For me, aging has become a very interesting process of give and take. I’m finding there are things I must give up and other things I must take control of. Unexpected challenges seem to be around every corner, and when I meet them and am successful I find feelings of satisfaction, competence, creativity and strength that help to minimize the mourning that so often accompanies loss.
Because my husband is recovering from knee replacement surgery, we had a very unsettling realization. I’ve been waiting to have cataract surgery until after his knee surgery (we’re taking turns at restorative medical procedures) and so for six weeks I’ve had to take over the responsibility for driving wherever we go, which is usually Oscar’s job. As the junior driver in our family, it had been a long time since I had driven at night.
This week I suddenly found out I can’t do it any more. Headlights blind me and I can’t read the road signs. So I’ve given up that capability until after my eye surgery. Now we stay home after dark or go out with friends.
The idea and feelings of letting go of something I used to be able to do is extremely unsettling. And being the “what-if-er” I am, I find myself thinking about other things I might have to relinquish, give up, not do and miss as I grow older – like the stairs in our home. I’ve already given up sitting on the floor to play with my 5- and 2-year-old granddaughters. They bring me the games and things to color and put them on the couch because they know if I get down on the floor, I won’t be able to get up without help.
Right now reading is hard for me because the print appears as double in everything I look at. But this is one thing I’m not ready, willing or able to give up. So I’ve found a way to take control. I remove my glasses, put a pillow on my chest, rest the book on it about 2 inches from my eyes and read.
As I look around our community, I see others who have had to let go of many things, demonstrating a creativity and strength I find both amazing and encouraging as examples of what can still be done with modern-day technical assistance. The letting-go process has not stopped them whether voluntary or involuntary. They’ve found other ways to do what they need and want. Walkers support them, hearing aids keep them in the conversation.
A blind friend listens to books on tape voraciously. Another friend who had a stroke visits the gym regularly to work out, despite having to give up playing favorite sports that he had done for almost a lifetime. A newly diabetic neighbor has given up many favorite foods that call out to her invitingly, and I admire how she handles the loss of ice cream, chocolate and all the pies and baked goods that used to be a part of her life.
Some losses are voluntary and others are mandatory, but watching people deal with the challenge of adjusting to these kinds of changes inspires me and makes me realize that growth spurts can occur at any age. Letting go may be a normal part of the aging process, but so is taking control, adjusting to change and finding new ways to do things. In the words of a very dear friend, despite the changes that challenge us as we age, it’s important to “keep the sunny side up.”
Freelance writer Judy Kramer can be reached by email at [email protected] She is author of “Changing Places: A Journey with My Parents into Their Old Age.”