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?