In one week my parents will celebrate their 68th wedding anniversary. I rejoice in the fact that they are still with us and together. I celebrate that fact, and yet the most difficult emotions I experience lately are watching them struggle and slowly fade away from their previous levels of clarity and vitality. This is so hard for them. They are still clear enough to understand what is happening to them. They have both lived long, positive and productive lives. We all must accept our eventual demise, and yet I resist.
I also know that resistance is futile. I know in my mind that acceptance of the realities of life and death are so fundamental, and make it all easier in the long run. But how can my mother die? How can my Dad, who has always been the wise teacher to so many, be at the end of his life? When I speak to him about this he says that as a botanist, he sees himself as an old Oak tree and he knows that old trees must die to make way for new seedlings. So philosophical and yet so sad.
My sister Diane Carter recently received recognition from Long-Term Living Magazine as one of the ten most influential people in the past 40 years in the field of long-term care. She gives her all every day to help my parents negotiate the American medical establishment and protect them from its many shortcomings. She understands what is happening to our parents and explains it to me. I know it is all real and true and yet I still hate it. This is the toughest reality I have ever faced, but face it I must.
Just about every person I know now is dealing with some version of this sadness. Perhaps the best we can do is to be there for each other as we face the end of an amazingly vibrant and caring generation, our parents.
Here’s another way to look at death:
”To fear death, my friends, is only to think ourselves wise, without being wise, for it is to think that we know what we do not know. As far as we can tell, death may be the greatest good that can happen to us, but we fear it as if we knew quite well that it was the greatest of evils. What is this but the shameful ignorance of thinking that we know what we do not know?” – Socrates
5 thoughts on “Accepting the sadness of aging”
My dear Laura, what a thoughtful post. I thank you for writing about our aging parents and our aging as well and how we are all experiencing this. You describe your Dad as an old Oak Tree making room for the young saplings….touches my tree heart.❤
Thanks for coming by Sydney. The sadness may be a bit less if we share it…
To care for them as they age, then to tenderly let them go. It was the biggest challenge of my life.
I remember my dad, still vibrant and clear-minded at the age of 90.
A man, Eldon, who had worked for Daddy in his youth and later moved on to own his own ranch called to ask Daddy’s opinion on a problem.
Daddy almost wept. He kept saying, “Here I am, haven’t set foot on a ranch in 20 years and Eldon is calling to ask my opinion.” He was so touched that someone would still seek his wisdom. It didn’t happen often.
I later told Eldon how his request had affected my dad when we were chatting at Daddy’s funeral.
Eldon did weep. He loved my parents.
Oh Diane! That is so true and so touching. My Dad’s 90th birthday party last January was like that. He has impacted so many of his friends and students’ lives in such a positive way and they do tell him all the time. He knows he has lived an extraordinary life and he accepts far better than me its end…
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Neither of my parents made it to old age, so I will use the example of my mother in law, who lived until age 90. I had known her for almost 50 years, and I remembered her when she was in her 40’s, in her 50’s in her 60’s….and in her last five or so years, with multiple health issues, and finally, dementia, needing our help more and more, finally confined to bed, on 24 hour oxygen, too weak to even get up. She died in a nursing home, something she never wanted for herself. (who does?) People came from afar to visit her and she would forget, an hour or two later, that they had even come. Perhaps many of us are not so much afraid of death as we are of dying. It’s so rarely, it seems, a “good death”. Yes, I hope you all are there for each other. We all need to be there for each other.