Here I go again, bringing up stuff that makes us uncomfortable. Let’s face it. We may not be thinking about “end of life” issues, consciously, all the time. But don’t tell me the topic is not just below the surface, nagging at us when we least expect it. Believe me, I don’t think about these issues all the time even though, over many years, I’ve taught courses on “aging with meaning.”
They say we teach what we need to learn. And I’m still learning! Is it possible to get dying right? What is right anyway? How will we know when the time comes?
Like the Boy Scouts motto “Be Prepared,” I offer a checklist that’s meant to, at least, possibly, maybe, give us some peace of mind regarding ways we can be prepared, knowing full well that it’s impossible to be fully prepared in the moment.
CHECKLIST FOR CREATING PEACE OF MIND FOR HEALTH, LEGAL DIRECTIVES, AND END OF LIFE ISSUES IN NO PARTICULAR ORDER
Personal Preferences: Where would you like to be during your last moments, days, or months? Whom would you like to be present? A comforting presence.Whom would you like to care for you? What would you like your surroundings to look like?
What music would you like played as you are dying? What poems, prayers, writings or texts would you like recited?What food can you imagine eating? Your favorite?What scents would you like to smell? What objects would you like to have nearby to touch?What would you like your last moments to be like?
Practical Tasks: Do you have a living will, health care proxy?Do you have a will for possessions, investments, income?Where is your will located? Who has copies?My insurance policies are located? If you have a safe deposit box, where is it? where are the keys? Who is authorized to access it?Have you discussed funeral arrangements? And if so, with whom?Do you wish to be buried or cremated? Any particular funeral parlor? Clergy?Who will make arrangements, and have they agreed? Who will arrange Kaddish/Mass or other prayer service?Who will take care of my unfinished business whether legal or otherwise?
Anything else? Brainstorm your own questions about your individual preferences…
So there you have it! If you haven’t already, create your own personal checklist. What are you waiting for?
One thing is for sure–we don’t get out of this life alive!
Offered with love,
Years ago, when we were in our 40’s, my husband and I bought a sundial with the saying “grow old along with me–the best is yet to be.” I’m not sure whether or not I believed it then, and I’m wondering whether I believe it now. Stay tuned!
I grew up in Brooklyn, so you’d think that I’d be totally comfortable with crowds of people.After all, our apartment was crowded as were the schools I attended, likewise the streets—especially the shopping streets, and certainly the subways.When we celebrated, it was to go into Manhattan(crowded),to attend Radio City Music Hall (huge and crowded), the circus(a mob), shopping (cutthroat with crowds vying for bargains.)Almost always, I’d have to wait my turn, wait for the long lines to slowly dwindle, and be prepared to be jostled or poked by people in the City, all kinds of people.
Now I live in the heart of Boston, the Marathon heart of Boston. Every year, from my living room window, one week ahead of the Marathon, city workers construct a small city of tents in Copley Square to accommodate the runners as well as the supports and services they require when they finish their 26 mile ordeals.Soon after, the stadium seats on Boylston Street along the Boston Public Library are erected, and the metal barriers are put in place along the gutters. Huge trailers park on the side streets. Enormous television cameras are hung from corner buildings so that crowds of people—as many as 8-12-24 people deep— can visualize the runners on television becausethey can not possibly see the runners through the density of spectators.Indeed, I recall not being able to walk at all on Exeter Streeton my way to Boylston Street to join the cheering spectators.
By Friday at the latest, thousands of tourists and runners have invaded Boston.Every hotel room is full.Crowd controlling barriers keep people in or out of these few blocks.Mounted police patrol while policecars and, later, ambulances park all around.Hawkers will soon be selling t-shirts, pennants, and souvenirs.I may have to present identification to show the police that I do indeed live in “that building,” so please let me pass beyond the barricade.Of course, all day and well into the evening on Marathon Monday, we are not permitted to drive our car in or out of our garage or, for that matter, drive for at least one mile in any direction. Although I live on the second floor, when I look down from my window overlooking Copley Square, I can relate to a princess isolated in her tower.I cannot leave.No one can enter.
