It was the sincere, 'til-death-do-us-part desire of my parents to be able to live in their home and never move until the unspoken, being dying, happened. Working with seniors and their families I have learned that my parents were not alone in that desire or in how they refused to discuss it. The problem is that this common desire takes more than wishful thinking and too often is left to chance. Just like talking to your children before they are presented with opportunities for drugs, drinking or sex should be done to prevent a disaster, there are discussions parents should have with their adult children and adult children should be having with their parents. It is never too early and it is never too late to have the discussion, but having the discussion with your parents who are in the twilight years and facing impending change is more difficult. I speak of this from personal experience.
Six years ago, my father's rapid health decline made it impossible for my parents to remain aging independently in their home. We had to quickly learn about their options, bring our family together and work with our mother to make the decisions. It felt like we were betraying Dad by discussing his declining health and making decisions he had refused to address.
Recently my husband and I were enjoying a weekend at home with two of our three sons. At fifty-five we smiled when our twenty-four year old son asked what we had planned for the house as we age. How were we planning to keep up with repairs when we could no longer do them ourselves? When were we going to sort through the boxes in the attic? What are our plans as we get older? Having gone through the experience with my parents, my husband and I both could appreciate and respect our son’s desire to have us start thinking about the future and to involve him in that process.
There are a few basic truths about aging:
· It is easier to deal with the realities of aging before they are imminent.
· It is easier to make funeral plans when the need appears to be in the very distant future.
· We want to believe that aging in poor health, disability and isolation will never happen to us.
· Living in a state of denial does nothing to help you get where you want to be at eighty. In fact, it casts our lot to the wind, leaving our final years to luck, good or bad. There are too many variables to leave the ones we can control to chance.
· A sense of humor is a necessity.
Without realizing it, we age. Our spirit does not age with our bodies and so we might still feel 24, 30 or 40 when we have actually celebrated seventy or eighty birthdays. Hence, to our own detriment, we are often in denial about our own aging. The transitions with aging can be devastating and so where does that leave us? How do we plan for something we do not want to face as a possibility?
We are living longer and the hope is to make the most of those added years. In future blogs, I will discuss issues which impact us all as we age and as we watch our parents and other beloved adults aging. In the meantime, I encourage you to talk with those you love about the reality of aging, just like you once talked about dating, adult choices, college or career plans. If it makes it easier, please share this article with them.
Beverly Ferry is the CEO of Living Well in Wabash County CoA, Inc., which operates the Dallas L. Winchester Senior Center, Wabash County Public Transit and the Community Cupboard, all located in Wabash, Indiana. One of the Senior Center’s premiere programs is Senior Transitions, which employs a licensed social worker to work with seniors and their families as they face the transitions that come with aging. Senior Transitions does not operate with any government funding and is provided as a part of the Senior Center’s programs and services to Wabash County seniors and their families.
More information about Living Well in Wabash County CoA, Inc., or programs and services such as the Senior Transitions program, can be found at www.LivingWellinWabashCounty.org.