By Marjorie Horne
I am in the interesting position of caring for many older seniors on their aging journey as I am also now travelling along my own path of eldering. I have found great satisfaction in being there for my clients and their family members in many capacities, always with a giving heart that was rooted in a joy I discovered spending cherished time with many elders in my youth. I appreciated their stories, their wisdom and a certain grace that so many of them had while often facing great challenges and changing lives.
I think we all face an unfamiliar fear as we are aging of the what might-bes of our future. Coming into my 67th year soon, I find my own inner story is changing. We all have some trepidation of our youth leaving us and may choose to ignore those feelings or bury them deeply in our consciousness, but I believe those feelings are there for many of us as we are travelling through our sixties and seventies. Our society does not honor the aged and a growing invisibility seems be a part of the aging years. Many look away from the aged, perhaps from this unfelt fear or knowing that each of us will walk through its doors and this is something we have absolutely no control over. Perhaps that is the lesson, in coming to an acceptance and a letting go of the control that our thinking minds hang on to so tightly. As outer beauty diminishes, finding a deeper inner beauty awaits. But, how do we get there?
I find myself struggling with this, as perhaps you are too. The letting go is harder when it is not in the abstract. When we are in fear, we contract. We pull back and we separate. It becomes harder to reach out, to express our beauty, and to connect. I love the phrase, “You have to name it to tame it.” Naming our fear of aging is important. It does not make us wrong, it is part of a natural evolving human experience. It is what moves us to be able to finally truly experience grace. And perhaps it is what will move us to see the beauty of eldering, both in ourselves and in others.
Trappist monk Thomas Merton wrote of his own journey to grace as he came to a deeper realization of our oneness: “Then it was as if I suddenly saw the secret beauty of their hearts, the depths of their hearts where neither sin nor desire nor self-knowledge can reach, the core of their reality, the person that each one is in God’s eyes. If only they could all see themselves as they really are. If only we could see each other that way all the time. There would be no more war, no more hatred, no more cruelty, no more greed. I suppose the big problem would be that we would fall down and worship each other.”
I had the experience before Christmas of being with a dear client, my very first when I started my own company, as she was dying. I watched her over five years go through the many stages of advancing Alzheimer’s disease. At one point she had become quite angry and aggressive. I was perplexed as to how to help her when I would arrive for a visit and she would be difficult to manage and be pushing me away. I suddenly realized that her frustration stemmed from her resistance to letting go and of loss. Letting go of so many events in her life that were painful. She had grown up as a child in the days of Hitler in Europe where her father had been killed in front of her. One day, despite her verbal retributions upon me, I asked if I could give her a hug. She let me hold her and the tears came. She sobbed for quite some time as I held her in my arms. Her aggression left and on days when it returned, I knew what to do. I would take her in my arms and she would let go. As I sat with her as she came to her death, she reached an outstretched hand towards her husband who was sitting beside me. Her eyes were glazed, but the love in them was unmistakable. Unbridled, unconditional love. That is who she was at the core of her being.
I hold this remembrance as I think about the changes that my aging life will bring to me. That the deep connection of being seen and held and loved will always be one of our most important needs. The path to Elderhood is a process of maturing: not trying to perfect ourselves, polishing ourselves up. As we mature, we realize we are not climbing up a ladder to perfection, but embracing ourselves, moving on a path to wholeness. Accepting wholeness within ourselves and then extending that out in our connections with others. Elderhood can be the best season of your life, but nobody said it would be easy.
Marjorie Horne hosts the Engaging in Aging Radio Show airing on Sundays at 9 a.m. on AM1150 and is the founder of CareSmart Seniors Consulting.