Grief as a Part of Advanced Aging

Grief: fear, sadness loneliness, panic, pain, yearning, anxiety, emptiness remembrance,

Nature: hereditary factors that shape physical appearance, personality, temperament,

Nurture: all environmental variables affecting who we are, e.g. early childhood experiences, how we were raised, social, cultural relationships,

 Work: effort, exertion, labor, toil, slog  

Moving ever more deeply into the years of aging brings with it an increasing number of changes that in turn create losses as we go about our everyday living.  Internal causes arise from normal age related changes (ARCs) and their impact on capacities and capabilities as well as the overlay of pathology.  External factors include changes in roles and role relationships, our resources as well as broader economic, climatic and political changes, et al.

 The depth of our grief can vary from wispy triste to wrenching, immobilizing grief.

 Our views on what constitutes loss as well as our response to losses associated with advanced aging are strongly shaped by both our nature and our nurture. These remain stable and unchanging. They are what they are. (I’ve found it helps to think about both my nature and nurture as a framework in dealing with losses. It shapes my outlook.)

Much of the research on grief-work has dealt with it as a response to a major, single loss. However, the losses we agers are coping with are: often-predictable, multiple, simultaneous, and ongoing.  We deal with: upcoming ARCs, emerging ARCs and progressing ARCs with each one affecting our capacities. Then add in external changes in resources and conditions/circumstances all at the same time. This reality can leave us feeling like we’re standing in the midst of a swampland.

Our ARCs, circumstances and our natural responses are what they are. However, we also have the option make the experiences more concrete and understandable by looking at them more specifically in terms of how each is affecting:

  • our self-image
  • discrepancies between desires and capability
  • preferred versus possible ways of managing.

For example, when my hands became increasingly flat fingered and weakened, it affected my self-image as an amateur piano player, and skilled knitter. I miss the ability do each of them!  I was also a published writer, but my flat weak fingers didn’t interfere with that because I continue to keyboard rapidly. Weak, clumsy hands also threaten my self-image as a guest for meals, first when I couldn’t cut up some food items on my plate and now when I’ve become increasingly clumsy in managing tableware. Of course my weak, clumsy hands now pervasively interfere with everything I do. But I live alone and adapt to them (often in crazy ways and, even with humor at times).   I find that clarifying specifics at least gives me working knowledge of:

  • what I am grieving for,
  • it’s impact on me and my daily living
  • how I may be able to manage all the elements of it including my self-image.

Here’s an exercise I’ve used and found helpful.

I consider a current ARC involving appearance or function, examined it as nonjudgmentally as possible & put into specific words

  • how it threatens my self-image and  preferred ways of behaving/ appearing/living
  • private/public situations at risk and the specific requirements in each one where it threatens my preferred way of participating (again the devil is in the detail!)
  • limitations it causes on what I can do, where I am willing and able to go etc.
  • personal “costs” to me in having to make the changes (energy, embarrassment, opportunities. . . . . . . )

 This sorting out of an ongoing grief situation has proven helpful with my ARCs and some other circumstances. It has not worked in dealing with the impact of news of the day. With that my only help has been to set limits on exposure.

Loss, change and grief are real, legitimate and necessary elements of our aging experience. They may vary in depth, but their impact consumes energy whether we notice/admit it or not.  How do you managing them?

Using Patience and Impatience in Engaging with Aging (EWA)

Patience:  acceptance or toleration of delay, trouble or suffering without getting unduly angry or upset,

Impatience: intolerance, restlessness, an impetus to move forward, get things done, make decisions.

Artistry: proficiency, skill, craftsmanship, inventiveness, finesse

Patience and impatience are emotional, attitudes responses to presenting situations.  The historic “four humors” propose that Individuals come “hard wired” in ways that ultimately affect our patience and impatience with the aging experience.

Society’s attitudetoward patience and impatience with growing up and growing old tend to be different. During the growing up years, some degree of impatience is fine, even encouraged while patience is seen as nice and at times somewhat necessary. In the advanced aging years, patience is encouraged while impatience tends to be seen as bothersome, understandable but less welcome.

Then too, the outcomes of growing up and growing old are quite unalike. 

BirthChildhoodAdulthoodElderhoodDeath

Youngsters tend to be impatient to become adults. Few aged folks look forward to reaching the end of the lifespan.

For years businesses and industries have purposefully studied patience and impatience, not just as reactions, but also as tools. In the latter, the advantages and risks of each have been plotted out, e.g. Overuse of patience can lead to stagnation from inaction. Impatience/impetuosity can lead to prematurity, acting without taking into account important factors. Judicious, timely use of each can improve efficiency.

