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
Now that I’m in my 60s, I find adjusting to how others see me can be pretty tough at times. I still feel like the same 40 or 50-year-old inside, but looking in the mirror is sometimes shocking.
The first time a waiter at a restaurant turned to Mike and I and said, “Would you two like the senior discount?” I thought, “Is he talking to me?”
The way these internalized attitudes about aging affect us physically is a focus within a growing field in social psychology called “mind-body studies.” In the next few months, the World Health Organization will publish the results of a global investigation of ageism — discrimination toward elders, similar to racism and sexism. This report will address how we might fight ageist discrimination and prejudice. The report will also outline the myriad ways that ageist attitudes can and do affect the health and well-being of us and our elders.
I find research in this area fascinating! For example, researchers have found that “words used to describe older people, found in a database of historical American English, have become increasingly negative in the past 200 years, possibly because aging has come to be seen as a medical condition.” Positive words like wise, sage, accomplished, learned, creative, insightful have increasingly been replaced with declining, dependent, senile, dying, decrepit and incompetent.
When these negative age stereotypes are used against an elder population, subjects show a decline in performance in memory tests and other areas. Those exposed to positive age stereotypes showed improvements. On so many different tests, findings suggest a strong correlation between exposure to positive stereotypes and an improved view of Self as we age.
This reminds me of one of my favorite lifelong sayings:
“Language is practical consciousness.” -Karl Marx
Carefully analyze the words we use to describe ourselves and others! The way we honestly see ourselves and others has meaning. How do others refer to you? Does that impact how you see yourself?
As any wordsmith will tell you, WORDS DO MATTER.
As Psychologist Becca Levy put it:
“Stereotypes about aging are so pervasive. They can easily be assimilated from the surrounding culture, become a part of an individual’s self-definition, and ultimately affect how that person’s body operates — a process called “stereotype embodiment.”
Dr. Levy has linked negative aging attitudes to such measures as walking speed in elders, a greater likelihood to develop dementia, and even a reduction in life span. Want to learn more about this important area of research?
In a world filled with glaring contradiction, unfairness and stress, where can we turn for comfort? Too many of us turn to food, pharmaceuticals and other forms of self-medication. The possible distractions are endless, but many are unhealthy or even self-destructive.
New research is showing another alternative:
Spending a minimum of 2 hours in the great outdoors (parks, green space, your own backyard) every week boosts both your physical and mental health.
What roles do nature and exposure to natural surroundings play in improving our health? We know that spending time in nature makes us feel good, but does it measurably affect our well-being? Study after study has shown the answer is yes.
In fact, social determinants of health—including where we’re born, live, work, play and age collectively have a far greater impact on our health outcomes than the healthcare delivery system. Healthcare services account for just 10% of longevity, while social and environmental factors account for twice that at 20%, your genetic makeup accounts for 30%, and lifestyle choices and behaviors a whopping 40%.
Ever since I left suburbia and moved a lot closer to a natural setting, I have been changing. My mental health has improved with ever increasing mindful meditation and peace. My vigilance and fear have gradually diminished, and yet I struggle to explain how this move has changed me. I only know when I return to cities I notice a difference between me and those who struggle with traffic, congestion and overpopulation every day.
Now we have new research proving what I have learned on my own. Sure, this may all seem like a no-brainer, but if you are looking for a new form of tranquility, accept the obvious and find comfort in nature. It’s free and clean!
Somehow I never pictured myself with oxygen equipment. For most of my life I have felt strong, healthy and very self-sufficient. That was how I saw myself as I traveled the globe, collecting sometimes difficult but important life experiences and M.A. degrees.
Life certainly has an amazing way of surprising us!
Ever since I moved down to southern Colorado in 2014 and then up to seven thousand feet in 2015, breathing has been a struggle, leading to many doctor’s appointments, cat scans and even a recent lung biopsy. No, I don’t have cancer, just damaged lungs from decades of bronchitis and bad air. What a great thing to find out as we settled into our forever home near the Sangre de Cristo Mountains.
I fought hard for a couple of years, not accepting that I needed oxygen full-time to live a normal life. I thought I would eventually adjust to our thin air, using all of my inborn stubbornness. If you know me, you know how stubborn I can be! Accepting reality has never been my forte. But finally, twenty tests and a sleep study later, I have resigned to my new reality. I will probably be on oxygen for the rest of my life.
Acceptance releases everything to be what it already is!
Some say just move to a lower elevation. My answer is a resounding NO! Living away from cities, listening to the marvelous natural silence and looking at the mountains constantly has changed me completely in ways impossible to describe to others. I feel so content, safe and grateful here in spite of my breathing struggles.
I know what’s happening in the “world” but I can also completely ignore it here, close to nature and what matters most to me…
I am sure most of us have been in search of ways to “succeed in life” ever since we became conscious human beings. What a great goal, and yet we have been constantly trying to hit a moving target. How many times have you re-defined success in this lifetime?
In my 64 years on this planet, this re-definition process has divided into three main stages of life:
In our early years we are simply busy learning all that we can to be able to succeed in traditional ways like finding a dependable mate and a career of some kind. This stage tends to error on the side of self-consciousness and appearances, focusing too much on what others think we should do.
In our middle years we develop our career and perhaps a family, maybe buy a home, and strive to feel well-established and secure.