All this before the Marathon Bombers cursed us with their explosives.Now, my aversion to crowds is complete.Not only do the crowds seem to suffocate me, but they may also be dangerous.Someone among those thousands of spectators. might very well have malicious intent.Someone might cause mayhem.Some others might even die — which is not what those spectators bargained for.
Which is why, now, I leave Boston before Marathon Monday, Patriots’ Day, a day designed for citizens to celebrate and come together.But not with me… Somehow, over the years, my comfort with crowds has dwindled and disappeared.My urge to celebrate and shout encouragement is gone.Many years ago, I would standon the sidelines in Newton near Heartbreak Hill and cheer on the valiant runners.Now, I am awed from afar by their feats.
I wonder, is this aversion to crowds age-related?Or terrorist- related?How much does my comfort enter into it?It’s a whole lot different than just becoming blase or jaded.Have I seen too many marathons?I doubt that it’s just my “comfort.”A great unease overcomes me, and I want to flee.Fortunately, I can–and I do.
Eleanor says that, “as I grow older, I am more interested in the conditions, changes, services, culture, and even politics affecting me, my husband of over 50 years, my friends — and my over 100- year-old mother. What does it mean to be growing older in today’s society?
I offer these two women’s voices quoted from the 2003 book, Wise Women: A Celebration of Their Insights, Courage and Beauty, by Joyce Tenneson. They speak for themselves and maybe for many of us who are facing our aging with grace and valor.
I’m a bit envious
of the younger generation
They have so much freedom compared to us
I got married the day I graduated!
A lot of my friends are passing away now,
The rest of us are worried
about outliving our pensions and assets—
we don’t want to be a burden to our families,
Now I live alone with my cat.
I’m always collecting feathers,
I use them to play with him—
we’re good for each other.
–Sadie Simms Allen, 81
I still don’t dye my hair,
My advice is to follow your conscience
I’ve had several lives,
I’m not the same person I was
At twenty, forty or even sixty,
Now I’m a role model
for women in their seventies and eighties!
When you’re this old, you can reconsider your whole live.
You can relive your life and
understand it with a pleasure and perception
not available when you first experienced it.
People are extremely nice to me now,
because I am no longer a threat to them.
–Polly Kline, 97
I used to perm my hair,
but now, and for many years, I have let it go natural,
straight as a stick, silvery white.
I used to be shy,
but now I say what I think,
choosing my words carefully
so as not to offend.
I have concerns about the future,
but they don’t paralyze me.
the future is in the faces of my grandchildren,
in them I have hope.
–Elizabeth David, 82
Who are you? Who would you rather be?
A friend encouraged me to join BOLLI where I began to offer courses in which we discuss our aging–from the physical, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual aspects of our lives. My passion is to help others to gain deeper understanding of themselves and the changes, losses, gains, and glories of aging. So, “grow old along with me–the best is yet to be.”
I don’t know about you, but the current opioid epidemic in the U.S. feels… distant.I don’t personally know anyone or anyone’s child who is “hooked.”But when I think more deeply, I must admit that prescription drugs almost did me in about twelve years ago.At that point, it was less well known that prescription drugs, painkillers, are often the gateway to addiction.At least it wasn’t known to me.
It wasn’t really known to physicians, either.Siddhartha Mukherjee wrote in the NY Times Magazine on February 4 that “We were living, then, in what might be called the opioid pre-epidemic…Pain, we had been told as medical residents, was being poorly treated (true) —- and pharmaceutical companies were trying to convince us daily that a combination of long and short-acting opioids could cure virtually any form of it with minimal side effects (not true.). The cavalier overprescription of addictive drugs was bewildering….”
So I write this as a cautionary tale.Major surgery may be in your future as it was in my past, and terrible pain may accompany it.The use—or overuse—of painkillers, Vicodin, Percocet, or Oxycodone, can lead to dependency or getting “hooked.”That’s what happened to me, at least temporarily….and innocently.
