July - August 2013 My cat, My Father and Me
I was visiting with my father recently, and he asked me when I was going to slow down. I didn’t have an answer. It’s just too hard to envision with a busy job, busy family, volunteer work, home and garden. I really don’t know how to do that.
I know my dad is struggling with this issue too, because his 90+ year old body is telling him he has to slow down. But he, and many people I know, are having trouble getting comfortable with this reality of living into old age. My father gets satisfaction from creating things with his hands. We live in a culture that values independence and productivity. You are supposed to be busy doing something, supposed to make every effort to stay young and active. Yet with the benefit of improved healthcare, people are living decades past retiring from employment, then past the years of travel, volunteering or raising grandchildren. But bodies and minds can’t do as much as they did at 50. Do we have to maintain the pace? How do we slow down? How do we embrace these changes?
Where can we find good models for moving gracefully into old age? Certainly not in popular media! Many can’t look to their parents, who did not reach their 90s. Do we know people we can watch and say, “that’s how I want to do it” when the time comes to slow down? Can we find satisfaction in activities that are not as physically or cognitively challenging? Can our communities and families create these opportunities for our elders? Can we find ways to honor and memorialize our lifetime achievements and legacy rather than end life focusing on the regrets for what was not done? How have you made this transition?
I think that those of us who were raised in a Euro-centric, educated, middle class culture in the Mid-Atlantic region, are at a significant disadvantage. We have a lot to learn from other cultures where achieving elder statehood is revered, where it is acceptable to slow down and smell the roses, where elder wisdom and oral traditions are honored and passed down.
We also have something to learn from my cat. She seems perfectly comfortable increasing the hours she sleeps or cuddles in a lap. She moves to the sun when she’s cold and to the concrete basement floor when she’s hot. She’ll play for a few minutes if she feels up to it, and some days has no more ambition than to chase a fly that’s annoying. She doesn’t feel guilty or apologetic when she accomplishes nothing all day long.
A culture change is necessary as we prepare for the growth of the oldest segment of our population, those over 85, which is expected to double between now and 2030. There is a tremendous opportunity for those entering this demographic to become the models we need for old age. But they/you need our help and respect as they/you are once again our pioneers.
Maybe I can learn to spend more time with my parents just watching the sunset from the porch. Enjoy your summer everyone! Hope to see you at TED talks!
Susan W. Hoskins LCSW
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