With aging comes the growing awareness of our mortality and the signs we are only here on earth for a limited time.
We begin to notice the obituary section in the paper and take note of the variance between our age and that of the deceased. As our appearance and body strength begin to radically change from our youthful self, there can be a sense of vulnerability and dread.
We all know aging happens to everyone. Yet, for most of us, there is a moment when we are faced with the task of letting go of the younger, vibrant and stronger version of who we were.
When we begin to anticipate the amount of time we have left, a fear may set in that we have so little time. This fear can be a paralyzing anchor in how we choose to live out our elder years, or it can be used as a catalyst for acceptance and growth.
Erickson’s developmental theory proposed individuals pass through eight stages of emotional development. Each stage presents developmental tasks to prepare for the next developmental stage. The final stage of development is “Integrity versus Despair.”
Recognizing where we fall on this continuum can provide a start point with which to actively direct our experiences. Those who fall toward despair find themselves suffering physically, mentally and spirituality, and, conversely, those who tend toward integrity develop an acceptance of aging and actively participate in their physical, mental and spiritual lives.
Individuals like poet Maya Angelo, former President Jimmy Carter and actress Jessica Tandy exemplify a life lived with integrity and acceptance. However, the majority of us fall somewhere near the center of this continuum.
Taking an honest self inventory can assist in acknowledging where we are on this continuum and explore ways to increase our sense of purpose and integrity. Like any task we have encountered, there is an element of analyzing what is wrong and learning how to fix it.
Focusing on our fears or prior mistakes will only rob us of living in the present. Developing a focus on what is happening right now frees us from our fear-based life perspective. We have spent a lifetime regretting a past event or on something we want in the future.
Take 5 minutes a day and just be. Notice what is around you and take a deep breath, pray, meditate or just take note that each breath brings us life. Who were the elders you honored? Listen to their words of wisdom and follow them.
We may not have the choice of aging, but we do have the choice as to how we face the challenges.
Acceptance of our limitations and honoring our abilities sets the stage for the life we choose each day and fosters the recognition that none of us are alone on this life journey.
COLLEEN FLANAGAN has a master’s degree in rehabilitation counseling and is a member of the Southern Illinois Behavioral Health Team.