Losses in the Aging Process

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.

Update on Cee’s Chronic Illness Work

This is a follow up article from my Loss:  Cee’s Chronic Illness article.

Me in the hospital, 17 years ago today.

My first Grief Recovery Method teacher wouldn’t touch any of my health issues during class because I was told that my health issues were too complex.  My teacher did suggest I start by doing a chart on my health.  I put together a timeline and chart that covered any type of illness that I had over my entire lifetime, not just Lymes Disease or when I was hospitalized and in a long coma, but also when I had severe bronchitis as a child.  On this chart I included some of the highlights of my life, like when we moved away from Minnesota when I was a child, graduations, when Chris and I got together, etc.  It was easier for me to correlate events with illnesses.  The timeline and chart gave me a good basis to look for patterns.

The one big pattern I found was:

Lyme disease —> No control over body —> brought up childhood issues

What stood out for me for the fifteen years I struggled with Lyme disease is that I had no control over my own body.  Someone (mostly Chris) had to do everything for me.  I was so weak after the coma that I couldn’t even speak or write, feed myself or wash my face.  I got better and could start doing the routine things of daily life, but I still have moments where I need help with things.

But I saw there was a pattern in my earlier life, when my father molested me.  Despite years of working on incest issues, I found out that no control over my body as an adult threw me back into no control over my body as a child.

So when I met with Cari Dawson this past week so she could work with me on my illness loss issues, I told her my revelation.  We continued to talk for a half hour about my dad and incest issues.  So my homework assignment from her was to do a relationship chart regarding my father.

But I’m finding out that loss of health isn’t that complex.  It’s just one more layer.  I’m learning that the work needs to begin with what is on your mind right now because that appears to be vital.  All losses in our life are connected in some ways.  One thing I’m really learning is that grief is cumulative and negatively cumulative.

Hugs, Cee

cee@cee-chris.com

 

 

 

Loss: Cee’s Chronic Illness

WARNING: Emotional Honesty Being Practiced Here

I believe in the Grief Recovery Method so much that I not only teach it, but I practice it in my own life.  The biggest incomplete loss I have is that concerns the decades of my life surrounding Lyme Disease.  It is a huge topic for me, with many, many kinds of losses.  Up until now, I have not wanted to tackle it because I needed to know that I am on the verge of life instead of the verge of death.  I needed to know there would be another tomorrow.  Chris and I were ready for me to die.  And yet, I somehow always had the strength to stay alive.  In this past year, I have truly come to know I am now healthy.  I need to work on my loss issues to regain control of my life.

I’ve charted out my health history and already noticed patterns of illness in my life. This last week has been a rough one for me. I felt, lonely, powerless, ashamed, unhappy, exhausted, and hopeless.

On Monday, I’m going to start working Cari Dawson on my loss history for Lymes Disease.  So we will start working through those.  I don’t know where this journey will take me, but I will give you an update from time to time.  One of my favorite teachers always says, “Words don’t teach, only life experience teaches.”  I’ll be sharing my life experiences so that I can become a better teacher and also encourage you to start or continue your own journey through the losses in your life.

What I am intending to see at the end of this work is that my soul is lighter, my mind is clearer, and the smile has come back onto my face.

To be continued …

Hugs,

Cee

email:  cee@cee-chris.com

Loss: Grieving Our Pets

(We are thrilled to have our friend, mentor, and fellow Grief Recovery Specialist Cari Dawson doing a guest blog for us today.)

First Love, First Loss: Grieving Our Pets

Sunday night, winter in the Ohio Valley, light snow falling and I’m sitting on my bed half listening to comedy programs on the radio, half doing my homework. It’s the 1950’s. My two younger sisters had gone to the neighborhood store for some milk. My year-old puppy, Toni, followed them, but didn’t see the car coming after my sisters crossed the street. Toni was hit and died immediately.  Of course, I didn’t know this until my sisters came running back to the house, hysterically summoning me.

I grabbed my coat in a daze, as I had been sitting in my underwear, and ran shoeless down the snowy hill. There was my beloved puppy lying in the street. I gathered her up and took her home, placed her on the kitchen floor and held her and wept uncontrollably.  Toni was my first significant loss, much more traumatic than the death of my great-grandfather with whom I grew up, who died about a year before. At that time, I recall my mother quietly shedding a few tears at his funeral, quickly gaining her composure, but that was the only display of grief I saw from her or any other relatives. She had modeled for me how to grieve.  You just shed a few tears and then stuff it. Move on. Something I was having difficulty doing.

It is not surprising in retrospect that I couldn’t figure out what was wrong with me when I found myself becoming more and more depressed and, embarrassingly,  on the verge of tears for many months after Toni’s death. Embarrassed that I couldn’t control my feelings that wanted to bubble out just as they did when I held Toni on the kitchen floor of my childhood home. I was just entering puberty, trying to blend in with my contemporaries, trying to lead a normal life. And, no one seemed to notice how profoundly this loss had impacted me. No one asked about my feelings. Alone and isolated, I worked hard to stuff this loss deep within my psyche where it lay accumulating and gathering other losses and unresolved grief like a huge snowball over the ensuing 40 years.  In 1995, the Grief Recovery Method helped me delve into those painful old losses, including the loss of Toni, when another major loss—my granddaughter—led me to grief work.

My first significant loss and my adolescence seem quite remote now. In my seventies, I had the audacity to welcome a new furry companion into my life, Pace`.  She reminds me daily of what I know deep in my soul: Life and Love will always include joy and sorrow. We can hold the tension of both. It is worth it!

Cari D. Dawson, MTS, MA, JD, has been a Grief Recovery Specialist for over twenty years. She helps grievers in the Portland, Oregon area. Visit her website is www.transitionscelebrant.com for more information and a link to her blog.