Mental Health and Aging
Hi there. Cherise here.
Just eight months shy of reaching her 100th birthday, my grandmother made her transition from this life to her eternal rest. Months later, I still find myself saying, “She really did die.”
Not that I thought she would live forever, but I did think she would live to see the 100th birthday she very much wanted to reach. Already the oldest living relative in our family, Grandmother dealt with diabetes, beat cancer, was wheeled away from COVID at the age of ninety-eight, and maintained perfect church attendance despite a pandemic and losing her eyesight. Grandmother outlived four husbands (three exes and one current) and two of her children. Death just didn’t seem likely when it came to Grandmother.
Grandmother’s death came a year after the loss of one son and less than two months before the passing of her youngest daughter. During this time of family loss, I learned of the passing of others from my hometown that were all around my age. These were people with whom I once attended school, church, and weekend dances. For the most part, these were people who had been full of laughter, love, and life… and they were no longer here. While still contending with this, I learn of a friend receiving what some would consider a death sentence. A cancer diagnosis.
Death, Dying and Living After Sixty
Was this how life was going to be from here on out? Now that I’ve crossed the sixty-year mark, would I have to face the fact that death was not only inevitable but always imminent?
When I hold my grandchild, I vacillate between feelings of gratitude and guilt. While I am thankful to have lived long enough to experience her birth, could I have been more proactive regarding my health and finances to be able to be part of her life long-term? If something were to happen to me, who would help my daughter raise her child? What can I do to “undo” what has already been done?
The lists of “shoulda,” “coulda,” and “woulda’s” can take on a life of their own and can begin to overwhelm us if we let them. But how is that helpful? There has to be more to aging than waiting on death or recalling regrets. What do middle-aged people do to maintain a zeal for life when so much, and so many, are dying all around us? How did Grandmother live to see ninety-nine when so many of those whom she knew and loved had already left this earth?
Keys to Living an “I’m Yet Alive” Life
One of the great things about the advancements in modern medicine is that people are living longer. Along with the blessing of longevity comes the reality that we will have more experiences with death and loss as we age. How we deal with death is an individual response that is connected to our values, beliefs, and personal experiences.
Below are some tips we can put in place to help us maintain a healthy mental state as we age and face the growing list of losses we may endure:
Accept that loss is inevitable.
As we age we will handle various types of losses. Whether we are dealing with the loss of a friendship or thinking about the end of our own lives, it is important that we accept the reality of the situation. Acceptance is by no means resignation. Resignation implies we have given up, while acceptance helps us to see the truth of the matter as we search for solutions and support.
Acquire a support system.
A good support system includes those who offer care and accountability. There is a mutual give and take and compatibility. A healthy support system will not only call us out when we are entertaining a pity party, they will also trust us to be there when they need someone to lean on as well.
Accentuate the positives.
Instead of dwelling on what is no longer, look for what is still attainable and good in your life. Many people over the age of 60 find that the inevitability of loss and decline brought about growth and personal development. Many decide to prioritize self-care and their physical health. Maintaining a positive outlook includes being grateful for the past relationships and experiences we’ve shared. It also includes being thankful for the ability to create new ones.
Accumulate new friends, talents, and skills.
As the list of losses piles up, there can be a tendency to shut down and to shut others out, causing a social death that can be as detrimental as a physical one. Poor health and isolation are leading factors in the increase of anxiety, depression, and suicidality in older adults. Many who are aging well, speak of taking up new hobbies, enrolling in classes with subject matters that interest them, as well as joining groups that focus on physical fitness. Some mentor others and have standing dinner dates with friends to stay emotionally connected and socially active.
Ask for and accept help when necessary.
As we age, there may be a tendency to think we are burdens to others when we need help. Asking for help can range from needing help to do chores, wanting companionship, or seeking advice regarding decisions that need to be made. Asking for help is another way to stay joined with loved ones and reduce the stress that often accompanies aging.
Attend to the “now.”
Focus on what is going on in your life currently rather than spending time and energy thinking about the various losses. It is okay to grieve! Yet, only focusing on “the end” can have a negative impact on our mental health. What is in front of you? Are there relationships to be nurtured? Are there tasks to be completed? Look around you… experience what you see, hear and can touch with curiosity and wonder.
You are yet alive!
In his stages of development, neo-Freudian psychologist Erik Erikson states that we enter our final stage of development around the age of 65. Once thought of as the age of retirement, Erikson called this stage The Age of Integrity or Despair. The thought is that while some reach the age of 65 with regrets or worries that decrease their quality of life, others look at their accomplishments with appreciation. I would add that even after the age of 60, it is possible to add to your life in ways you may not have considered before.
There are still successes to be secured. There is still work to be done! Say with me those famous words of Mr. Brown of Tyler Perry’s 2004 play, Meet the Browns, “I’m yet alive!”
Candace Aliké Smith is a content writer and journaling enthusiast based in North Texas. She founded this site in 2015 to help women of color reclaim their vitality through self-care and self-reflection. Read Candace’s journal entries, and follow her content on holistic beauty, mental wellness, herbs and essential oils, non-toxic products, healthy libations, and wellness travel.
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