My major surgery about twelve years ago was double knee replacement.My painful arthritic knee joints which had limited me in so many ways were replaced by artificial ones.Both were done at the same time during the same surgery, and while it was a success, I was in terrible pain for several months.
I needed “heavy duty” drugs to keep me going, to tolerate movement and physical therapy, even to sleep.The labels read, “Take 2 every 4 hours,” and “Take 2 every 12 hours,” and “as needed.”At the same time, the advice was to “Stay ahead of the pain,” that is, anticipate that you will be in pain, so take the medication before the pain seizes you.
But if you “Stay ahead of the pain,” how will you even know if you need the pain killer? And how will you know when it is time to ease off the medications? This was the conundrum, at least for me.
My surgeon was no help.When I told him, after one month, that I had become melancholy and depressed, was frequently crying, and had no appetite (I lost 14 pounds in 6 weeks), and (almost distressing of all) I could not understand what I tried to read!He simply told me to “get off the drugs.” But when I tried to stop the meds completely, it was worse.I was in terrible pain.
Another physician—my son who practices physical medicine and rehabilitation 2,000 miles away in Utah—advised that I needed the meds, but that I needed to get on a regimen of phased withdrawal, gradually reducing and then extinguishing my needs.“I can’t believe this is happening to my own mother!” he said.It took three months to get past the need for the drugs.
Physicians are now well aware that prescription medications—their prescriptions—provide gateways to addiction.Physicians are supposed to limit the amount of these prescription meds to a few at a time.Additional meds now require additional prescriptions.And yet, too many are willing to keep signing prescriptions.
This is a “painful” story in many ways:my gullibility regarding pain medication, my “addiction,” my poor choices, my surgeon’s insensitivity and mismanagement of my condition post-op, and more.But in light of the opioid crisis facing all of us in this country, I share this dismal and frightening medical history with you.After all, you, too, may be a candidate for major surgery with its accompanying pain.Be wary of these painkillers.In the short term, they relieve your pain.In the long term, they cause addiction and possibly even death.
As I grow older, I am more interested in the conditions, changes, services, culture, and even politics affecting me, my husband of over 50 years, my friends — and my 100 years old mother. What does it mean to be growing older in today’s society?
In 1988, I wrote a thesis entitled “A Narrow Bridge” in partial fulfillment of the requirements for my Masters Degree in Expressive Therapies from Lesley College. The major purpose of the thesis was to explore fears and how they get in the way of healing and then to conceptualize ways to deal with fear.
“Life is but a narrow bridge with no beginning and no end, and the main thing, the main thing, is not to be afraid,” said Rabbi Nachman of Bratzlav.
The following is a piece I discovered as I was researching the thesis. I offer it as an inspiration and a challenge.
The old woman who was wicked in her honesty asked questions of her mirror. When she was small she asked, “Why am I afraid of the dark? Why do I feel I will be devoured?” And her mirror answered, “Because you have reason to fear. You are small, and you might be devoured. Because you are nothing but a shadow, a wisp, a seed, and you might be lost in the dark.”
And so she became large. Too large for devouring. From that tiny seed of a self, a mighty form grew, and now it was she who cast shadows. But after a while, she came to the mirror again and asked, “Why am I afraid of my bigness?” And the mirror answered, “Because you are big. There is no disputing who you are. And it is not easy for you to hide.”
And so she began to stop hiding. She announced her presence. She even took joy in it. But still, when she looked in her mirror she saw herself and was frightened, and she asked the mirror why. “Because,” the mirror said, “no one else sees what you see, no one else can tell you if what you see is true.” So, after that, she decided to believe her own eyes.
Once, when she felt herself growing older, she said to the mirror, “Why am I afraid of birthdays?” “Because,” the mirror said, “there is something you have always wanted to do, and you know time is running out.” And she ran from the mirror as quickly as she could because she knew, in that moment, that she was not afraid, and she wanted to seize the time.
