Nothing and nobody in this life is perfect, especially when being confronted by unfamiliar experiences. Reflection of what is happening and how things could be better is usually worked out over time.
“How’s the hip?” asked the surgeon on a follow-up visit after surgery. “A bit hard to explain,” I said, trying to discern the difference between creaky joints and post-operative healing, “I’ve never had hip surgery before, nor been this old”. Recovery and rehabilitation was a new experience I had to learn to deal with.
Elderly amongst us are dealing with new experiences and changing relationships. Certainly in getting older, a noticeable shift in authority relationships occurs towards the following, more tech-savvy generations, who assume the mantle of responsibility for decision-making in families, work and community.
Not so long ago, these late mid-lifers with children off their hands and relatively healthy, would be free to enjoy later years unencumbered by elderly parents in decline. Just when they are relieved of responsibility for their own children, when the world of opportunity opens up for them, they may be challenged with the issue of how to care of elderly parents who’ve cared for them. Frustration is understandable.
Longer life, new lessons
Reciprocation is an important task of maturity. Willingness and good grace in meeting the needs of elderly parents who’ve given life and a platform for success are crucial elements of personal growth.
Continued growth to maturity for the elderly can also be found in their willingness and graciousness in acceptance of help offered, or not.
When and how to respond are dilemmas faced with rapid change resulting from accidents, illness and isolation. We are still working out patterns and policies of services and ways of communicating to see how effective efforts may be. For instance, elderly do not manage texts as well as person-to-person discussion: harm can be done in nuance lost through text. In any case, elders less acquainted with technology may not even have their mobile charged, switched on, or handy to use.
Lessons well done
Self-reliant elderly, who choose to down-size from the family residence to something more manageable in a retirement village, established for the comfort and enjoyment of peers, are best placed to live out their lives in optimum peace. Distanced from family responsibilities, mutual support and interests can be engaged at will. Personal posture and power can readily be maintained even in the face of encroaching physical and mental diminishments.
Choosing to leave the family home full of memories is probably the hardest decision, followed by what to let go. Challenging as they are, decisions such as these are further steps to maturity in ageing. Best to look at the limited time left to live to decide to take only what will be needed in the next stage.
Having a funeral photo taken early, while we still look presentable, leaves a more positive image of our life.
Lessons still to be learned
Not all families negotiate the challenges of ageing parents well. Busy, important, powerful adult offspring have shown to be cursory, terse and impatient in dealing with parents. They become impatient with the technology competence gap and slower pace of decision-making and moving that inconveniences their very important schedule.
Rushed decisions may be as minor as impromptu visits, changes to arrangements, demands for money, or exclusions from family events. Invariably elderly will need time to absorb the requests and fashion a response. Needing time does not mean elderly are stupid (although that is a possibility), as is often implied. Gracious silence does not mean approval of hustling.
Well-intentioned major life changing decisions like moving interstate or into a nursing home are not matters to be railroaded, though that is known to have happened. Adjustments to up-rooting of living arrangements, especially in inauspicious circumstances, are extremely hard to negotiate late in life. Affected with haste, bullying and inconsideration can mean later years end bitter, resentful and divisive.
Two areas of responsibility are necessary for maintaining civility, even love, during tenuous negotiations towards best end of life outcomes. Firstly, elderly themselves must give full consideration to how they expect to live out later years so they are ready to accept the possible inevitability of being cared for in assisted living. Secondly, responsible adult carers must develop respect and patience, even enjoyment of their parents who are part of their history and have given them life. Merely hastening their passage to be relieved of the burden of care or to reap the assets is a common, yet shameful approach, a poor lesson for those who come after. Powerful adult children will also age.
Many will be dismayed by attacks on our history: condemnation of key contributors like Captain Cook, Cecil Rhodes, Winston Churchill, defacing statues; burning books no longer judged acceptable according to today’s woke standards of equity, race, climate change, colonisation or gender. Quite unfairly, people are cancelled, discredited and isolated for living or speaking their truth.
Similar attitudes are exercised against elderly when judged by powerful midlife adult children who’ve failed to mature to accept elderly parents as they now are. History cannot be changed. In order to mature, adult children must move on from childhood recollections of how unfair life was for them (in their ‘story’), to accept life as it is now. Harsh judgements made against parents who operated in the context of their own history and values of the time are out of place today. Adult maturity means acceptance of reality, of people, with all their limitations. Blame is a function of immaturity, little different from burning Shakespeare and Enid Blyton, and about as much use.
Lessons to survive and flourish
Everyone, including the elderly, need to feel useful, valued and accepted for who they are. Gary Chapman’s 1992 book The Five Love Languages gives a clue about how that might be achieved:
- Quality time: means willing, cheerful presence without the urgency to rush off;
- Words of affirmation: are crucial to the mental wellbeing of someone feeling isolated;
- Physical touch: becomes ever more important for those whose only contact with other humans may be their doctor;
- Acts of service: Physical limitations may mean assistance is required with some tasks;
- Gift giving: Perhaps becomes less important at later life stage, excepting small things to brighten a day.
A sense of humour in the elderly and their adult children is a great tolerance-inducing tension relief. While Ricky Gervais may not be everyone’s cup of tea, his Netflix series, After Life and Derek, were to me, funny, insightful glimpses of life in later years.
Gratitude is owed to those adult children who try to do their best for ageing and perhaps difficult parents, providing thoughtful, useful time and service to improve life, especially when delivered in a spirit and manner of acceptance, tolerance and patience.
Therein are today’s lessons for longer life to enjoy in peace and harmony. Tell me yours.