Healthy Aging Part 6: Acceptance
by Robin Bush
Acceptance takes courage. As a child, perhaps we had to learn to accept that our strength might not be in art, even though we dreamed of being an artist, or as we got older, we weren’t quite fast enough to make that sports team. As we moved through life, the relationship we sought or the lifestyle we’d imagined may have eluded us. Yet, we learned to accept, adapt, and move forward. Perhaps it is human nature to have to repeat that lesson over and over throughout life.
As a young person, we may have imagined what it would be like to be older. When we were five, we wanted to be six because it meant we could go on the merry-go-round by ourselves. When we turned 13, we were impatient to be older so we could get a learner’s permit to drive. But what did we imagine it would be like to be 50 taking care of aging parents or to be still working at 72, or living with relatives at 85?
Fate, heredity, lifestyle choices, resources, opportunities, and health undoubtedly affect how closely what you imagined matches your reality today. Yet, as different as today may be from what you imagined, you can influence what is to come by choosing to do something today that you can influence and accepting the things you cannot.
“Anything you can’t control is teaching you how to let go.” – Jackson Kiddard
Acceptance is being grateful for what you can do and letting go of what you can’t, and it’s recognizing that what you can and cannot do today could change tomorrow. After a sudden illness, a person who used to walk for hours each day might only be able to climb one set of stairs barely, yet they can be grateful for still being able to move, and perhaps they will add one more stair every month and in six months be able to climb two sets of stairs. Or maybe not. And if not, then it’s about learning to accept that one set of stairs is excellent. It’s still mobility; it’s being grateful for being able to get out of a chair and accepting that walking to the window is good. It’s being grateful that you can make your cup of tea and accepting you can’t cook dinner. It’s being grateful for the friends who visit more often than when you were more mobile because they want to help, and learning to accept their gift of help with shopping, food preparation, errand running, and more.
If we can maintain our positive attitude toward the circumstances of our aging, and accept what comes, as well as being willing to accept the help that is offered to us, then we will heal faster, live a more grateful life, and be better able to provide help to others. That is vital to “healthy aging.”
When mental energy focuses on the positive, it re-sets negative thinking and builds resilience and good physical and mental health. Accepting your aging process may also mean adjusting to accepting the aging of others. I remember my mother as a hard worker in her 50s in her job as a librarian, managing church events, and volunteering at the soup kitchen. I also have memories of her in her last years, barely able to talk, but when we visited, she’d brighten and become attentive. She could still smile even if she couldn’t speak. It’s what she could do, not what she couldn’t, that mattered.
I told my mother’s caregivers what a vibrant woman she had been, not with sadness that she was not that way any longer, but with pride for the life she had led and the positive attitude she had had through the last 15 years of major health challenges. I hope my daughter will someday share stories of her mother who traveled the world, volunteered, and lived with passion, purpose, and dedication every day of her life. I also hope she will share stories of how I was grateful for every day I had, that I was positive to the very end, and through each setback accepted what I could still do, even if it was just to smile at her.