Archive for December, 2007
Last Updated on Monday, 11 February 2013 03:36 Written by David Solie Monday, 17 December 2007 01:57
In working with our aging parents, we encounter ” predictable dilemmas” with no easy way out. Here is a personal story that echoes a common theme I hear about from boomers over and over again.
As my mother approached 90 and despite increasing frailty and her super human responsibilities for my special needs brother, she simply refused any assistance. Every approach was rejected. The best we could do was build support scaffolding around both of them for when “the bottom fell out.”
This went on for years. Airline flights, phone conversations, involvement of other family members, protracted conversations with our family lawyer, meetings with my brother’s case worker, and endless strategy sessions with my wife all ended with the same outcome. It was my mother’s way or the highway.
So we shored up the situation the best we could. Despite my mother’s derogatory objections, we purchased long term care insurance when she was in her late seventies. We petitioned the court so she and I could have co-guardianship of my brother. We got her to sign a Medical Power of Attorney. Then we waited.
Almost two years ago she suffered a major stroke. She was found lying in the hallway by my brother’s day care driver. She survived the stroke but had to be placed in nursing care due to a severe disability. My brother was moved to an foster care home for special needs adults.
Slowly we all dug our way out. Her house, my brother’s living arrangement, her long term care benefits. and her medical care were just the tip of the transaction iceberg that needed ongoing attention. After holding on and making a noble comeback, she passed away last April. Like the stroke, it provoked more layers of digging out. The dust has begun to settle, but the emotional and administrative work continues.
I think the take home message for boomers like myself is this:
1. Advance as far as you can go based on the personality and the nature of your relationship with the parent.
2. Retest the boundaries of that advance periodically even if they appear initally absolute. You never know when there is some give in the system.
3. Build the best scaffolding you can with what you have.
4. Keep asking yourself this question: What am I responsible for?
5. Draft a “When The Bottom Falls Out” list of the items that will require your management. Print it out and then start making weekly annotations. Your brain works better with a “starter” document. I think just “pre-thinking” about the house, the Medicare forms, the Power of Attorney steps, and so on will give you greater stability in the midst of the actual chaos.
6. Rethink what you know about the final mission of life. Most of what we are seeing in our aging parents is a need to maintain control in a world where all control is being taken away. Nothing is going to change that. It is not a rational need; it is simply a developmental task. We have all lived them in our own lives. The problem with the last one is how deeply it is connected to our family systems. However, knowing its true magnitude reduces the guilt over trying to craft a perfect ending or trying to control things that beyond our capabilities.
Last Updated on Monday, 11 February 2013 03:37 Written by David Solie Thursday, 6 December 2007 11:40
One of the new mantras of aging in the twenty-first century is the refrain “sixty is the new forty.” Maybe. Good health and an impressive array of lifestyle options certainly make many of today’s sixty year olds look different compared to their parent’s generation. But appearances can be misleading. In their rush to celebrate biological vibrancy, sixty year olds could miss a crucial piece of information about what occurs developmentally on the journey to seventy. Biology is not psychology, and failure to appreciate the difference could leave elders uninformed and ill prepared for their final mission.
Sixty year olds represent an “in between generation,” meaning not quite middle age and not quite old. Developmentally, “in between” is an appropriate characterization of a transition period marked by “agenda crossover.” What do I mean?
Middle age and old age have markedly different developmental agendas. The transition between these age groups is not sudden. It is a crossover process where one agenda ramps off while the other ramps on. From a psychological perspective, knowing where you are coming from is interesting; knowing where you are going is essential. Here is where elders are coming from.
Middle age is dominated by two primary developmental tasks, the “mission” of being fifty-something:
1. Preserve stability in world of increasing personal volatility.
2. Reinvent purpose and direction for the second half of life.
The instability of middle age is well known. It is an involuntary passage into life changing currents that include death in the family, unsettled children, chronic illness, career upheavals, aging parents, and changing partnerships. It is a complex and sobering period that requires super-human effort just to “keep things together.” Truth be told, most of us don’t keep things together, but we do get better at coming to terms with the “physics” of how life operates, negotiating a fragile peace with a vast list of items that remain outside of our control.
