Guest Post by Jane Heineken
My husband probably notices it more than anyone else these days: the newest frown line fossilizing into my forehead, the unusually long lapses into silence on the car rides, the hesitation when friends casually ask what’s new. The distraction of worrying about elderly family members underlies daily life like a constant ground fog.
My parents’ life situation—as well as our relationship—reads like a Facebook status: it’s complicated. My sister and I wish nothing more than for them to be in a safe, comfortable environment where their many needs are met and they are able to enjoy the things and people that still give them pleasure. Unfortunately, they are not, due to a mixture of bad breaks, bad decisions and decades of denial and resistance. As we approach the half century mark ourselves, she and I ponder how we might choose a different road for our own future. I think it requires taking on the Unruly Mind Demon: the distractor that has you focusing on the wrong things.
We live in a culture that emphasizes the negative aspects of aging, and of course, there are plenty: physical limitations and medical crises, emotional losses and financial challenges. Worrying about these things may cause feelings of sadness and fear, which can make it difficult to think and act in productive ways. We’ve all seen Hollywood stars pursue a youthful outward appearance at the expense of their overall health. Fear can drive people to focus on material objects instead of relationships or to procrastinate rather than tackling tasks while they still have the strength and energy to complete them. Worst of all, fear can prevent family members from discussing important topics such as end-of-life care, creating bad feelings right at the time when loved ones need each other most. However, neither obsession nor avoidance can prevent the march of time. Change is always scary, but if we wish for a life of both long length and good quality, we need to push through the fears that hijack our thoughts and distract us from becoming informed, making choices and taking action while we still have the ability to do so.
Going through these experiences with my parents has inspired me to look for positives to counterbalance the negatives. Broadening my friend circle to include older adults outside my family gives me other perspectives and models to follow. [See also: http://demonsofdistraction.com/blog/2011/11/21/don%e2%80%99t-let-your-age-distract-you-from-your-dreams/ ] Becoming involved in community service, such as Christmas caroling in area nursing homes and visiting with the residents, has also been an uplifting activity. Dialoging with others of my generation about elder-care and our own coming senior years has brought an unexpected measure of understanding and support. Should my husband and I be granted the privilege of an old age, I know it won’t be easy for us or for my daughter. But I hope that we will have taken care of many of the situational and procedural matters in a timely manner so that we can focus on enjoying each other and the rest of our family.
Jane Heineken has been a Managing Your Mind staffer since 2006. She is a graduate of Eastern Michigan University and Washtenaw Community College. Her special interests include child development, family communication, and cross-cultural communication.