Deep in the American narrative lies the archetype of the pioneer, a symbol of independence and grit, who makes a way of life out on their own in new territory. However, the problem with this mythic image is that to be independent does not mean that we don’t need anything from anyone or we never ask for help. There is a hidden inter-dependence beneath each of us as our families, friendships, communities, and businesses enable us to live and age well. In fact, in the image of the pioneer we find this inter-dependence as the source of thriving in a wild and new landscape. They relied on community and hospitality to survive, mentally and physically, through cycles of harsh seasons and unknown threats. In many ways, long life is that frontier space we are beginning to occupy, family by family, in new ways.
A Declaration of Inter-Dependence
One of the fears of aging is becoming dependent on others, which runs counter to our values of independence and self-reliance. The truth is that when doing anything new and challenging, like raising children, creating businesses, or shaping policies and governments, we constantly practice inter-dependence where we both need others and are deeply needed. Facing aging and caring for aging loved ones should be no different.
Yes, as we age we may develop increased needs for daily life, but we also have the capacity to develop increased gifts. In the words of author, Elizabeth Gilbert, “There is a certain wisdom that comes from living. No adult going through a very serious problem would ever go to a 19 year-old for advice. We become so much smarter and so much more interesting every year of our lives. We are taught to fear aging like it is the worst possible thing that could happen to us, when it is totally the dead opposite; it is the best possible thing that could happen to us. I don’t fear aging. I do fear that an evil genie will come and make me relive my 20’s again. That would actually be the worst thing that could happen.”
To Need and Be Needed
In her humorous observation Gilbert shatters the paradigm of aging as a time of increased needs and consumption of resources, but reminds us of the gifts and acumen that only come with long life. There is a huge focus in eldercare on living in and maintaining independence. But what do we mean by that? Perhaps we have confused the concept of self-sufficiency and individual sovereignty. Perhaps there is a false perception that we give up self-direction or control when we need assistance with daily living. As we move into the future, our aging society would do well to make a declaration of inter-dependence, where we acknowledge that our lives together are shaped by both the reality of our developing needs from one another and our developing gifts for one another.
As aging adults and family caregivers let’s grant ourselves permission to:
- Depend on others to do the things that are most important to you
- Have difficult conversations that matter with the people you love
- Ask for the professional help and resources needed to support the life you want
- Call on friends and communities for advice and support
- Ask for more funding for research for diseases that impact your family
- Seek out guides and advocates to navigate the changes with you
- Develop and communicate your wishes so your plan can be respected
- Take good care of yourself mentally, physically, emotionally
- Find ways to grieve and express what you’re going through
- Rely on the kindness of others
- Ask for support and ideas to stay socially connected and engaged in life-giving activities
- Adapt to new challenges and circumstances and make choices that honor your values
If you are asking questions about how to meet increased needs and support a high quality of life for an aging loved one, you are not alone. At Sound Options, our team of in-home caregivers and professional RN and MSW Care Manages are able to navigate new territories and provide the care and guidance to support the life you envision. We believe you should get real help from real people in real time. That’s what we have been about for over 25 years. Give us a call to consult today at 800.628.7649.
Published on July 10, 2015.