Talking about aging and dying

CONSCIOUS AGING

Opinion: Columns

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Marc Blesoff

This is the time of year when many of us engage in family conversations — sometimes about grandchildren, sometimes politics, sometimes previous generations and who knows what else. Sometimes around the dining room table, sometimes in the living room and, I suppose, maybe even online.

There's a couple of topics that traditionally don't make the list — our own aging and dying.

Our current cultural narrative about aging is that old is bad, that life peaks in middle age, and it's all downhill after that. (This is actually self-fulfilling prophecy.) Who wants to talk about that? Also, most of us are deathly afraid of our own mortality (no pun intended), so why bandy that topic about over dinner? If we do talk about dying, it is usually somebody else's death.

There is no getting around some of the difficult changes we experience because we are aging, which is to say we are living — loss of relationships or loss of some physical abilities or loss of mental acuity. Serious, difficult changes.

While we have limited control over how our bodies age, we do have freedom to fashion the meaning we make and the attitudes we hold. We can embrace new limits, and from there discover and give meaning to the things we still can do. 

The author Mary Chase Morrison, writing in her late 80s, mused, "To preside over the disintegration of one's own body, looking on as sight and hearing, strength, speed and short-term memory deteriorate, calls for a heroism that is no less impressive for being quiet and patient. Anyone who watches aging closely and with a sympathetic eye can sometimes be lost in admiration for the aging and their gallantry."

The Conversation Project (www.theconversationproject.org) is a very good tool to help start us talking about what kind of medical care we choose as we age. I have used it in my family and it was extremely helpful.

The long and short of it is, let's take advantage of our traditional holiday family conversations to include the traditionally difficult topics of our own aging and dying.

 

Center for Gerontology Distinguished Speakers Series

This Friday, Elizabeth White is speaking in River Forest. Elizabeth is a friend and a colleague in A Tribe Called Aging. She is the host of our local Wabi Sabi Film Festival, held at the Lake Theatre. Friday evening, Elizabeth will be the first speaker in the Concordia University Chicago Center for Gerontology Distinguished Speaker Series.

She recently wrote a book titled, Fifty-Five, Underemployed, and Faking Normal, wherein she researches, analyzes and chronicles the stories of the rapidly growing numbers of older Americans who are not able to save enough for retirement. I encourage you to attend Friday, 6-7:30 p.m. at the Krentz Center, Room 120, 7400 Augusta St., River Forest.

This event is free and open to the public. It is the kickoff event for the Center for Gerontology's 2019 Holiday Camp for Seniors, which will be held on the River Forest campus, Dec. 6-8. For more information, contact Dr. John Holton at John.Holton@CUChicago.edu.

Marc Blesoff is a former Oak Park village trustee, co-founder of the Windmills softball organization, co-creator of Sunday Night Dinner, a retired criminal defense attorney, and a novice beekeeper. He currently facilitates Conscious Aging Workshops and Wise Aging Workshops in the Chicago area.

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