Feeling like a 1960 Edsel?-You’re Just Aging
When I was in college I would take whatever I was driving and offer it and $50 to a used car dealer for anything that ran on his lot with a current inspection sticker. Within the first few weeks, something would inevitably fall off. As I age, I feel as if I’ve taken on the personality of my clunkers. If I’m lucky, nothing of importance will drop off.
I often hear discussions of aging at both ends of the continuum. At one extreme are those who have successfully aged and have found great comfort in their maturation. They often feel fulfilled in what they have accomplished, who they are living with, and satisfied with amenities they’ve spent their lifetime accumulating.
And at the other end are those who fight aging as if it is the antithesis of living and something that can be avoided by shear will, denial, a nip and tuck, and sometimes a younger partner.
But for the vast majority of those of us who are straddling middle age and what follows, things aren’t quite so black and white, nor tragic or joyful. We live in that gray zone where things aren’t quite as they should be, nor as bad as they can get. It’s the real world of illness, limited finances, competing priorities, and changing capabilities.
I believe those of us who are struggling to age successfully can get so enmeshed in our losses and unclear future, the strategies we develop become distorted by what we are experiencing and our visions of an impossible future. Sort of like the “Heisenberg Theory” in science that maintains the introduction of an observer changes what you are observing.
So how do we eliminate the contaminating factor? How do we start clearly seeing a way of incorporating aging into living? The answer for me came from the words and actions of the people I’ve served in hospice.
Daily, sometimes hourly, some experienced and accepted changes they knew would continually progress until they died. Those who had problems walking knew that shortly they would be confined to a wheelchair. Patients who occasionally required oxygen quickly realized that the flow settings would need to be increased. People in pain understood that morpheme dosages had to be increased so the pain wouldn’t become intolerable.
But there were other patients who couldn’t adjust to the rapid changes. For them, it was important to hold on to abilities that no longer existed. The emotional upheaval they experienced almost daily, made their journey more difficult. When I play handball and an opponent steps in front of me as I’m going for a shot, he’ll concede a “block,” which means, that he acknowledges his position prevented me from hitting the ball. When that happens, I often say, “Yes, that was a block 10 years, but not now.” It’s not only the honest thing to do, but more importantly, it’s a recognition that I’ve changed and I’m willing to accept my new limitations.
As we age, it’s almost inevitable that many of the things we were able to do in the past, we can’t do now, or if we can, we do it with less competence or vigor. My patients’ lessons on the importance of “acceptance” has allowed me to look at the gradual deterioration of my physical abilities, not as an affirmation of moving closer to dying, but rather the need to accept moving thresholds of what I’m able to do. It’s seeing aging without being contaminated by memories of what I was once able to do.
So on those days when your body feels like a 1960 Edsel, remember, its purpose is to get you from one place to another, not to race in the Daytona 500. And if you can remember that, maybe nothing will fall off.