The other task of middle age is reinvention in an environment essentially devoid of public goals. This is in sharp contrast to the clear marching orders of the first half of life, a period in which society offer young adults concrete guidelines for their life’s journey. Getting an education, landing a good job, finding the right partner, starting a family, and becoming successful are themes that inundate conversations in the first half of life. As such, they are a public refrain that define and reinforce social goals. And then, almost overnight, this social broadcasting mysteriously ceases. In middle age, public goals give way to private goals, a navigational shift in which life’s purpose and direction becomes like a 401K, self-directed with the increased burden of trying to sort through a long list of confusing and at times conflicting choices.
Despite the demands of the middle age, by sixty most adults have successfully adopted to the tasks. They have found their version of personal stability and made significant headway in defining what they want and where they are going in the second half of life. But beneath this success is a new set of developmental currents that are beginning to surface as middle age recedes. Their arrival over the next ten years will usher in what is arguably the most difficult and magnanimous mission in life. As Bette Davis remarked, “Old age is no place for sissies.”
In my next blog, I will discuss the final mission, what it is, how it surfaces by age seventy, and its profound impact on elders and their families.
Last Updated on Monday, 11 February 2013 03:39 Written by David Solie Thursday, 6 December 2007 11:35
In my last blog I discussed the mission of middle age, stability and reinvention. These developmental tasks of being fifty-something provide an important reference point to understand where sixty year olds are coming from. In this blog, I want to discuss where they are going. I call it the final mission.
The final mission of life is composed of two primary developmental tasks:
1. Preserve control in a world where all control is being lost.
2. Create a legacy in a world where time is running short.
The battle for control in old age is well known but never fully appreciated by younger adults. Sadly, it can be overwhelming for older adults and their families, leaving both parties angry, frustrated, feeling unappreciated, and ultimately disconnected. Here’s why.
Older adults are watching control evaporate right before their eyes. Loss of health, family and friends, social status, productive engagement, driving, living accommodations, and control of money all conspire to render older adults dependent through a relentless series of losses. The reasonable response to this onslaught is to fight back, to resist all attempts to take control away. In many cases this means saying “no” without comment.
Equally compelling is the need to create a legacy, which may come as surprise to younger adults. A common myth about older adults is that they arrive at their advanced years with life figured out, part of an innate wisdom that comes with aging that brings clarity and closure to their seventy or eighty year pilgrimage. Nothing could be farther from the truth.
Life on earth is perpetual seeking. Old age is no exception. Older adults have a mature perspective but a sobering list of difficult questions. For them, as for us, life’s answers remain elusive. Simply put, there is work to be done in the final phase of life to make sense out of what has happened (what it means) and what to do about it (final plot adjustments). This mandatory life review is consumptive and emotionally complex. It involves dancing with ghosts from the past, a return to places older adults thought they had left for good. From this involuntary reconsideration come the building blocks of legacy, the final version of a life story, the kind of mark it will leave, and how it will ultimately be remembered.
So the final mission of life is paradoxical assignment composed of lasting and leaving, holding on to what’s left while at the same time saying goodbye. As middle age adults advance through there sixties, they begin “out grow” the agenda of fifty-something as the needs of old age make their way to center stage. This cross dissolving of agendas creates an “in-between” zone that creates both confusion and opportunity.
Confusion comes from a new mandate to take more control. It is an involuntary paranoia that seeps into even the most mundane transactions where we start to feel the need to defend our control, a hypersensitivity that seems so out of character. Why are we fretting over a casual comment about our health, our looks, where we live, or what we are going to do with our money?
Confusion also comes from a new preoccupation with life review. Why are certain people long gone and apparently forgotten starting to show up in our dreams or in our associations with music, smells, or geography? Why are events from the past that seemed so settled suddenly coming up for reconsideration again?
It seems that just when we have trimmed our sails to currents of middle age, a new developmental storm sends us in a new direction. But with it comes a profound opportunity from knowing what lies ahead. Knowledge of the final mission, control and legacy, offers sixty year olds the opportunity to make “preemptive” choices before the transition is complete. What do I mean?
