From the Downhill Slope


While at the hospital there were many silver-haired men and woman around.  The ones leaving the hospital, I assume after visiting a loved one caught my eye the most.  The men looked the saddest and lost in their thoughts; the women were also for the most part sad, but trying to put on a happy face, and seeking eye contact and connection.  Sad men don’t share so easily,  but perhaps that feels better to them. One can only hope.  I need to share.

What is happening now reminds me of a talk I had  ten or so years ago with a young friend facing her mother’s downhill slope journey.  From all she told me, it did not sound as if Mom was going to become her usual self; maybe an ok new normal for a while, but not the mother my friend seemed to think she could become.

I said something like, “She probably won’t be her old self, but hopefully will get well enough to have a new kind of normal.”

Mom  did get to a new normal and had some good times then journeyed further and further toward the end of her life’s journey.  The friend stayed in touch with me and repeatedly told me, of all the advice she got,  “Yours was the most helpful.”  Flattering and I think she did find my words helpful.

The older one gets, the more painful becomes the reality that the journey is at some point going to be all downhill.  I know many who keep hoping for  the old normal. I certainly would like to pick a time  when my body and mind were at their strongest and live there forever.  Not going to happen.

Many feel that the optimistic and ever hopeful people do better.  I am not so certain.  I think optimism is a mixed blessing and can lead to denial.  Also with the American motivational gurus’ most frequent motto—“You can get whatever you want”—comes the sword of self blame when life doesn’t go your way.

Three components of emotional health as noted by George V.Coelho in his book Coping and Adaptation are the ability to code reality, to comfort yourself, and to accept what you cannot control.  Denial is comfort at the cost of coding reality, facing reality means accepting what you can’t change while controlling what you can.

Knowing you are on the Downhill Slope is a life blow or a crisis.  As with most life blows accepting this reality usually comes in stages and that is our heart and soul’s way of easing into facing what we don’t want to see and cannot control.

It is also hard on those who care and have to watch the struggle.  David has had a year of coming to grips with being on the Downhill slope.  It has been harder on him than on me, but I hurt too.

I remember when I first looked at my Mother and said, “She’s an old woman.”  Not easy.  She had always said, she planned to end her life up at Fair Acres—that was the county’s home for the aging who couldn’t afford private care.  She planned to enjoy herself.  And she managed to do just that.  It was astounding, but it was also facing reality and accepting what she could and could not control.  She had a bed by the window, so she could watch the sunset.  For a long time she managed to smoke in a facility where smoking and matches were not allowed.  The family was upset by this, but somehow she always had cigarettes and matches to light them with.  She said if  asked  “My  good fairy takes  care of me.””  Maybe it was a family member, but I often  had the feeling it was a staff person.   When she finally lapsed into a coma;  she was  to move her to another floor;  she died before being moved from her window.  She did things her way. I hope I can do as well.

It helps if you are a person of faith in some sort of afterlife.  My mother wasn’t religious but she did believe in reincarnation and tried to live a good life so next time around she would have a better life.   I am less sure of anything, but hopeful.  I do know, I hope to be like my mother, to face reality, accept what comes, and stay in control of what I can control.

It also helps if you are not in pain and now that is David’s biggest problem.  If we can get rid of the pain, he can walk on the level for a while longer.  He won’t get back to where he was before the year began, but I hope he can find a pain-free normal.

Time will tell.  Keep good thoughts for all.

Agree or disagree, comments are always welcomed.

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