Dr. Herbert Randall passed away on February 14, 2019. He was an advocate for Senior Citizens and served as President of the Nevada Silver Haired Legislative Forum and Silver Senator with the Nevada Delegation of the National Silver Haired Congress. We were colleagues based on our work with seniors and friends based our love of writing.
A few years ago he happen to read my book as part in his search for information on older adults. He was entering the last phase of life and he wanted to know as much as possible about what to expect. The model on the developmental tasks of seniors in my book resonated with him, and he wanted to share this information with his son and daughter. The problem was they seemed reluctant and resistant to make time to talk about the end of the parent’s lives. So, instead of forcing a conversation, he chose to write the a letter that began with the refrain, “Dearest Son, Dearest Daughter”
Not surprising, Dr. Randall accomplished skills as a writer used the book’s material to craft a remarkable “debriefing” of here’s what’s going to happen to your mother and me as we become officially old. Every time I read his letter, I am taken back by the elegance of his voice, the flow of language and the emotional undertow of love that frames his message to his adult children. This is what good writing looks, sounds and feels like.
Dr. Randall shared his letter with the world in the December, 2016 issue of the Senior Connections, Nevada magazine (Here is link to the article.) I have also included the letter in this post (see below). Taking the book’s message to his adult children taught me how important this material was for older adults in addition to their adult children. As he made clear in our conversations, older adults need to know this about their mission at the end of life. It gives them a new sense of dignity and purpose instead of just waiting around to die.
Thank Dr. Randall.. I am going deeply miss your keen intellect, on point sense of humor and deep compassion for the issues older adults cannot ignore or evade.
By Dr. Herb Randall
There are some things you really need to know while there is still time.
Being well aware of your aversion to discussing the tough subjects and your busy lifestyle, I thought I would write you in the hope that you might find time to read a letter before it gets here.
I know, son, that you don’t read books unless they are tech manuals, and you, daughter, do read quite a bit, mainly mystery novels I think. Neither one of you would even think of reading books that I read now. In your defense, your mother won’t even read the ones that I have read lately. But you see, I believe I must educate, or maybe inoculate, you and me about what the next ten or maybe twenty years will surely bring to this family.
Actually, it is already here, even though its full effect has not yet been realized. This thing does have a name. It is sometimes referred to as a calamity, but is more commonly called simply ‘old age.’ Many say it “ … can feel very much like having a condition from which the person will never fully recover.”
This is the first of many quotes I will be offering from one of the books I just finished – ‘HOW TO SAY IT TO SENIORS, Closing the Communication Gap with Our Elders,’ by David Solie, M.S., P.A. You should note that all quotations in this letter are from his book unless otherwise indicated.
On the positive side, I was happy to learn from Mr. Solie that just because I have lately started repeating myself more often does not mean that I am losing it nor that my capacity is diminishing.
He writes that “At all stages of life we repeat stories: to brag, to clarify or resolve a problem, or to amuse.” However, for an older person “… the repetition can contain useful information about the person’s struggle with the life-review process.” More about this later.
In fact, “…research shows that the most important mental capabilities remain intact throughout the aging process.”
As you can probably tell by the title and subtitle, the book is directed toward improving communication between my generation and yours. Thankfully, I believe that our ‘communication gap’ is not as wide as that in many other families.
That may be why I focused on another part of the book – what drives us (senior adults) to do what we do. I thought that would be good for you and me to know.
In my opinion, the real essence of this book is pretty much summed up in one sentence. “Seniors’ developmental tasks compel them to maintain control over their lives in face of almost daily loses, and simultaneously to discover their legacy, or that which will live on after them.”
What makes accomplishing these two tasks difficult is that one is about hanging on and the other is about letting go. Additionally, Solie believes that elders are “… operating quite intensively in a world that is hostile to them.”
One of his many facts presented in evidence is that our society has “ … ripped ‘elders,’ a term of respect, out of our vocabulary; now they’re just old.”
Maintaining control is one of the primary drivers for seniors “ … because each day, they feel losses – of strength, health, peers, and authority – that are staggering.”
The battle for control must be completed first or as Mr. Solie puts it : “For senior adults to go forward developmentally, they must first go back and take stock of what has happened. But if control battles continue until death, seniors don’t have the chance to reflect and formulate their legacy – those events and values by which they want to be remembered by family, friends, and future generations.”
The good news, if one can call it that, is “Once they feel that control is no longer an issue, senior adults [can] focus on reviewing their lives to find what it meant for them to have lived.”
And the author believes that could be “… the difference between a life that fades away and one that is cherished by succeeding generations.”
As I wrote earlier, the two drivers are not compatible or as Mr. Solie writes: “Fulfilling this aspect of their developmental mandate is the opposite of maintaining control: It is the ultimate process of letting go.”
Also, and this is very important, we seniors apparently do not have a choice. “Legacy is not optional. … legacy insists on being addressed, either consciously or unconsciously.”
One of the most profound statements in the book is “When we start to realize that we’re not going to be here forever, we become aware that it’s not clear what it meant to be here at all.”
Mr. Solie continues: “Every day, every hour, whether they mention it or not, the seventy-plus age group is reviewing their lives. The review intensifies when health becomes compromised, what Mary Pipher refers to in ‘Another Country’ as moving from the young-old to the old-old stages of life.” “It is a continuous and involuntary retrospective in which senior adults weigh everything they have done in order to build understanding and acceptance of the life they lived.”
We elders supposedly know that “… making decisions is not what life is about.” “It’s about understanding what has happened and what it all means.” “Yet because seniors are old doesn’t mean they understand this process.”
The author has discovered five predictable dilemmas which the elderly face.
Where will I live?
How can I best manage my health?
How will I cope all by myself?
What should I do about money?
What is the right way to say good-bye?
Fortunately, none of these seem to be a problem for us yet, but all have the potential to be troublesome. One serious accident, one debilitating sickness, and the whole scenario could change. So, these need to be given some thought.
Many pages in this book are devoted to being a legacy coach. The author states; “Briefly, the primary job of legacy coaches is to help senior adults discover the way they wish to be remembered.” “Undeniably challenging, the role of legacy coach also offers us the greatest rewards.”
You, Dearest son, may very well get stuck with this job as we live only a few minutes away, whereas Dearest daughter lives four plus hours away. But do not despair, Mr. Solie offers this conclusion: “There’s no more important job associated with legacy coaching that helping our elders determine how they will be remembered.”
Finally, here is the last list of tips from Mr. Solie’s book. You’ll know that “The elderly are signaling that life review has shifted into high gear …” when they say something like this.
“I am not sure how many more birthdays I will be around to celebrate.”
“I want to see the sunset on the ocean just one more time.”
“I don’t want to be a burden to my son [or daughter] when I die.”
“I hope you will remember me.”
Dearest Son and Dearest Daughter, I hope that this has not been too much realism for you in one blast, but I just had to try to make you aware of what lies ahead. When the time comes, do the best you can and do not worry about it. Your best has always been good enough for me.
Dr. Pipher wrote “The only thing worse than having aging parents is not having aging parents.”
All my love forever, Dad