Our routines, although some days dull, seem to keep a frame around the picture of our lives and there is comfort in them.
What is often present, however, amidst the turmoil that is playing out—whether it be a change of residence, a necessary adaptation that may come with an unexpected health challenge or an increasing loss of memory of what used to be familiar and easily discerned—is often the presence of an inner strength, a resolve to find some footing, some little piece of solid ground to stand on.
Dr. Eva Selhub, a resilience expert and clinical instructor at Harvard Medical School, says, “Resilience is about the deep knowing that one has the resources to handle the uncertainties that come with life.”
Selhub says that some people are naturally more resilient that others, better able to handle the pressures of the 21st century.
But resilience is also something that can be learned.
“The have-it-all generation of boomers may have it all wrong,“ says Selhub.
“This idea that you have to have everything is almost impossible to attain—and it is going to make you feel that whatever you do, it is not going to be enough.”
Each generation can learn things from the one that has come before.
As a child, I watched my own parents approach hardship with a quiet strength of character.
That perhaps came from their generation’s experience with war, with trying to find enough money to feed a large family day to day, from dealing with the many losses of people they loved who gave up their own freedom for a higher sacrifice of the common good.
I remember how it was a very exciting day in the house when my dad would announce that we would all be going over to the Shady Rest restaurant here in Kelowna for fish and chips.
They had the old style trays for car service back then that stretched across from window to window in the car.
All four girls thought this was the best thing since sliced bread and felt as grateful as my dad felt proud to offer us such a treat.
For the most part, our generation has not had to go off to war or struggle in the same way as our parents did to get ahead.
I wonder if we will have the same resilience as we age that I see in them, adjusting to the changing winds of eldering, meeting the new challenges that come their way with this quiet fortitude that I witness day after day in my line of work caring for older seniors.
Sometimes their sense of loss presents with anger and frustration.
But I choose to feel the strength underneath it and remember what they have faced over their lifetimes where they chose to be strong every day.
It built their capacity for resilience, which is not about making your situation better, it’s about being strong enough to handle the negative things.
As for we boomers, do we have the commitment to shore up physical, mental and emotional resilience to handle the challenges that may come our way through this third stage of life?
Particularly as women, we have had the pressure over our early and middle years to maintain a career, a family, an active social life and give our kids every possible opportunity to be the best they can be or we are not measuring up.
One of the first tenets of resilience is to take care of yourself first. Trying to be supermoms usually did not permit a lot of time to practice this.
As time becomes more abundant with the shifting priorities of our own elderhood, emotionally conquering the inner pangs of guilt to now start doing this requires come conscious awareness to allow it, strange as that may seem.
Patricia Gorman, author of The Resilient Woman: Mastering the 7 Steps to Personal Power, calls this dialogue “girly thoughts,” or gender-based societal messages that dictate how women should look and act.
The second tenet of resilience is to change your outlook, change the outcome.
Most of the women I meet who are transitioning away from their working careers express their desire to find a new way to enter this next stage of their lives.
I hear the same reflections over and over. Seeking a more expansive state of well-being requires embracing that everyone wins when we take the time to listen to our own needs.
Greater positivity and physical well-being is the result of doing things that make you happy, which gives the immune system a tremendous boost as well.
Laughing more and sharing in the humour of the inevitable struggle with multi-tasking that used to come to us so easily brings a comforting connection between boomer aging companions whose “superwoman focus” now involves remembering where you left your keys or where you parked your car at the mall.
This change in mental action is the best buffer against stress and is affected by who you choose to hand out with.
The third tenet of resilience is to hang with a happy crowd for resilience is something you can learn from other people.
It is something we can learn from the “silent generation,” who really mastered the art of resilience.
Just be quiet and listen and watch them.
I guarantee you will feel and see it there.
Just know that sometimes the anger and frustration that presents is really fear.
Simply focus on compassion, honour their resilience and watch how things change.