Older And Wiser

Now that we have welcomed 2018, it seems a good time to reflect on the old year and think about how I will use those experiences going forward in my life. They say that anything that doesn’t kill us makes us stronger and that, as we age, we gain additional wisdom.  I certainly hope so.  It would be very sad to think that I could go through the joy and grief of fiftysome years of life experience without learning a thing or two. This year, partly because the recent circumstances of my life created an emotional crucible, I think it is worth capturing some of the particular lessons I’ve grown to understand.

Just because someone disagrees with me doesn’t mean I am wrong.

I take my world view pretty seriously.  I spend a lot of time on introspection.  I very rarely form a definite opinion about something unless I have thought about it thirty-three ways to Sunday.  In fact, I usually overthink things.  Still, it doesn’t take much to shake my confidence in my opinion or feeling if someone else questions it.  Something inside me starts to feel vaguely unsettled until I either convince the other person of the rightness of my position or I capitulate to the other point of view.  The truth is, I don’t have to convince anyone of anything in order to justify my own point of view for my own life.  I certainly don’t have to convince anyone of the “correctness” of my own feelings. Despite that “unsettleness” I feel, it is in no way a catastrophe if my take on something is not the same as someone else’s perspective.  The reality is that it is fine- even desirable- for people to have different opinions, feel differently about things, to BE different.  That differentness is not a reflection of a lack of love or respect.  It just makes us who we are and precious.

Everybody can only do what he or she can do in a crisis.

Everyone has different strengths, capabilities, and weaknesses.  For the most part, I think everyone does the best they can.  Dealing with the decline of a parent is incredibly stressful and difficult in so many different ways. All I could do was try to be the best version of myself and make my best effort to do all I could to support my parent. Nobody can do everything.  It is important to be gentle with yourself and others.  It is counter-productive to feel guilty or resent other family members because I wished things were different.  First of all, no matter what, there was nothing anybody could do that was likely to change the outcome of the situation.  Secondly, there are all kinds of valid, true reasons why people just can’t do things.

It can be self-destructive AND selfish not to accept help from people I trust.

I’ve never been good at asking for help or even accepting when other people offer.  I never wanted to impose on anyone or be any trouble to anyone.  It is as if I think that just taking up space and breathing in the air is all I deserve.  Years ago, a colleague was giving me feedback at work.  She invited me to think about how I feel when I do something for someone else.  When I told her how good it made me feel, she nodded.  She told me that I was always doing kind deeds, taking on extra work, and sharing what I had, but I was actually being pretty selfish because I did not allow others to have the same pleasure in giving to me in return.  At the time, I thought it was a pretty profound lesson, but I don’t think it really took.

I still have a hard time not thinking I am being a bother when I ask for or accept help.  This past year, I often hit the point where I could not keep putting one foot in front of the other without the help of wonderful people.  Local friends took me on outings to give me a break from overwhelm.  My faraway friends listened endlessly to me while I aired out the conflicting emotions churning around in that crucible.  Hospice employees shouldered my tears and insecurities over and over again, taking on enough of my pain so that I could bear what I had to bear.  I went to the doctor for my pap smear and left with a prescription for an anti-depressant when I could not stop crying in response to the innocent question, “How are you?”

All of these gifts meant so much to me.  Of course they did.  However, I worried that I was asking too much of people in my neediness.  Honestly, I don’t think the folks who gave them thought of them as a bother.  My friends were happy to be able to help in any way, as I would be happy if I could be of any comfort if the situation was reversed.  The hospice workers told me that my discussions with them made them feel empowered and valuable.  The doctor was simply glad no one had to mop up my tears from the floor on my follow up visit.

I have a partner who will run with me and not from me when things are difficult.

Even though Max and I have been together for over 20 years, some part of me still wondered, deep down, how he would react if something really bad happened to me or in my life.  We are not married.  He has no legal responsibility towards me.  He spent many years on his own, protecting his own lifestyle and protecting himself from the physical and emotional dangers of life. His psyche has always been just sort of fine-tuned to danger.  I wasn’t absolutely sure he would follow me if I ran into dangers in my life.  I liked to think he would, but part of me wasn’t at all sure.