Over time, she and her mirror became friends, and the mirror would weep for her in compassion when her fears were real. Finally, her reflection asked her, “ What do you still fear?” And the old woman answered, “I still fear death. I still fear change.” And her mirror agreed. “Yes, they are frightening. Death is a closed door,” the mirror flourished, “and change is a door hanging open.”
“Yes, but fear is a key,” laughed the wicked old woman, “and we still have our fears, “ she smiled.
So, “life is but a narrow bridge with no beginning and no end and the main thing, the main thing is not to be afraid.”
If we can teach ourselves to approach life as a bridge with no beginning and no end, as if life were an endless bridge onto which we are placed on a section labeled “present,” then we have the potential for healing our wounds rather than remaining stuck in our pining for past desires or future hopes, both of which are fantasies that do not serve us because they remove us from the present.
There are no magic formulas for overcoming fear but developing the skills it takes “not to be afraid” is possible.
It takes courage!
Develop understanding and knowledge of our fears
Develop awareness and sensitivity to the times when we are afraid, in the moments of fear itself.
You may think it is not possible, but try making a decision not to be afraid, or, at least, to put fear on the back burner.
Imagine making a choice whether or not to be fearful, scared, or worried about the future.
Imagine making a choice not to be afraid of change, loss, death
Imagine, as the old woman in the piece above did, choosing to make fear the key to moving beyond fear into living a fearless life!
It takes courage!
Courage may not be the absence of fear but, rather, courage enables us to move ahead in spite of fear.
Rollo May once said that “To live into the future means to leap into the unknown, and this requires a degree of courage for which there is no immediate precedent and which few people realize.”
Courage seems to be connected with knowing that there are choices and the ability to make them in the face of fear. Returning to the metaphor of life as a bridge, imagine this life-bridge as filled with choices. We do not choose to be born. Most of us do not choose to die. We choose on the life-bridge between. Rabbi Nachman’s life-bridge is the dwelling place of the things we have the most control over–our choices.
May also said that “A man or woman becomes fully human only by his or her choices and his or her commitment to them. People attain worth and dignity by the multitude of decisions they make from day to day. These decisions require courage.”
Courage gives us the ability to make choices knowing that mistakes are possible and making them anyway. Our choices further our quest to live life without being afraid. This requires knowledge of the self, being self-centered in a way that has nothing to do with being selfish but has a lot to do with authenticity.
May talks about courage as well. “Courage is not a personal virtue or value among other personal values like love or fidelity,” he says. “It is the foundation that underlies and gives reality to all other virtues and personal values. He also points out that courage comes from the same stem as the French word Coeur, meaning heart.
LET ME INTRODUCE MYSELF
My name is Courage
I live in the place of the heart
My door is always open to friends
And strangers alike—welcoming all
I can be very helpful when danger or fear develop
But like it most when I can just hang out
My favorite color is white, which allows me to be quite visible
But not alarming
What is puzzling is that people seem to forget about me living in their hearts
They behave as if they don’t know I exist
Or, worse yet, they know I am there and are afraid to make friends with me
Sometimes I feel crowded in my residence
Because the owner of the heart sublets to fear
And fear thinks it owns the owner
But I am honest, confident and valiant
And the main thing, the main thing is…
I am not afraid
My passion is to help others to gain deeper understanding of themselves and the changes, losses, gains, and glories of aging. So, “grow old along with me–the best is yet to be.”
How do you know when to throw in the towel? When is “enough” really “enough”? What are the signs that tell you, “You know, honey/mister, this job/project/course is taking too much out of you”?
On the other hand…a good challenge is hard to discard. A well-honed skill or series of skills may be a treasured part of your repertoire, and if you give that up, then what?
Most of us experienced this internal dialogue when we retired from our paying careers: teacher, engineer, physician, or business person. These occupations were relentlessly full-time—week, month, and year in and out. As a bridging activity after retirement, and perhaps forever after, until the inevitable end of the road, some of us become SGLs who create, plan, revise, and then lead courses for our fellow BOLLI members. I recommend this undertaking, but it can be a real challenge!
