Carole Carson: Coping with losses
Special to the Sierra Sun
Nobody likes to lose. Not the 5,000 members of the Mudville crowd whose baseball team was down 4-2 in the last inning with two men on base ready to score and Casey stepping up to bat.
They didn’t worry when Casey let two strikes go by. But when Casey swung confidently on the third pitch — and struck out — there was no joy in Mudville.
I don’t like losing either, especially at cribbage.
Unfortunately, dealing with losses — ones a lot more significant than a baseball or card game — are an inevitable part of aging. But if we are fortunate enough to be engaged in the aging journey, we must find a way to deal with losses.
My articles typically focus on the positives in aging. But I’m no Pollyanna. I know that losses, large and small, are painful and accompany aging. Obviously, we have losses throughout our lives. But as we age, they seem to increase in number and multiply exponentially.
For some of us, the losses are physical. Hearing and eyesight may decline or agility diminished. Maybe a chronic condition worsens.
For others, the losses are mental. We have trouble with memory. Or reaction time may diminish to the point that we become a hazard to ourselves and others if we continue to drive.
Perhaps the most difficult losses are the emotional ones. The loss of a spouse. The loss of one’s family home from downsizing. The loss good health. The loss of income after retiring.
A common strategy (and one I’ve consistently used) is to deny the new reality which makes the situation worse. This strategy works until reality intrudes in such a demanding way that it can no longer be ignored. Then we are forced to begin the process of accommodation.
Accommodation is, I’ve discovered, a three-step process that has no time frame and whose steps may overlap. The process is not painless, but the rewards are there to be found.
STEP ONE: TRUTH-TELLING
Rumi, a Persian poet, says being human is like operating a guest house. On any given day, a new arrival at the door of our awareness, however unwelcome, is to be greeted and given our attention.
I meet some guests with joy, like a surprise phone call from an old friend. But I meet unwelcome guests — like a recent case of bronchitis — with anger and resentment. And I refuse to open the door. I didn’t want the infection to inhabit my body, the discomfort of being sick, or the disruption of my plans.
But when I force myself to accept reality — that I was sick and needed help — I began the process of getting well. I saw a doctor, got medicine and began recovery.
I find truth-telling to be the biggest hurdle in dealing with loss.
STEP TWO: ACCEPTANCE
But acceptance isn’t easy either. Even as we work to deal with the new reality, we often feel profound disappointment and sadness for the passing of what was. A loss, whether life-changing (like losing a spouse) or inconvenient (like giving up driving), needs time to be grieved.
Some of the losses endured by my friends are incredibly difficult. One friend is confined to a wheelchair. Another lost her son to cancer. I marvel at their resilience and hope I would do as well in their circumstances.
In these situations and others like them, the spiritual resources of the individual — whatever their religious beliefs — offer a way to accept the unacceptable and cope with the impossible.
After losing my husband, the most difficult loss I’m dealing with and the number one fear of seniors is the loss of independence. The loss is magnified by living in a foreign country where I don’t speak the language.
Back in Nevada County, I thrived on doing everything myself and enjoyed helping others. Now, I am on the receiving end of the help I once gave. And unless I manage myself, I find I’m angry that the aging process has stripped me of my lifelong independence.
STEP THREE: ADAPTION AND ACCOMMODATION
Finding alternative ways to cope is the answer. Creativity is definitely needed to re-arrange one’s affairs so that joy and laughter continue to be part of daily life.
Finding other options for what was lost may even be trying new ways of living. In my case, while recovering from bronchitis, I discovered the fun of binge-watching a Netflix series, “Emily in Paris.”
A certain pleasure — or at least satisfaction — in having risen to the demands of life accompanies this step.
One of the most surprising things I’ve had to learn is that those who help me, whether it’s to hang a picture or tutor me in French, enjoy making a contribution to me. Just as I enjoyed helping others when I was younger, they enjoy helping me now. Consequently, my job is to accept graciously their offers of assistance and express my appreciation for their thoughtfulness.
Sir Winston Churchill said that “Success is the ability to go from one failure to another with no loss of enthusiasm.” To paraphrase him, I’d say that “Success in aging is the ability to go from one loss to another with no loss of enthusiasm for life.”
We can do that by pausing now and then to feel ourselves breathing, feel our heart beating, notice what we’re thinking, and take in the view around us. From these simple actions, we can recover the joy in simply being alive.
Carole Carson, Montpellier, France, is an author, former AARP website contributor, and leader of the 1994 Nevada County Meltdown. Contact her at email@example.com or through her blog: gmasblog.com
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