Counting the sum of our blessings

My growing hesitation to embrace the benefits of retirement and having full control of my time caught me a bit off-guard.

Counting the sum of our blessings

I have to confess that since I began writing about eldercare, I have found it difficult at times to keep an optimistic view with regard to the aging process.

Sometimes ignorance is bliss, and before I started experiencing the challenges of aging through the lives of my family members, I was looking forward to the golden years.

I consider myself more optimistic than most, so my growing hesitation to embrace the benefits of retirement and having full control of my time caught me a bit off-guard.

I began to delve a little deeper into my thinking process, trying to determine if this newfound anxiety was a result of too many challenges in too short a time with family, or too much personalizing of circumstances I was hearing about with the question, “What will happen to me if … ?”

Certainly the health issues of our aging parents have weighed heavily on my wife and I. There is a helplessness that comes with not being able to make things better, compounded when there is a distance between you that makes even personal contact difficult.

Aging and ailing family members are a source of great anxiety.

But when the stress of difficult circumstances turns into options that bring families together, then perhaps it is a blessing.

I can honestly say that while my early retirement to care for my father brought significant changes to my life, the time we spent together was more than worth it.

As families have moved closer together or, by necessity, spent more time together, many have felt the blessing of being able to help their parents in their time of need.

From a personal perspective, learning of the challenges for our future, financial independence, physical health and mental health, has certainly been humbling for my wife and I. Yet, to continue to age in denial of these challenges, and to take no actions to plan for them, would shift anxiety and responsibility from us to our own children.

We have come to the realization that there are certain legal and financial steps we need to take, and some discussions we need to have with our children, to provide at least a framework for decision-making that might fall in their laps in the event of a catastrophic health event.

It has also been insightful to me to realize how important it will be to work hard on maintaining a positive outlook as the inevitable challenges of aging arise.

Indeed, depression is a significant factor in reducing the quality of life for many seniors as they adapt to various losses, of spouses, friends, mobility, independence and mental faculties.

I read a story last week about a man who was diagnosed with early Alzheimer’s, educated on the sequence of losses he should expect and the treatments that might be necessary, and sent home to live his remaining time as well as possible.

At first, he was justifiably upset and difficult to live with. But he chose to join a support group, in which the focus was not on what was being lost, but on what remained. The group met once a month and shared stories of things each was achieving, strategies they were using, and ways they could support each other socially so that they could keep their attitudes positive and their mental processes sharp.

For this man, the celebration of his glass half full dramatically changed the quality of his life.

My wife and I, in the likely event that our trip through the golden years takes a long and winding path, hope we’ve done our kids a favour by putting things in place to help them help us, and we hope to keep our eye on the ball of being grateful for what we have, even as the sum total of those blessings diminishes.

 

Graham Hookey writes on education, parenting and eldercare (ghookey@yahoo.com).