Archives for Living With Loss

With Children, It’s All About Time

Many of the elders believe that when it comes to child-rearing, there’s one thing your kids want more than anything else: your time. Paul, 80, when asked about the key to successful child-rearing fully endorsed the idea that time spent together is the most important thing. Ultimately, the lesson came from his daughter:

Pay attention to your kids and read to them and be with them and help them grow up and I don’t think you do that from afar. I always read to my daughter when she was growing up and my parents always read to me. It’s a marvelous way to interact with them because they really appreciate it and they’ll tell you years later. That’s one of the things you do.

 Tragically, Paul’s daughter became ill with cancer in her fifties, and after a long battle, died. She let him know how important the time spent together was:

 The other thing I remember, when my daughter was so ill, she said, “You know, the one thing I always appreciated from you and mom was that you attended my events, my high school games, my band performances, all those kinds of things.” You don’t get that when they’re in their teens. When they get to be about 30, they say that was good, that was good for me to have you there. She was in the marching band and we always went to those things. Well I’ll say this, following a marching band and a football team around – I think that’s what you do with your kids, you have to be with them. They’re a project you have to do. Hopefully you teach them some of the principles you believe in.

“Suck it up and get on with life!” Marty’s Lessons

One key component of elder wisdom has come up often on this blog:  That happiness is a choice, and not a condition. Over and over, respondents in the Legacy Project told us that life invariably involves loss and difficulties. However, individuals can make a conscious choice to make the best of their circumstances – even when the circumstances aren’t ideal.

Marty, 82, is a retired college professor. He’s gone through the loss of his first wife in his mid-60s and is now in a very happy second marriage. Marty emphasizes the importance of choosing to be optimistic and as cheerful as possible:

I think you have to be enthusiastic about things and not be grumbly about everything. I always follow the idea that, well, today’s today, and if today doesn’t go well I’ll try it again tomorrow. I think that’s very, very important.

My first wife died and I was really down, I would have to say. And then I woke up one morning and I said to myself, “You know George, what you always used to say to your students when something happened was “Suck it up and get on with life!” And, to me it was amazing that I didn’t tell myself the same thing. But I did it that morning. That was in 1995, and on that day I decided I still was young enough to do things – and I did! I think we all doubt when we get to certain ages that we can do it anymore. But you can still make a difference to people.

I believe that lots of people are not very flexible. And I think sometimes you have to be flexible in order to continue to have a good life and continue to do the things where you can help people.

So I decided that although I was older when my wife died, I wasn’t going to give up. I hadn’t dated anybody in forty years, so it was going to be hard.. But, I think you have to say to yourself, “Look, life goes on.” There are lots of things that’ll happen to you that you’ll have to overcome whether you’re twenty or thirty or forty; it doesn’t matter. You have to move on.

So tell people to remember that it’s never too late, it’s never too late to change and it’s okay to change.

Adapting: The Key to Successful Aging

When we’re young, we tend to associate aging with loss. We often look ahead with concern or even dread at losing favorite activies. What you learn when you talk to a lot of older people, however, is how well many of them adapt to the inability to do favorite activities, substituting other enjoyable pasttimes for them. I talked with Manny, age 73, about this, and he told me:

I mean, when somebody says, “Jeeze, you’re 73,” I think, “Yeah, well if I was dead, I wouldn’t be, you know?” So I’m quite happy. But I think that as you age, you are unable to do things that you could do, but you change your thinking such that you don’t have the same need to do whatever it is.

And I’ll give you an example. When I was young, I loved to play baseball, and I was pretty good at it. And there was a period of time, I couldn’t wait to spring, I couldn’t wait to get out and practice, to do any of that kind of stuff. But I got to college, I played one year, and I wasn’t good enough to play – there were several better ball players around,. So, I found something else to do, and then I played softball and did things.