I have created and led about ten courses, always building on old knowledge and experience but adding new challenges and new learning along the way. It’s much like adding new wings or extensions to an existing building. In this way, I have taught four different courses about immigration to the U.S., three different courses about aspects of aging, and one course on the history of marriage (co-led) through fiction. And most recently, this one just past: “Resistance and Resilience in Politics and In Life.”
This year, I literally outdid myself. So riled up was I, so upset about our current political morass and its potential for real harm to our country and beyond, that I created a course about politics and the necessity for resilience and resistance in these perilous times. I was satisfied with my goals (although they were perhaps too far-reaching), but keeping up with the daily political changes, mis-steps, crises, and mind-blowing emergencies in daily news coverage was a huge challenge. Between scandalous, heartbreaking and frightening “breaking news,” “fake news,” and tweets, I was constantly updating and revising plans for each class. How much could I include and still make sense of it all? How much of what was going on in Washington and around our country (and the world) could we discuss in one class? My brain was on overload as I read and clipped newspaper and magazine articles and tried to stuff new information into my brain.
If I am giving the impression that I was on overload, that is true. I forgot some important things like hearing aid batteries one day, and on another day, I actually left all my teaching materials at home. Two successive week called for two nervous and hurried trips home to get essential materials that had been forgotten. And then, I rose to the occasion, and the class went well.
The class and I concluded our studies, mutually pleased with our learning and camaraderie. I hope I met my goal of encouraging more informed political activism whether in the form of marches, contacting elected officials, making crucial phone calls, writing letters to the editor, or supporting worthwhile organizations. Our participation is crucial if we are to turn this mess around!
I look forward to a good rest. But during a much needed swim this morning (where I do some of my best and most creative thinking), I swam into a new possibility for a course, one I know something about. “Swan Songs” — Creativity and Resourcefulness in Seniors! Now, let’s see. Where did I leave my towel?
As I grow older, I am more interested in the conditions, changes, services, culture, and even politics affecting me, my husband of 53 years, my friends — and my 104 year old mother. What does it mean to be growing older in today’s society?
I have been “downsizing” my closets and dresser drawers–giving away coats, scarves, gloves, hats, sweaters. I’ve been trying things on and then attempting to decide whether or not I will continue wearing that skirt, top, pant, sock, jacket, or shoe. I have a medium-sized box stationed against the wall for objects that were on the bathroom window sill and around the Jacuzzi. I’m eying things in our bedroom but haven’t made decisions yet.
Believe me, that doesn’t even touch the downsizing challenge. The house is full of stuff that we’ve collected over the 45+ years we’ve lived here. I’ve been told one has to be brutal about this process, and I’m trying.
Gradually, I’ve started cleaning kitchen cabinets, starting with the one under the sink and the rotating one next to it. Eventually, I’ll get to the drawers. The silverware drawer and the one that holds the “wraps” and “plastic bags” are okay, but don’t ask about the 3 junk drawers! And now, I’m procrastinating about cleaning the oven. Even with a self-cleaning model, the door has to be done manually. Why bother? It just gets dirty again. The carpets need cleaning, except for the one in the family room which should just be replaced. The inside walls need painting. Door knobs need scrubbing. The dishwasher works but only runs the regular and heavy cycles. Who needs light and china cycles anyway? The clothes washer and dryer are fine, but don’t forget to turn the water faucet off when not in use. I could go on and on, but you get the point. Oops! I forgot to mention my precious books, Native American artifacts, and jewelry.
The exterior of the house is well maintained, thanks to the love of my life. It’s a “stately” looking house, gray with black shutters and a warm barn-red door which welcomes family, friends, pets, trick or treaters, and the occasional door-to-door salesperson. The lawn is a challenge. Some of the abundant trees have been cut down so they won’t fall onto the house in a hurricane or high wind storm. Sad. I mourn when a tree is fallen. Our back yard is bordered by acres of conservation land. I call it my emerald forest in Summer; glorious multi-colors in Autumn; newly fallen snow, fresh and clean, in Winter; Spring, well you know Spring buds–the world is born anew.