Opportunity lies in planning how control will be preserved going forward. This could be as simple as purchasing long-term care insurance, having overdue health screening tests or updating a will. But it could also involve a closer look at social networks, spiritual connections, and attitudes, which are all critical factors in successfully managing the loss of control.
Opportunity also lies in considering how legacy will be created going forward. At sixty-something there is ample time to take action on two fronts: repair and pioneering.
The greatest legacies have nothing to do with money; they are always about the human heart. Reaching out to repair important relationships, as difficult as it may seem, opens an enormous legacy channel. Our life story is not only what we have done but also who we are as expressed through our relationships, even the ones that ask the most of us again and again.
And we are pioneers. This could lead us at sixty into radically new pursuits and situations. Or it could mean a new commitment to a life-long passion. In either case, it expands our legacy by demonstrating our willingness to go further, look deeper, and break “new trail.”
Last Updated on Monday, 11 February 2013 03:42 Written by David Solie Thursday, 6 December 2007 11:31
The journey between middle age and old age is a complex zone of developmental currents that are demanding and confusing yet unavoidable. Knowing the mission of where you are coming from and where you are going is essential but not enough. Even with this knowledge, all of us are going to get off course time and again trying to get to old age in good shape. We need something else. Part of that something else is “navigational thinking.”
Navigational thinking involves using questions that have the unique ability to get sixty-something adults back on track and keeping them there. The questions are simple and yet profound, and can be used in any situation to initiate and sustain a course correction. Their effectiveness lies in their uncanny ability to redirect the emotional intensity of transition currents into useful thinking. It is a similar process that pilots use during an in-flight emergency. They resist the natural response to panic by focusing their attention on a set of predetermined questions that lead them to useful thinking about the best course of action to save not only their lives, but also the lives of the passengers who are counting on them.
Navigational thinking helps redirect our natural tendency towards “problem fixation” through questions that help us focus on new insights, choices, and possibilities. The questions have no right or wrong answers; they are not a test. They simply offer a starting point for a new internal conversation about an experience, circumstance, feeling, or problem. Like all cognitive strategies, they are more effective when written down, annotated, reconsidered days later, and possibly shared. Here is an example of a navigational thinking question and how it is useful:
What is the big picture?
Between middle age and old age it is easy to lose sight of the big picture. There are just too many disorientating events pouring down on our lives. Once things take a turn for the worse, the big picture narrows or quickly vanishes. The “big picture” question offers sixty-something adults a way to hit the cognitive “reset” button and recover a more useful perspective.
The big picture of the “in-between” zone reminds us that it is a demanding, complicated, confusing, and stressful passage. The normal response is to feel disoriented and get easily knocked off course. But this is only half of the story. The big picture also reassures us that we will recover and get back on track. This is not wishful thinking. We have personally witnessed numerous cycles of setbacks and recoveries in our lives up to now. Some of them we deeply believed we would never get over. But we did. The big picture reaffirms that our “in-between” passage is just another version of this familiar though not always pleasant process of change. Given time, we will adjust to these unfamiliar currents and become surprisingly adept at navigating the uncertainty and ambiguity of being “in-between.”
Big Picture Take Home
Do not overestimate your capabilities to handle the transition currents. For most of us, they are impossible to navigate alone. False heroics only lead to bad outcomes. Partner up at every opportunity to increase your “collective capacity” to find successful course corrections as well as the invaluable comfort of family and friends.
Identify unreasonable expectations for what they are: unreasonable. The transition currents pile on wave after wave of complex demands. This is a terrible time to insist on perfection. Life is messy; allow yourself to have messy, totally human moments.
Accept the transition currents as “time in the wilderness” where there are no immediate answers or directions. Remember that life’s breakthroughs are always preceded by turbulence and doubt. You have done this before and you know that over time resources and solutions will emerge.
In my next blog I will look at other “navigational thinking” questions that are especially useful for being “in-between.”
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