Dr. Bill Thomas, founder of The Eden Alternative, poses an interesting question.
What if almost everything we believe about aging is wrong?
You’ve seen it before. A magazine article about a man who still runs marathons in his 90s. A woman who graduates from university in her 80s. Someone who is still working as a nurse late in life. I live in a community where the mayor ran and won every election until she retired at 93. These are the elders we revere as shining examples. We shake our heads in wonder. They are amazing. How do they do it?
As much as these elders deserve our respect, Dr. Thomas makes an interesting point.
“Older people have standing in American (or Canadian) society only to the extent that they can do the things that young people do. And what happens to them if they somehow can’t still do what young people do? They disappear. Or more accurately, they are disappeared.” (brackets mine)
Today, we are looking at the second A in care partner. Aging—do we have it all wrong?
From the day I began working in this industry, I’ve heard phrases similar to “Aging isn’t for sissies.” The implication is that when you become a part of this exclusive club, you’d better be ready for a painful journey, where all the joy of life is gone and each day is worse than the one before. The phrase was usually said to me with a wry smile and a squaring of the shoulders that implied the speaker wasn’t a sissy, and was somehow struggling triumphantly through this difficult time in their lives.
So I ask with Dr. Thomas, do we have it all wrong?
Reflecting on my life, I can think of many seasons that were not for sissies. Frightening, difficult times when I wondered how I could make it until tomorrow. I can also recall times of joy and laughter, and I have incredible memories of triumphs and exciting experiences. That’s life. At no time do we sail forth on a crystal sea—at least, not for long.
Dr. Thomas talks about the seasons of life, and suggests there is a fourth. We know childhood, adolescence and adulthood. He maintains the fourth season is elderhood. We need to grow out of adulthood into elderhood as we grow out of adolescence into adulthood. He says that when someone isn’t able to leave childhood and grow into adulthood, we say they are developmentally delayed. Yet as a society, we figuratively dig in our heals and resist in every way, growing into elderhood.
“We’re told that aging is the problem. Aging isn’t the problem. It’s our obsession with youth—our excessive devotion to the virtues of youthful adulthood.”
I’m not willing to throw away my makeup or hair colour, but I hear what he’s saying. I cringe almost daily at the ageist jokes on Facebook, poking fun at ourselves as we age. For at least a generation, we’ve been barraged with the message that all the good things in life occur for the young, and we need to cling to youth with every ounce of strength we have.
Dr. Thomas says, “There is life beyond adulthood. It’s called elderhood. Every day, we wake up one day older. Aging is good. We are all elders in the making. Our society needs elders.”
This is radical thinking. That time of life that we have dreaded and resisted with every fibre of our being is good? Those people we have hidden away in nursing homes, who we care for, are needed? We need them?
It all comes down to purpose, a subject I explored a few weeks ago. We need to send these messages to our elders daily—verbally and through our actions:
“You are important.”
“You have something to give.”
“My relationship with you enriches me.”
Actually, is there any one among us who wouldn’t blossom, hearing that kind of message?
All quotes are from Elderhood Rising by Dr. Bill Thomas https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ijbgcX3vIWs
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