So, what does all this mean? What do our possessions, our well-tended homes, and lawns become? When we downsize, pare things down to a minimum, our abundance becomes the stuff of memory. When we move to a townhouse, condo, or lifelong living community, are we diminished? What do we become? What else is there to give away before we take up our final residence in a coffin or urn?
We give generously of our wisdom, thoughts, feelings; we mentor the younger generation and our contemporaries. We argue, offer opinions, and listen attentively. We volunteer. We march for just causes. We meditate and pray. We cry for and with our friends. We accompany them until they are no more. We love, and love, and love some more.
We give of ourselves to others and allow others to give of themselves to us as we age, decline, and eventually melt back into the Universe from where we came.
My passion is to help others to gain deeper understanding of themselves and the changes, losses, gains, and glories of aging. So, “grow old along with me–the best is yet to be.”
I am looking at two articles from the NY Times printed this past August whose subjects both have to do with aging.There cannot be two more different articles than these two.One of them, published in the business section on August 19th, is entitled, “Coping with the Dread of Inching Toward Oblivion.”The second, published on August 13 on a page called “Vows,” concerns a wedding:“She’s 98. He’s 94. They Met at the Gym,.” Each piece reflects a truly real aspect and possibility about aging, albeit 180 degrees different from one another.TAKE YOUR PICK!
The first article, written by economist Ron Lieber, was prompted by the near collapse of Medicaid, a logical outcome if Obamacare had been nullified by Congress this past summer.Fortunately, and for the moment, Medicaid stands–a bulwark for seniors who cannot afford long-term nursing care either in a facility or at home.This care becomes a necessity when elders are faced with diseases like Alzheimer’s or any serious degenerative disease necessitating round the clock supervision and monitoring.Lieber reviews several books written by caretakers and recommends them. You may want to consult them:The 36 Hour Day by N.L.Mace and P. Rabins;A Bittersweet Season by Jane Gross, and Being My Mom’s Mom by Loretta A.W. Veneer.
A number of us are all too familiar with the subject of long-term care.We have nursed our husbands or wivesor parents through long, painful demises and know what it is like to have our loved ones change and diminish before our eyes.There are compensations for care-taking, andmixed blessings do accompany caring for a beloved one during a downhill course, but care-taking, nevertheless, is one of life’s heaviest burdens.
AND ON THE OTHER HAND!Here’s a vibrant story of a lively romance between two fit 90-year-olds (she’s almost 100).Their courtship and marriage makes me smile and gives me hope that life can continue to bring joyfulness, unexpected good times, true companionship, and even romantic love – no matter what your age.(We have even seen some of these romances at BOLLI!)
IS THERE A COMMONALITY HERE?I have searched my mind for one,and this is what I think:we have a lot of love to give.And we also have a great need to be needed and loved.Caring for your loved one, no matter what degree of pain or suffering we may experience as the caretaker, certainly lets us know that we are needed at the most fundamental of all levels.At the other end of the spectrum, romantic love allows us the full expression of our desires.We are needed. We are loved. We are fully alive,giving and receiving.
It is one of life’s great puzzles that some of us are given heavy burdens to carry, sometimes over long periods of time.Others of us seem to dodge the bullets of protracted illnesses, hurricanes (of all sorts), financial trials, and losses of many kinds.
If only we could TAKE OUR PICK!
As I grow older, I am more interested in the conditions, changes, culture, and even politics affecting me, my husband of 53 years, my friends–and my 104 year old mother. What does it mean to grow older in today’s society? My experiences as a social worker, as a high school English teacher, doing a lot of reading about aging and loss, and living to 80 (so far) have prepared me to write this blog.
Leave comments, more suggestions for further reading, etc. in the box below! Our writers so appreciate knowing that you’re out there!
