Our dear friend and mentor, Cari Dawson, graces us once again with her words of wisdom. We go through tremendous losses as we age, and those seem to accelerate with every passing year. Since I’m only eight years younger than Cari, I can align quite easily with what she is saying. And it’s about time someone said it!
I have been a Grief Recovery Specialist for nearly twenty three years. The loss of a grandchild was the catalyst for me, an event that started me on this life-saving work so that I could help others. My loss history is lengthy: I’ve lost parents, a 2-year-old niece and a 25-year-old nephew, a brother, other family members, pets, jobs, lifestyles, husbands, friends, trust, and patients. Now, as I move deeper into my mid-seventies, I am becoming more acutely aware of the losses associated with aging.
The most obvious loss in aging is the fact of limited time on earth. It becomes more real that gravity is chipping away at us. There are subtle and not so subtle clues that we are disappearing. One of my friends talks about the invisibility in this elderly period of life as we are embedded in a culture of youth. “When people talk to me, I don’t feel like they see me.” Others say they don’t recognize the person in their mirror. “Who is that old lady? I don’t feel like what I am seeing.” Friends complain that their lives are narrowing, that doctor visits are crowding their calendars. Some are losing their joints and other body parts. They are getting hips and knees replaced, cataracts removed, hearing aids fitted, open heart surgery. Almost all of us have arthritic changes, we lose flexibility and dexterity, we lose cadence when we reach for words that don’t come as easily as they used to. We are generally slowing down. We adapt to the gradual losses, but as I am wont to say hoping to lighten up with dark humor, “None of us is getting out of here alive.”
And we often experience a loss of dignity. I personally encountered such a loss during annual well visits with my Primary Care Physician (PCP). Although I have managed to reach this point in life with only occasional use of prescription drugs like antibiotics and I remain in excellent physical and mental health, I am a firm believer in preventative care, routine tests and lab work. Twice in the last several years, I have felt humiliated when unsolicited, my PCP’s office performed memory tests involving my retrieving three unrelated words (sunset-chair-banana) said earlier in the visit by the health care provider. Part of this test included a request to draw an image of a clock at 11:00. I was tempted to draw the image digitally rather than as the face of a clock with hands and numbers! At a time in my life when I intentionally enter into contemplative meditation and practice letting go, I felt like I was being graded on my ability to remain linear and dualistic to please government (Medicare) and health care professionals. I doubt if the health care provider understood that I felt like a fungible commodity instead of a human being.
Putting this into perspective, I understand that tests for dementia can be a necessary and good thing, but I wonder if the health care provider considers the context of the patient (other than chronological age) before launching into such tests. For example, the first time this test was administered, I had been in the throes of grief over multiple significant losses (which happens frequently as we grow older) and was experiencing disorientation and detachment from the dualism of this world. I was in no frame of mind to remember three unrelated words and I felt that having to draw a clock with the big hand on 12 and the little hand on 11 was demeaning and counterproductive. In fact, the loss of respect and dignity compounded my losses and my grief. Am I losing my mind too? My identity? Am I just some thing to be charted rather than a mature woman with feelings?
On the other hand, there are so many joys of life at this stage! Balance is the most important aspect of our lives as we age. Although I continue to work—see and counsel clients— and volunteer, it is done with utmost concern for balance and my priorities which facilitate my journey to wholeness: contemplation, spending time with close friends and family, enjoying my furry friend, reading, and working out at the gym. I have become more acutely aware of the clock that is ticking away and ironically and interestingly, it has given me more peace of mind and focus knowing what I thought I knew all along: that my time here is running out.
I marvel as I reflect upon a long journey from a small town Ohio Valley high school girl of seventeen whose highest aspiration was to be a secretary and housewife, to multiple and diverse careers and paths, to where I am now in my mid-seventies contentment. I hear the clock ticking like a heartbeat. It’s a good reminder to live in the present, to see the beauty in Life, to taste, touch and feel it, to grieve the inevitable losses and know it is all good.
Cari D. Dawson, MTS, MA, JD, www.transitionscelebrant.com
Cari’s previous post was about grieving the loss of a pet.