We have been through many things together, of course, but nothing like the trauma of dealing with my mother’s illness and ultimate death.  Max never stopped trying to support me.  He didn’t always hit the right note, of course.  No one could always hit the right note.  I couldn’t even always tell you what the right note would be.  More often than not, though, he did exactly the right thing.  Even more important, it was always obvious to me that he was there with me in the storm and was trying to hold me up even when the wind was in his face.  There are so many small things he has done over the past year that I know were stretches for him- actions that would never be things he would do on his own but he was doing because he thought they might help me.  I was more difficult to be around than I have ever been in my life.  I was needier than I have ever been in my life.  I was less capable in nearly every facet of everyday existence than I have ever been in my life.  It didn’t matter.  Max was still there and still holding me tight, even when I struggled against him.

So, these are my lessons learned from 2017.  My resolution for 2018 is to try to remember them and to apply them when life again pushes my back against the wall.  It might be harder than it seems.  I may be getting wiser as I age, but I’m pretty sure my memory is getting worse!

What are your takeaways from 2017?  Please share your perspective by leaving a comment.  In the alternative, you can email me at terriretirement@gmail.com.  

Have a wonderfully wise day!

Terri 🙂

4 thoughts on “Older And Wiser”

  1. Wow! This is what I needed to read as I go into a new year. I’m dealing with my ageing mother and sometimes I feel resentful towards family members for their lack of attention. The story I tell myself is truly counterproductive. The truth of the matter is that I am physically the closest and have the capability to assist. So – just do it. A community member once reminded me that I have a community behind me to offer emotional support; I am grateful for that support. My takeaways from 2017? I have three words to describe the past year: (1) settle – not give in but accept; not uncompromising but restful and fluid; less angst and more quiet, especially in my thought patterns (2) limitations – not in a restrictive sense but in consideration of maximum capacity – there are still only 24 hrs in a day; some things are better left to the experts; availability of resources, whether that be time, energy, money, ability, etc. (3) possibility – every hour, day and year is rife with possibility that I can manipulate based on my ability and the value I assign to it.
    Thank you for this post. Happy New Year.

    1. Happy New Year, Mona! I’m glad my post helped you reflect on how you want to approach your involvement with your mother’s aging issues. I’m glad there are people around you to hold you up and help your heart. Please do remember to show yourself the same acceptance as you want to show your other family members. No one can do everything and be everything for an aging parent. You can and will, I am sure, do the best you can. If you can’t do something, no matter what the reason (even if you think that reason is selfish), you can’t do it. It is likely only one of the very few things you aren’t the best person to do and it is okay that you can’t do it. You will use your time and energy and connectedness to do the things you are the best person to do.

      As to your takeways- they are wonderful! I love the way you describe the concept of “settling.” We tend to have a negative view of “settling.” You’ve shared a way to think of “settling” as understanding that there are realities with which we need to live and we also have the absolute blessing of being able to use the life we are given, however imperfect, to stretch and grow and create something wonderful of ourselves. Thanks so much for sharing!

  2. Asking for help has always been tough for me as well. I get it from my mom and I’ve used the same logic with her that was used with you — you get so much positive feeling when you help others, why don’t you allow them to have those same feelings to help you? She is 84 and finds it challenging at times to drive; luckily she knows when she’s feeling limited and won’t get in the car. So often she doesn’t plan to go to things, especially in the evenings. I’ve told her to ask “who’s going and can you swing by and pick me up”. Every time she asks, she gets a “sure”… but still I have to force her to ask when I hear about something that she has thought “I can’t get there myself”.

    I’ve also realized that often people sincerely want to help and don’t know how. In my recovery, they keep offering! So I’m learning to ask for what I need, even if it’s to borrow a yoga tape because I’m not sure I can manage a full class… or to meet me for a mall walk that might be cut short if I can’t go as far as I hope (it was cut short). But it’s good… I can actually feel the other person’s happiness at being able to help.

    Just one of the lesson’s learned the past 2 months.

    1. Thanks, Pat. I really hope I can get more comfortable asking for and accepting help. I think mutual favors probably strengthen bonds. In Judaism, I think there is a concept called a “mitzvah.” As I understand it, the whole idea is that doing a good deed for someone else is a blessing for the person who does the good deed. I don’t think it is some sort of heavenly accounting that captures how many “bonus extra credit points” a person accrues by doing good deeds. I think the idea is more that the very act of doing something for someone else is intrinsically good for the person who does the good deed- the feeling of joy we get from doing something good is the blessing in and of itself. I think that is a beautiful concept!

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