If you love your children, get rid of everything before you go.
That’s essentially the message my friend told a congregation of loved ones at her mother’s funeral. Each year before her mother died, she started asking the children if there was anything in particular that they loved or that their children might love.
A painting, the china, her box collection, or even the wrought iron wood basket beside the fireplace – each year, she made sure items left her house. My own mother has talked about assigning each relative a color and asking them to put color-coded stickers on the bottom or backs of items, like a yard sale.
Only this time it’s kind of like a mindful life sell.
This issue of Carroll Magazine features “Aging with Grace,” a Special Section that we hope will help readers plan for retirement and their final years. The section is somewhat self-serving because many of us are either caring for our parents, or we are close enough to rounding the retirement curve that we want to have a better sense of what to expect.
One tiny, but important goal was to also get folks talking – with each other, with their parents, with their significant others and/or their children.
While you are healthy and happy, talk about the inevitable – aging and dying – so that you can approach both with more confidence and pride.
Confidence and pride. There are two words that are rarely linked to aging and dying.
At least in our culture, the one that champions youth, ageless skin, colored hair, virility, The Bachelor, Survivor, The Amazing Race.
Aging isn’t just a biological process, it’s a cultural one, aptly notes a Healthy Living blog (Huffington Post, May 2015). Though we have bolstered the biological process of aging, the cultural process becomes more toxic.
“Physical signs of human aging tend to be regarded with distaste, and aging is often depicted in a negative light in popular culture, if it is even depicted at all,” the post states.
“There’s so much shame in our culture around aging and death,” Koshin Paley Ellison, Buddhist monk and co-founder of the New York Zen Center for Contemplative Care, told the Huffington Post. “People themselves, when they’re aging, feel that there’s something wrong with them and they’re losing value.”
Yes, it is both sad and true that many people feel less valued, if not invisible, once they age. Overwhelmed and invisible.
In other cultures, Native American, Greek, Korean, to name a few, old age is honored and celebrated. Younger members are more likely to seek wisdom from, and care for, aging members of the family; death is seen as a natural part of life’s cycle, which not only lessens fear, it also launches celebration more than dread.
As this issue’s Special Sections reveals, bountiful resources exist to help families navigate each transition with less dread and more celebration.
Learn from others, lean on others. And as every person we talked to advised, start the conversations now.
Protect aging loved ones’ dignity by helping them be, or at least feel, in control as long as possible.
While you talk about the practicalities; share stories, look over photos, surround them with friends and family. Remind them of their value.
Then, perhaps, the same confidence and pride that surrounds birth, is more likely to be present as we tell our loved ones goodbye.
And that is cause for celebration.
Lisa Moody Breslin