Midlife Crisis: I for one experienced a major midlife crisis around age 49. The bottom fell out of all my best-made plans, with a divorce and then job/career loss. Other forms of midlife disillusionment may include serious illness, the death of a loved one, or some combination of these various misfortunes. This may compel us to question many of our previous assumptions about how we have defined our own life success. At this point we might ask:
Will I feel like a success in my life if I continue down this path?
Will I be content in the end if I maintain these priorities?
Aging is nature’s way of answering these questions for us, slowly but surely. For me, my emphasis on career fell away quickly when I realized that my highest priority was finding one genuine, honest, loyal love in this lifetime. After that I became a writer and author, best known as the “Midlife Crisis Queen” online. Then my husband and I decided to choose an entirely different lifestyle by moving to rural Colorado, away from most city stress.
After five years of quiet meditation in the peace of the Sangre de Cristo mountain range, I find I have learned much more about how easily I was convinced to live someone else’s life in the past, making many mistakes in my previous priorities. Now I know, the best things in life aren’t things. And, in the end, it all came down to this:
The hardest battle you will ever face in life is to be no one but yourself, in a world that is trying its hardest to make you like everybody else…
I spent a couple days with my elderly parents this past weekend. It was great fun seeing their old friends from decades ago, and reminiscing with them about our childhood. I LOVED my tap dancing lessons in third grade and running around the miniature golf course at Renfro’s in Emporia Kansas. Good times!
But I would be remiss if I did not also share some other observations I made while hanging out with Mom and Dad. On the second day I felt both of their disappointments with life, and not just with the physical failings which inevitably come with advanced aging.
Disappointment comes with life and the deeper you dig into life, the more likely you will eventually see how disappointing the human race can be.
When I look at my own life, I find the human race disappointing in its lack of intelligence and loyalty. I abhor its cruelty and just plain craziness. My greatest disappointments have been with friends and lovers that I thought I could trust and their failures to be true friends. I believe the world could be such a better place if we led with intelligence and loyalty instead of judgment, selfishness and cruelty.
But in the end, we all may find disappointments with how things have turned out. The trick then is to cope in some healthy way with those disappointments by giving everyone a break. After all we are all only human, frail and flawed as that condition implies. I know I have also treated others badly at times and I apologize now for my human state. As we age, coping with disappointments is our job. One of my goals is to forgive everyone including myself by the time I die.
One great tool I have found in reaching this goal, is replacing disappointments with GRATITUDE:
In the past one hundred years, Americans have witnessed the greatest increase in life expectancy and longevity in human history. In 1935, when Social Security became a government program and established the retirement age at 65, the life expectancy for American men was 60 and for women, 64. Those born in the early twentieth century were not expected to live past age 65, and most didn’t. Life expectancy in the United States increased a full 20 years between 1930 and 2010. The average American today who lives to be age 65 is expected to survive well past 80.
It is difficult for most of us to fully comprehend how much the average life span has increased, even just in our own lifetime. The average lifespan for a man born in 1900 was only 48 years and 52 for women. It may help to recall how young most of our great-grandparents and grandparents were when they died. The dilemma becomes, what to do after we stop working full-time?
Senior Binge Drinking on the Rise
From the recent data, it sounds like binge drinking of alcohol is gaining popularity among Americans over 65. Now there’s something to do! Binge drinking is defined as consuming five or more alcoholic drinks at one sitting. For this study, data was collected on nearly 11,000 U.S. adults 65 and older who took part in the National Survey on Drug Use and Health between 2015 and 2017. Of those, 10.6% had binged in the past month, the study found. That was up from previous studies. Between 2005 and 2014, between 7.7% and 9% of older Americans were binge drinkers. Blacks and people with less than a high school education were more likely to do so, researchers found.
Elder Suicides Continue to Increase
Another bit of data which came out last year from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, showed that suicide rates for women 45 to 64 increased nearly 60% between 2000 and 2016. For men of the same age the suicide rate increased almost 37% over that time. Overall, suicide rates in the U.S. increased 30% between 2000 and 2016. A separate CDC analysis released this month found that suicides have risen in almost every state.
Were You Ever Taught How Not To Work?
It seems safe to say that many of us aren’t finding positive ways to enjoy our “golden years.” I think this is partially because we were never taught what to do with ourselves beyond working all day. In fact we never learned to value “not working” in productive, positive ways. The learning curve has been a little steep for me, and I worked freelance for a decade before we moved here to retire. How do we learn to love and value non-moneymaking endeavors?
I have learned from Mike the value of having a myriad of healthy avocations. I enjoy cooking, gardening, photography, meditation, reading and writing books, movies, yoga, weather research and other forms of freedom and creativity, but first I had to let go of my early lessons in extreme “productivity.” It took me quite a while to feel really OK about enjoying my hobbies thoroughly. I had to remember that no one was watching or judging me.
Why don’t you try doing what makes you feel creative and happy perhaps for the first time in your life. Experiment. Mess up sometimes. That is how we learn the most about what gets us going.
Learn how to take advantage of that extra decade or two you have available to you for the first time in human history!
This and many other lessons are available in my book:
After changing just about everything in my own life around age 50, I spent ten years studying the psychology of midlife change. In order to pass that learning on to my readers, I wrote this book. I had no idea back in 2004, when my own midlife mayhem began, that I was experiencing a perfectly normal and even healthy response to so many midlife challenges. I soon learned: Midlife is a new rite of passage for the human race, beginning with boomers.If you are willing to take some risks, you can change just about everything. However, some serious soul surgery and personal change will be required.
If you would like a paper copy please contact me at: MidlifeCrisisQueen@gmail.com