I was six years old when my family moved to a two-family home on Athelstane Road in Newton Center. A few years later, my Father bought me a blue and white Schwinn two-wheeler. I learned to ride quickly, never fell, and was allowed to ride all over the neighborhood, including all the way into town.
Over the years, Barry and I rode bikes locally as well as on the streets and trails of Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket. After we built a summer home on the South Shore, we and our children all biked the Cape Cod Canal. By then, I had taken up jogging and spent much of my time running and preparing for running events like the then Bonne Bell 10K for Women now sponsored by Tuft’s Health Care. My bicycle took a back seat.
At 80, I decided to take up biking again. At the bike shop, I insisted that it had to be one that was small enough and with a seat low enough that I could put my feet on the ground when I stopped. We bought a state-of-the-art Trek bike. Helmet and all, I rode up and down the driveway. Then, we drove the bike to Lincoln Sudbury High School where I rode around the parking lot until I thought I was comfortable.
But, since then, my beautiful bike has been sitting in the shed. Why? I’M AFRAID OF FALLING! At age 81, our orders are clear: DON’T FALL.
And yet, on a more serious note, I realized that being afraid to fall doesn’t preclude learning to fall.
Philip Simmons, in his book, Learning to Fall: The Blessings of an Imperfect Life, describes how he thought he had to learn the art of dying after he was diagnosed with ALS at the age of 35. What he really ended up learning was the art of living until his death ten years later at 45.
The book is written, in his words, “with the urgency of a man whose days are numbered.”
Simmons writes, in the context of dealing with loss, “Life, after all, is a terminal condition. Each individual soul is, as the poet William Butler Yeats says, “fastened to a dying animal.” We’re all engaged in the business of dying, whether consciously or not, slowly or not.”
Simmons writes that the work of learning to live richly in the face of loss, such as we elders experience every day, whether consciously or not, is the work that he calls “learning to fall.”
He states that his book’s central theme is “born out of a paradox: that we deal most fruitfully with loss by accepting the fact that we will one day lose everything.”
Here are some quotes from his book that move me as I hope they move you.
“Think of falling as a figure of speech. We fall on our faces, we fall for a joke, we fall for someone, we fall in love. We fall from ego, we fall from our carefully constructed identities, our reputations, our precious selves. We fall from ambition, we fall from grasping, we fall, at least temporarily, from reason. And what do we fall into? We fall into passion, into terror, into unreasoning joy. We fall into humility, into compassion, into emptiness, into oneness with forces larger than ourselves, into oneness with others whom we realize are likewise falling. We fall, at last, into the presence of the sacred, into godliness, into mystery, into our better, diviner natures.”
“In the act of letting go of our lives, we return more fully to them.”
“As I see it, we know we’re fully grown up when we stop trying to fix people. All we can really do for people is love them and treat them with kindness.”
“If we can’t laugh, we can’t properly be serious.”
“Life is both more or less than we hoped for, both more comic and tragic than we knew. Comedy ends in happiness, while tragedy yields wisdom.”
“We have all suffered, and will suffer, our own falls. The fall from youthful ideals, the waning of physical strength, the failure of a cherished hope, the loss of our near and dear, the fall into injury or sickness, and late or soon, the fall to our certain ends. We have no choice but to fall and little say as to the time or the means.”
“In fact, I would have it that in the way of our falling we have the opportunity to express our essential humanity.”
“When we learn to fall we learn to accept the vulnerability that is our human endowment, the cost of walking upright on the earth.”
SWITCHING GEARS AGAIN
In the final chapter of Simmons’ book, he takes us even farther. “We all have within us this capacity for wonder,” he says, “this ability to break the bonds of ordinary awareness and sense that, though our lives are fleeting and transitory, we are part of something larger, eternal and unchanging.”
“You see, we really are all in this together. There are times when the fact that we are in different bodies, or have lived in different centuries, or that some of us have died while others live on or are yet to be born, seems a trivial difference compared to what unites us and abides. Our journey takes us to suffering and sorrow, but there is a way through suffering to something like redemption, something like joy, to that larger version of ourselves that lives outside of time.”
