We’re getting older.
Brilliant headline, right? Applicable to Every. Single. Breathing. Person. But I’ll bet the phrase strikes each of us differently, depending on where we are in the stages of our own lives.
To my parents, who are both 86 years old, it probably means something very different from what it means to me and to you.
Four years ago, my mom had a major stroke and has been recovering since then, having survived a host of very serious medical problems following the stroke. Somehow, miraculously, she recovered most of her functionality.
One of the hardest things post-stroke is she couldn’t drive anymore -- a key part of her life, independence and how she saw herself as a person. My mom loved to get in the car all by herself and take off for a trip back down South from Oklahoma. She stopped at every TJ Maxx along the way, shopped as long as she wanted to, and then visited with family and friends along the way in what she called “God’s Country.” Closer to home, she ran errands, saw friends for lunch, went to appointments and shopped.
After the stroke, she lost all of that. Now, she only goes somewhere when someone else, like my Dad, or my brother, who lives with them, or my sister, who lives nearby, takes her.
But we were grateful she was alive, even though she couldn’t always remember the sequence of day-to-day life activities and the calendar was hard. What was going to happen next week or next month took some talking about. But on the phone and often in person, my Mom was still my Mom, and we were glad.
At the same time, my dad was dealing with his own physical challenges, and I believe in many ways, he’s had the harder time.
Formerly a Type A hard-driving corporate executive, he retired early at age 60. He dabbled in other things, but in time, he settled into retirement, playing golf, teaching Sunday School and working in the yard.
Today, he struggles with serious neuropathy in his legs, limiting his movement dramatically. It takes him a long time to get in and out of the car, to walk across the room, and he now rides those little motorized carts around Costco and the grocery store. He goes to a lot of doctor’s appointments. He still drives (should he? We know…) but those days are clearly limited. He’s forgetful and is easily frustrated. He’s gone from working in the yard to sitting on the porch.
Both my parents are hard of hearing and don’t choose to have hearing aids, furthering their frustration and isolation. They are proud people, which makes getting help for their new daily realities even harder.
My brother moved to Oklahoma from Atlanta nearly eight years ago. He lives with my parents. I’m thankful in many ways he’s been there to help them. But in other ways, it’s not been healthy for him, or for them, to be under the same roof for so long.
Everybody there is stressed.
By their own physical limitations.
By each other.
By not being able to control their lives, their health, their circumstances, the relentless march of the calendar, the daily grind of food shopping, doctor’s appointments, household chores and the shrinking breadth of life.
Families are complicated already, weighed down by all kinds of stuff. The stuff of childhood, sibling differences, old hurts and grievances, and perceptions of each other we really don’t fit anymore but seem hard to let go of.
I recently read an article about adult siblings and how they know each other longer and share more history than with anybody else in their lives. But often, grown-up sibling relationships are strained. It’s sad to hear stories of many who are permanently separated from their adult siblings by choice. This, often just as parents struggle with aging, and strong sibling relationships are needed more than ever. There is something profoundly sad about this, provoking, even more, feelings of helplessness.
Yes, we’re getting older.
Dealing with our own changing circumstances with jobs, spouses, finances, our own health, more or less free time, our grown children. Watching our parents decline or learning to live without our parents. Working to balance it all and be there for each other while staying fully present in our own lives. It’s the tough stuff of slogging in the trenches of real life.
Sometimes in the daily struggles, a moment of clarity appears. When everything stops, and what’s really important comes into sharp focus, even if for just a minute.
Recently, I had a moment like this. When it’s all said and done---cable news, the gray winter weather, my own aches and pains, worry about my parents, my kids and the future…all of that really doesn’t matter.
As my very wise mother once told me: “Worry is a fast getaway on a wooden horse.”
One Christmas, she gave me an embroidered pillow on a brass stand that had these very words above the outline of a rocking horse. At the time, I had to stop and think about what that phrase meant, but it’s worth thinking about.
Worry doesn’t get us anywhere. The relentless march of time is something we aren’t going to be able to stop. Learning to live in the here and now -- that is where peace and joy and contentment lie.
And then, a couple of days ago, someone I follow on LinkedIn, Dr. Travis Bradberry, posted this from the philosopher Socrates: "The secret of change is to focus all of your energy, not on fighting the old, but on building the new."
That’s another phrase worth thinking about. How can we make something new? What’s ahead for us that will be better than anything that’s gone before? What do I, and what do you, need to focus on today to make something new?
We’re all getting older. That’s a fact. What are we going to do with it?