It was the evening of Good Friday. I spent the dark, still hours of the night with intermittent pain. I couldn’t tell what it was. Probably indigestion, I decided. By 8 am I’d had enough and reached out to the on-call triage nurse who didn’t miss a beat. In short order I was on a stretcher, in the back of an ambulance, headed to the ER. It was a long day, followed a week or so later by heart scans and an endoscopy. This was foreign territory for me as I was experiencing myself in a deeply unfamiliar way.
Thankfully, the results confirmed that everything was fine for now. Then my teeth started acting up. My teeth? They’ve always been the envy of my family and high on the coveted low maintenance list. Two crowns, three fillings, and an intricate root canal later, I am thinking back on this curious health adventure.
Was it simply coincidence that my health took a hit a mere nine days after retiring? A joke the universe was playing on me lest I get too cocky? Was it my body giving in to something long-held and pent up that I will never understand? Or maybe it was just the physical changes of aging coming to call.
I continue to have more questions than answers. Nonetheless, my experience was a timely reminder that the need for adaptability and resilience accompanies the entire cycle of life. Aging, in my book, is right up there with adolescence when it comes to the need to adapt and to develop resilience. Our culture doesn’t frame it that way. Instead, we are bombarded with images of aging that are hyper-idealized or uber somber. As if there are only two ways to age. I’m not falling for that. The truth lies somewhere in the middle, and the key is anticipating that we will change and that life will continue to change around us. Knowing this, we can stop resisting and start preparing ourselves for the journey ahead.
Key Aging Related Changes
You don’t have to be wheeled into the ER to recognize how your body has changed. Scroll through your old photos and you’ll easily recognize that it didn’t happen overnight; it’s been a continuous process. The place between resisting these changes and totaling giving into them is called adapting – that’s worth reaching for. Instead of running, maybe you’re walking, and adding in some balance work and light weightlifting. The point is to care enough about yourself to make the most of the physical body you are in right now.
By the time we are sixty, we’ve accumulated a wealth of experiences that are loaded with personal meaning. Some of them are associated with feelings of loss, grief, sorrow and loneliness. Maybe you are a caregiver and experiencing overwhelm. Know that you are not alone, so be gentle with yourself and seek out ways to work with these feelings. Connect with your doctor, or a therapist. Talk with a trusted friend or family member who won’t judge you. Or put yourself out there a bit more to expand your sense of community and belonging.
Maybe you’ve retired and have lost contact with those work friends who helped get you through the week. Even if you’ve relocated to a great new community of your choice, you will still need to begin anew in terms of making friends and being connected. Reach out. Seek others with shared interests or extend your heart and your experience to others by volunteering.
Loss and letting go of the known
The changes that occur as we age revolve around two things: adapting to loss and letting go of what was, what we have known. While this is true of the entire cycle of life, it is particularly so as we age. By accepting the inevitability of change – whether it’s physical, emotional, social, or all three – we can begin to build our change resilience muscle for the journey ahead.
Stay tuned for Part Two of this article: “Tips on Navigating Change as We Age” coming in the October issue.