TRAIL’S END: The last paragraph of the last chapter includes this passage…
“Some of us go willingly to the edge, some of us are driven to it, some of us find ourselves there by grace. But all of us get there at some time in our lives, when through the gateway of the present moment we glimpse something beyond. And when we do, may we open ourselves to wonder, may we surrender to the mystery that passes understanding, may we find ourselves at the threshold of this eternal life.”
So, I’ve decided that, at my age, it’s time to let go of trying to ride my bike and risk falling–physically. Instead, paying attention to the words of wisdom that Phillip Simmons has to offer, I’ve committed myself to something much more important: “learning to fall” into the life I have left.
Metta, Elizabeth David
My passion is to help others to gain deeper understanding of themselves and the changes, losses, gains, and glories of aging. So, “grow old along with me–the best is yet to be.”
Share your comments with Liz–and fellow BOLLI members–below.
This month, Eleanor muses on the recent “skinny repeal” Senate vote, and her thoughts remind all of us, regardless of our politics, to be extremely mindful–even vigilant–in terms of how our health care might be affected by changes to our current system. Thank you, Eleanor!
DO YOU PLAN ON GROWING OLD?
Information about Medicaid and what it provides to so many of our citizens emerged in recent weeks as the revisions to Obamacare or its potential cancellation bubbled to the surface in the Senate. In a July 1st NY Times article by Ron Lieber, I read that: “One in three people who turn 65 end up in a nursing home at some time.” And, “62% of those people cannot pay the bill on their own.”
We cannot predict our own futures. We cannot know whether we will need nursing care over a longer period than we can afford to pay. Even when we have planned for a financially solvent old age, unexpected illnesses and costs may develop. Even long term care insurance may be insufficient. We cannot know how long we will live (my mother, for example, is now 104 years old) nor who will be there to care for us. Family members often live great distances from one another and cannot disrupt their lives to sufficiently care for their elders. This creates a lot of uncertainty, many “unknowns.” We like to think that we will be healthy and self-sufficient until our deaths, but that is often not the case – as we know, as we can see around us.
Medicaid is our safety net. It is the same Medicaid that cares for the young, the poor and sick, and those with disabilities. Medicaid still supports the elderly in nursing homes who need assistance. I read that, on average, the annual cost of a semiprivate room in a nursing home is $82,128. Medicaid also currently pays for home and community based care for older adults. Most people cannot afford the high nursing home costs, especially if their retirement funds have already been reduced by the protracted illness of one of the partners in a marriage, leaving the widowed (usually woman) with insufficient capital for their own care.
This fact (and the multitude of safeguards provided by The Affordable Care Act for most of us in the U.S.) is why we all probably breathed a great sign of relief when the Republican Senate plan to wipe it off the books was defeated. People all over the country had rallied to support the admittedly imperfect Obamacare, but most Republican Senators turned deaf ears to their activist constituents. Only three: Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Susan Collins of Maine, and John McCain were able to hold the line against the attackers. Good thing for us! Great thing for us — to date!
I learned that each state has its own requirements to determine qualifications for Medicaid. Lieber recommends a “plain-spoken guide,” How to Protect Your Family’s Assets from Devastating Nursing Home Costs. He also writes that many people hire elder-law attorneys to help them navigate state Medicaid rules.
The proposed Republican changes to health care legislation that would have affected us directly as we age and possibly become infirm are real and very, very significant. This recently defeated plan to eradicate Obamacare would have directly affected all of us seniors, some in devastating ways. We need to stay alert to possible/probable further actions which could significantly alter health care benefits. We all need to be vigilant. We need protect our self interests by advocating for universal health care in whatever forms appeals to us–but certainly not by eliminating it. Become an advocate! Your health care–and mine–may depend on it.
As I grow older, I am more interested in the conditions, changes, services, culture, and even politics affecting me, my husband of over 50 years, my friends — and my 104 year old mother. What does it mean to be growing older in today’s society? Please share your thoughts below!
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