Here are some ways to look at EWA through the lens of patience and impatience age related changes (ARCs)

 Leash in impatience and bring patience into the foreground in order to take the time for:

  • grieving for what we see as losses in our lives  as ARCs emerge or noticably progress.
  • considering  elements involved in  our presentiing situation that may lend themselves to rearrangement , alteration, options and adaptation.

Encourage eagerness/impatience when one understands the situation and it’s timely to build momentum and move forward in:

  • spelling out honestly what’s really important,  what we want,
  • examining a range of  perspectives so we can look at options from different angles—even daffy ones  (remembering that it’s easier to prune back ideas than to think of new ones)
  • selecting the most usable perspectives
  • considering  how the  task or problem can be split up and handled in smaller pieces or? Or? Or?
  • generating ideas for harnessing available resources or recruiting new ones to manage what is happening in different, do-able ways. 

After a bit of sorting, some strategies will have emerged.  Now patience and impatience work in tandem during the back-and-forth time of testing the plans to manage the situation and learning new skills.

Artistry in use of patience and impatience comes with the awareness and acceptance that we also are going to be simultaneously dealing with multiple ARCs in differing points of emergence and progression.  We may be at a patient stage with one ARC’s management and at an impatient stage with several others.  E.g.my weakened/flat-fingered hands are no longer changing and my adaptations are in place. Now I must practice patience with “what is” (e.g., time-consuming adaptations, drops, spills, clumsiness.) However, occasional irate reactions are allowable to let off steam.

At the same time, I’m still actively dealing with managing the normal but dangerous motor/cognitive impact of sleep inertia when I get up in the wee hours to go to the bathroom or first get up in the morning. Impatience in this situation is hazardous!

With repeated, conscious experience of purposefully using patience and impatience as skills, it’s possible for us to gain growing sharpness, efficiency, flexibility, confidence, even pride in our use of them.  We can become Patience/Impatience ARC artists.

Mantras Prove their Worth in Dealing with Age Related Changes (ARCs)

Mantras: repetitious chants, short rhythmic phrases

As we move ever more deeply into the experience of the latter decades of our lives our ARCS continue to progress to the point where they become more than annoying, they’re actually risky! We may resent them, and want to ignore them, but deal with them we must.

My balance ARC had progressed to a point here I was having more frequent stomach-dropping sensations of “near-falls”, particularly in the kitchen. Mine has a separate nook, so the square work space has four sides with equipment, cabinetry and work surfaces on all sides. As I worked, my body was constantly having to make turns of more than 90° and even 180° as I moved from one work surface, appliance or cabinet to another.

At some point I began to be aware that as I was working my body was turning but my feet weren’t, and that this was when my near-fall sensations were occurring.

I kept trying to remember to turn my feet with my body, but my mind was focused on what I was doing rather than where my feet were.  Then one particularly scary near-fall forced me to realize that I had to find a better way to remember.

It took several days of pondering, but then “NOSE and TOES” (Blog November 16, 2017) popped into my head as a rhyming, rhythmic thought.  My first mantra was born.

I decided I would chant it repetitively out loud to myself whenever I entered the kitchen. (Living alone with no one to judge me has its advantages.)  It wasn’t long before this catchy phrase popped up in my brain whenever I walked into the kitchen and even as I moved about. The mantra was working. 

The second one, “Cen-ter! Cen-ter” (September 8,2018) emerged   almost a year later when my balance was becoming increasingly wobbly. I was unsteady as I rose from sitting to standing, whenever I bent over or reached up to do a task, pulled open a heavy drawer, refrigerator door or lifted/carried objects that disrupted my “center”.  This time my rhythmic chant was chanting “Cen-ter!  Cen-ter!” I chanted it aloud as I engaged in my standing, bending, reaching and carrying until it too became a frequent behavior.  A few near- falls reinforced the need for the chant. Now it’s a habit. The last cluster of mantras came last year.  They addressed my elusive cognitive ARCs.  My concentration and short term/working memory were falling apart.  I found myself increasingly distracted. My world felt “messy.”

The mantra, “FOcus! FOcus!” was born.  I discovered this mantra helped with thinking and writing, but not with more manual activities.  Two more mantras were created at the same time:  “ONE thing at a TIME!”  and “FI-nish what you START!”  Now at 100, these two mantras are my constant companions as I move through each day my immediate world and surroundings feel and look more orderly.

Still, it hasn’t always been so successful.  Time after time a word or idea I’d easily use would disappear an instant later. I’d never know if or when it would come back.  Somehow, knowing that what I can remember this instant, may be gone the next gnaws at me. The result was that I apparently became driven to utter an idea before I’d lose it. I increasingly interrupted others and sometimes went off on long-winded. irrelevant or non productive contributions. I tried creating two mantras to try to stem these undesirable behaviors: “DON’T interrupt” and “STAY ON TOPIC!”  To be honest, they’re not working very well.  I’m still green; still humbly needing to grow, at 100.