Saturday, August 27, 2011

Aging and How to Do It

Elders from TurkeyImage via Wikipedia
I write a lot about aging.  I think our society and our media should understand the importance of this stage of life.  The elderly and the retired are not a novelty.  They represent the consequence of accomplishing old age.  It is an accomplishment. There is an added benefit to society in having people who have acquired the wisdom that comes with getting old.  Old people have stories to tell and skills to teach.  It is inappropriate to pat them tenderly on the head and ignore their efforts and accomplishments. 

Aging often represents loss of vitality and function in the media.  We usually discount retired people as not engaged in the activities of life.  We refer to their battles as "back in the day."  I am campaigning in this blog and other places that I write to revise the attitude toward old age.  A lot of information on the Internet and in print is directed toward the children or care-takers of the elderly.  Society tends to treat them as stubborn children. 

I am convinced that old people are pretty savvy.  I am old.  I like it.  I know what I want, but I often defer my wishes for the sake of others.  Don't dismiss my sacrifice because you don't think I know or understand.  I do.  I made the gesture gladly, but it was a sacrifice.  It's O.K. to thank me.

Old people who are healthy and do not have a debilitating disease should not be discussed as if they were inadequate or absent by doctors, care-takers, or relatives.  When my husband visited the doctor, he ofter asked me after the visit what the doctor had said.  I was glad to tell him what I understood, but it made me mad too when the doctor talked to me instead of him.  I thought the doctor had an obligation to make the patient understand what he was saying.   

Sometimes old people give up.  They don't ask questions.  They don't want to look foolish or be treated as stupid.  So they nod as if they understand.  O.K. this is for the Old Guys and Gals who need answers from doctors, nurses, clerks, waiters, and cabbies:  When you don't understand someone, look them in the eye and speak slowly so they will understand.  State your question simply, and make them repeat it until you are satisfied.  You deserve to be heard and understood.

Getting old involves all of us.  Some of us are on the platform, and some of us are waiting for our turn.   
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Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Why Compartmentalize?

summer moodImage by AlicePopkorn via FlickrI hear people talk about the ability of some individuals to compartmentalize, to separate the various facets of their lives into compartments.  There are some benefits.  I learned how to do it when I was working.  On my long drive to work I shifted my mental gears and left the home and family concerns and took up the work concerns until late afternoon when I reversed the process.

For years I did not understand why my husband was so short on the phone when I called him at work.  At work one day I had a sudden epiphany when one of my children called me:  the gear shifting process takes a few minutes.  I couldn't integrate the compartments.

Those separations or compartments were easier to understand than the ones I deal with now.  My situation has changed and so has the need for compartmentalization.  I still think of myself in one compartment as a single or widowed female.  My attitudes and associations are directed toward my needs as a woman alone.

The second compartment in my life includes my housemates.  I invited my daughter and her daughter to move in with me after my son-in-law died suddenly.  Carol, my daughter, is disabled and she requires a lot of assistance.  My granddaughter Sarah attends college and lives with me too.  We have some juggling to accommodate all the needs, and we are not yet a smoothing functioning machine.  Maybe with time and practice that will improve.

My private activities include writing, building and flying kites, making bread, attending church functions, and research for writing and information.  These are a sub-categories because they aren't always compatible.  I research things I don't intend to write about.  I attend church functions I don't enjoy.  In this part of the compartmentalization there is a fluidity that brings some things to prominence and allows other to fade.   Kites and writing may join for a while, and then separate again when the poem is finished.  Making bread and going to church dinners may join hands but not form a permanent bond.  Genealogy got put on the back burner, but it will have a spotlight again.  Some things are fun to share, and some are too personal. 

Compartments are the way I think about my life.  I feel like I am entertaining some kind of schizoid fantasy when I try to sort it out, but it seems to work.  I can accomplish some things almost in secret and others I advertize and shout about.  Together they keep me active and interested and engaged in life.  At my age this is important!

Friday, August 12, 2011

Adult Development

Cover of "Aging Well: Surprising Guidepos...Cover via Amazon
I write a lot about adult development.  When I took the class in college I never imagined how much pleasure the concept would afford me.  I am in the middle of Aging Well by George Vaillant who also wrote Adaptation to Life.  Both books draw on the finding of the very significant Grant Study of the  Harvard  graduates begun the 1942.  Their lives were followed with interviews of them and their families and comments and insights by them from 1942 until now.  Vaillant has included two other studies of longitudinal importance to his database. 

The second set of data comes from the Gluecks' Non-delinquent Controls.  In the book this group is referred to as the Inner City Cohort.  The data come from a group of matched non-delinquent controls for a study of inner city delinquent youth.  The Gluecks last interviewed them in 1960--62.  Vaillant obtained the funds to follow them in 1975, and they have returned biennial questionnaires since then. 

To provide a female component, Vaillant included date from the study by Lewis Terman conducted at Stanford University on gifted children with IQs 135-140 or higher.  In 1987 George Vaillant and his wife Caroline were allowed to re-interview 40 of the surviving women.  This study had not required physical exams and health information suffered from this lack.

In his books George Vaillant does a great deal to allay the fear of old age for me.  He expands and explores the richer and more abundant resources of life in a new environment.  I studied his first book when I was approaching 50, and the study and the book convinced me that to about 65 there was a lot of life to enjoy.  It helped me not dread my "golden years."  Now I'm past 70, and the gold could be viewed as tarnished or fake, but the truth is I still relish life.  Now I'm reading the second book and I've found Gene Cohen, who takes pains to explore stages beyond the Retirement Curtain. 

Vaillant and Cohen both describe stages of development that extend beyond the stage Erik Erikson called Generativity vs. Despair.  Generativity is the time when we seek to pass on the skills it took us a lifetime to refine.  When we have honed a skill, we don't want it to be lost.  Generativity may begin in the 50's and 60's, but then like Kolhberg's Stages of Moral Development, it can progress to a higher, more generalized application.  Vaillant calls it the Keeper of the Meaning.  By the 70's and 80's the family genealogist wants to do more than research; she wants to write and share and relish her family.  She wants to become a historian or write a biography.  If she has not aged well, she may fall into despair and the vast chasm of aged depression.  The task of this stage is care.  We care for one another, but with maturity, we also care for our society and our family and our the world at large.

Erikson's final stage is Integrity vs. Despair.  The task here is wisdom.  Cohen describes a Liberation Phase that may occur in the 60's or early 70's.  In those people who have aged well, there may be a new willingness to take risks and an eagerness to express themselves.  In this stage the older adults seek to mentor other adults, not necessarily young adults, in how to give of themselves, how to give back.  They are mentoring wisdom and how to end well.

I think, and this is a personal opinion, that old people are not so interested in honor or even respect, but they want to know that somebody has taken up their quest, that what they have learned will not be lost.  My mother used to say, "Act your age!"  I hope she would be glad to see how I am responding to the challenges of getting old.

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Monday, August 1, 2011

100 Words: It's Been a While

Barbed tape at a prisonImage via Wikipedia
Steel doors and body searches and razor wire are not part of my daily life anymore, but I went to see him on Saturday.  When I worked in the prison system, those things were a fact of life, but now they are foreign. 

Maybe it was always like that.  It is the reason for being there that changes your view.  It was not the first time I had visited him in a place like that either. 

There was a time when some change in direction, some adjustment, could have altered his course.  It is useless to speculate about it now.

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