But after about 35, I stopped doing it and I didn’t miss it. And I was 18 years old, I never dreamed I wouldn’t miss getting out and throwing a baseball or hitting one. But the body changes, the mind changes, and you adapt. At least, I did. And I think most people adapt if they allow themselves to. For most people, you know, you have to adapt to what happens to you to the best you can. And try to look at the upside of it, not the downside. I don’t have the need or the want to do the things that I at one point in my life I would have died for, if you know what I mean. I went on to other things.

Helga on Surviving Loss and Practicing Tolerance: Video

Helga’s family fled the Nazis in the 1930s, moving to the safety of the United States. Helga and her husband made a wonderful life for themselves and their family, but tragedy struck again in the sudden death of their daughter. Helga worked through the tragedy, however, and shares invaluable lessons for living through loss.

Never Give Up

An inevitable part of moving through the life course is loss. The elders tell us that we must learn to live with what life hands us, and learn ways to be happy in spite of loss. For example, Gloria told me that widowhood can be survived and that there is life after loss:

I am a 94-year old woman living in a retirement facility. I am able to live alone in my apartment that has a bedroom, den, living room and kitchen. Many years ago I chose a “catch phrase” by which I live; “ an attitude of gratitude.” I have learned that, if I look, I can always find something good. When my husband, Nelson, was dying of pancreatic cancer, I was glad that after a few tests in the hospital, he was able to be at home until he died. When he became bed-ridden, we had his bed in the living room where people could visit him. We celebrated our 62nd anniversary while he was ill.

Even more devastating is the loss of a child or grandchild in old age. The implicit contract – that you get to die before your children do – is violated, and the pain is not diminished because the parents are older and the children are middle-aged. And yet, the resilient elders mourned deeply but still recommend striving to be “happy in spite of.”

I feel very fortunate to have had a good college experience, a happy marriage and three children, and to have reached the age of 95. Even though I was widowed at 59 and lost my son to cancer at age 34, I have had a very good life. I have learned through this to accept adversity and keep going. One should not ever give up or accept discouragement because there are many routes to fulfillment and a happy life.

I’ve learned that life keeps going on regardless of whether you’re struggling, because you’re going to struggle a whole lot. You’re always going to have problems, but there’s always a brighter tomorrow, too. I think when you find that out when you lose people in your family, like I lost a son, I lost my husband. When you find out there’s faith, life keeps going on. I made a lot of mistakes but everybody does. I wish we could go back, but none of us can, that’s what you learn, you have to keep going whether you make a mistake or not. We all make mistakes.

Secrets to Happiness: New Videos of Elder Wisdom

Two wonderful elders from the Legacy Project give their advice about how to become and stay happy. Inspiring life lessons about making happiness a conscious choic  from Jessie and Lou, two people who learned how to do it.

Getting Through Hard Times: New Videos!

How can you deal with adversity in your life? Two new videos share Jackie and Dr. Monty’s tips for the attitude to take when life gets tough. They’ve been through difficult times, and they share their secrets for getting trhough challenges.

With Children, It’s the Time that Counts

Many of the elders believe that when it comes to child-rearing, there’s one thing your kids want more than anything else: your time. Paul, 80, when asked about the key to successful child-rearing fully endorsed the idea that time spent together is the most important thing. Ultimately, the lesson came from his daughter:

Pay attention to your kids and read to them and be with them and help them grow up and I don’t think you do that from afar. I always read to my daughter when she was growing up and my parents always read to me. It’s a marvelous way to interact with them because they really appreciate it and they’ll tell you years later. That’s one of the things you do.

 Tragically, Paul’s daughter became ill with cancer in her fifties, and after a long battle, died. She let him know how important the time spent together was:

 The other thing I remember, when my daughter was so ill, she said, “You know, the one thing I always appreciated from you and mom was that you attended my events, my high school games, my band performances, all those kinds of things.” You don’t get that when they’re in their teens. When they get to be about 30, they say that was good, that was good for me to have you there. She was in the marching band and we always went to those things. Well I’ll say this, following a marching band and a football team around – I think that’s what you do with your kids, you have to be with them. They’re a project you have to do. Hopefully you teach them some of the principles you believe in.