Ninety Year Old Teachers
Now let me share some of the things I have learned from ninety year olds. One I shall never forget is a woman who, in her nineties developed breast cancer and gall stones. She was quite upset with God for doing this to her at her age but accepted the surgery and moved on in her life. I asked her to join our cancer support group because I knew she had lessons to teach us about survival behavior. One day when everyone in the group was caught up in their fears and what problems the future held I turned to her for help and asked, “What are you afraid of?” After several minutes of silence she sat up and said, “Oh I know; driving on the parkway at night.” That resolved everyone’s issue as we went from fear to laughter.
Let Their Age and Life Experience Guide Yours
I have also learned to not keep family problems from aging parents. When I would call my ninety-year-old mother and ask her how she was she would tell me her problems with one exception. The exception was if one of her children, grandchildren or great grandchildren had a problem. Then she was focused on advising and assisting them to overcome their problem and move on in life. This gave her a sense of meaning and helped her to feel healthy too. So use the wisdom of the aged, do not hide your problems from them and let them be your guide.
I loved it when I asked my mother what advice she had for seniors that I was going to lecture to. She said, “Tell them to lie a lot.” I asked
how that would help and she said, “If you tell people how you really feel they’ll put you in a nursing home. So lie about it.”
Another ninety year old was asked how he kept from falling. His answer, “I watch where I am going
I also advise seniors to find the oldest doctor they can to take care of them. Then they are less likely to hear this in response to their troubles, “What do you expect at your age?” Years ago there was an internist in a nearby town who practiced well into her eighties and the seniors loved her because she was always there to help and never blamed their age for their problem.
To survive we all need to have a sense of meaning in our lives, and express our emotions, including anger, when we are not treated with respect. Make our own therapeutic choices, ask for help when we need it, respond to our feelings when making choices, maintain an authentic life not just a role and say no to what we do not want to do.
Never Ever Lose Your Sense of Humor
Basically we need to find our way of expressing our love while keeping a childlike sense of humor. I ask seniors how they can die laughing. The answers relate to having accomplished what we are all here to accomplish, which is to serve the world in our unique way rather than a way imposed by others and to have your family tell stories about your life when you are ready to die. My father literally died laughing as my mother told wonderful stories about their early relationship. So you need to embarrass your family regularly and give them material to use when you are ready to hear their stories.
When my father was tired of his body he said to my mother, “I need to get out of here.” That is when we all gathered and made his transition an unforgettable one that gave the children in the family a very different feeling about death.
My father in law was a great teacher too. He lived to be ninety seven in a body rendered quadriplegic by a fall twenty years earlier. When I asked him for advice for the elderly he said, “Tell them to fall on something soft.” A few days later he said to me. “It doesn’t always work. They stood me up in therapy and I fell on my wife and broke her leg. So tell them to just fall up.” I thought that was a joke until the evening he told us he was tired of his body, refused his dinner, evening vitamins and died that night. As far as I am concerned he just fell up. When love is involved and guilt is not a part of dying how easy it can be to leave at the appropriate time; either with loved ones beside you or when they leave your bedside to make it easier for them. As many mothers do.