I get a steady flow of inquires about how to deal with the anticipation or actual loss of an aging parent. One reader framed it this way. “It is devastating to think about and I don’t want to create undo sadness by mourning so early. If we start doing that, how can we stay positive when we’re around them? How can we keep ourselves from becoming more depressed?” The short answer is that at some point all of us simply get swept away with grief. But there’s more to the story.
The loss of aging parents is a dominate theme for adult children in the second half of life . All of us know how the story turns out. But this sobering fact also carries with it an opportunity, no matter how unwelcome, for us to grow. This is the exact point Buddha is making in this quote:
The hurt will arrive either way, and there will be protracted grief. But embedded in the experience is a path to go beyond grief to discover new insights about ourselves, our aging parents and our collective journey. In the process we also discover a new empathy for others experiencing the same loss. To do this, however, requires a shift in focus, which is not alway obvious or easy.
Here are three ways I have seen adult children effectively “focus on the lesson” as they rebalance an outcome they couldn’t control:
1. Gratitude. How we get here is a mystery. That we are lucky enough to get here in the care of loving people is truly a miracle. Take careful note of the layers of blessings that have been delivered to you through your parents. Gratitude is the great “stabilizer” for you and your aging parents. It calms everyone down. More important, it sends a heart felt signal that the journey has mattered and always will. Looking for rebalancing reference point? Focus on the lesson of gratitude.
2. Legacy. The last phase of life is meant to review and celebrate its meaning. Helping your parents explore life review will surprise both of you in terms of the stories and what they mean. I prefer to dig out the “sepia” photo albums and ask “who is that?” It is amazing how the past is really only a nano-thought off stage in their hearts and mind. It is in the retelling of stories that we are defined and connected. Give your aging parents ample room to tell theirs while there’s still time.
3. Connections. Shakespeare, among others, was correct in insisting that a “sorrow shared in a sorrow halved.” We all need the company of others who are experiencing the hurt/lesson process. This may take some looking and involve a few false starts, but when you find a nurturing small group, it will mean more than any of us could ever imagine. In our deconstructed world that has lost almost all elements of communal connections, finding a like-minded cluster of other adult children may prove as important on one level as the family in coming to terms with loss.