Aging well requires acceptance, preparation

Q: I am afraid that I am not doing well with this whole getting old thing. I see other people my age who appear to be happy and smiling and doing great but I am not. My days start and end with handfuls of pills, waiting for various doctor appointments and scheduling yet again more surgery. My own children hardly ever visit me and my grandchildren not at all.

The few friends I have congregating for coffee every morning seem to be as a distressed as I am. So, what am I, or what are we missing here? Where is that little piece of magic that changes all of this from the moulding years to the golden years?

A: I am not sure that you are ever going to find that little piece of magic to draw you into a more rewarding and satisfying daily routine but I can tell you this: irrespective of what our ages are, we as people are always responsible for our own well-being.

Despite what some misguided television commercial might tell us, that does not go away as we get older. I would like to share with you a process for aging that some people have found useful. Of course, each of us is different and this may not work for you but it will at least give you something about which you can think.

The way that I see it, aging includes three significant steps.

The first step is the acceptance of our own mortality. The merchant of death is going to stop in for a visit. We cannot pretend that he won’t. We can’t hide from him, but neither should we obsess ourselves with him. He is simply going to come, sometimes when we least expect him. All that we can really do is be thrilled with each and every day that we have and let him do what he will when he chooses to do so.

Step two is preparation. We know that we are one day going to die so let’s get everything organized as much as we can before the big hand on father time’s clock strikes that moment. Most of us have our wills written out and saved. We need to also have discussions with both our families and our health-care teams to make sure that everyone knows what we want when we hit those final moments of indecision.

The very difficult decision for most families is when it is reasonable for treatment to be discontinued. The more that we can help our families understand our own personal wants for treatment, the easier it will be for them to work with our medical teams to respect our wishes and make the appropriate decisions.

Finally, the third step: we need personal goals. In fact, healthy folks have goals at all stages of their lives, be they young or old. The same is true for aging.

Of course, our goals have to be reasonable. We are not likely to subcontract the reconstruction of the World Trade Centre, but we can organize special days for our loved ones, nurture potted plants, keep our vehicles clean and organize all of those old photograph albums. When my parents were bedridden during their last couple of years, they took their few savings and used what monies they could to sponsor deprived children to attend summer camps. That was their goal. It kept them busy — contacting social services, phoning families, finding summer camps and making arrangements to pay for the children. Often as not the kids would come back filled with gratitude and help my mom and dad feel a little better about themselves. Those were wonderfully related moments.

One Friday morning my dad died. The next day my mom died. What are your goals?

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