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Finding Resilience: Transitions in Aging

As our lives progress over moments and calendar dates, we're usually rushing to accomplish things, tending to our routine, or settling in for some precious downtime. We celebrate major milestones with memorable events and invite our friends and loved ones to gather with us to help create what will become cherished memories.

We keep evolving and growing, but the subtle changes that we experience don't show up as a new face in the mirror every day. Old age comes without any real heads-up. Once we're adults, maybe we're not as self-aware because so much of our time is focused on helping others. Or because we still feel energetic and young at heart, we don't always notice that we're aging much. The passage of time is more noticeable in children, as they grow taller and develop emotional maturity we can see how they've changed.

Our aging becomes more apparent when we attend a large gathering, like a family reunion, a wedding, or a funeral service. it's then that we notice more acutely that we've transitioned from being a member of the group of young people, to middle-aged, to arrive at being one of the older people in the group. It can be surprising to see a face in the mirror that we don't recognize. Suddenly we're gray-haired (or silver or white), and we have laugh lines, frown lines, blurry vision, wrinkles from sun damage, and age spots. And hair growing in unwelcome places. Our senses dim at the same time we have trouble with the stairs, balance, and strength.

This is when we realize that our lifetime is limited, and there is no way to turn back the clock. We reflect by looking back at our memories, and forgotten ones can be revisited if we stop to contemplate specific times of our lives. Images are etched in memory - frozen in time like a statue in the park. But we can't live in the past or wish it was better. It's already gone.


How do we cope with our new stage of life now that we're officially an older person? By learning to become resilient. Sometimes we get swept into new patterns of behavior due to an unexpected turn of events. The loss of a job and the community of co-workers, a death in the family, divorce, children that grow up and leave the nest, or a health setback can all bring on some heavy changes.

During times of transition, it helps to focus on creating the new. A new sense of purpose and self-discovery. Many times in recent years I've found myself needing to move past the heavy feelings of grief and loss. In the past twenty years, I've lost my spouse, both parents and in-laws, a sister-in-law, and several cousins, aunts, and uncles to death. After crying, sometimes screaming, to release the acute pain of loss, I knew I needed more lasting relief.

With self-discovery, there are plenty of things you will discover about yourself when you're alone, and can take some time to contemplate your life. A lost relationship is a lost connection and there is a craving to get that back. Even though I enjoy spending time alone, we're wired to be social, not isolated and withdrawn, even if we're living with others.

I discovered that I had a choice. I decided I wasn't going to sit home feeling sorry for myself. That I don't like feeling low, and I do like being around other people. As a Baby Boomer, growing up there were always lots of friends to do things with. There were almost four thousand students in my suburban high school. So being socially connected is part of who I am. And that is what I chose to help get myself out of the depths of despair. Soothing music, exercise, inspirational quotes and books, meditation, and being out in Nature are all things that also helped to heal my grief.

Feeling less alone can help us heal. Also becoming interested in learning new things, and being involved in community service helps immensely. Helping others brings immediate gratification! Finding a new sense of purpose by getting involved is a terrific way to lift your spirits. Saying "yes" to more and more invites, but not to the extent of spreading yourself too thin. That creates new problems and makes life feel overwhelming. It's important to find some equilibrium, that balance of being active and also resting and relaxing.

By connecting with people in your own community, you can gain a new appreciation, and feel acceptance by and for others. Something special happens when we're actively engaged in a group. We are present, not thinking about where we should be later, but focused on the here and now. It requires a presence of mind, and a degree of mindfulness, and can keep you from dwelling on the negative or focusing on past hurts and losses. Essentially it means building the new, by letting current circumstances evolve. You may have to be the one to reach out, to seek new opportunities for involvement, but there's a good chance that there is a group that has organized some events, and they'd be happy to welcome you into their circle of friends. You can be a contributor to something greater than yourself by breaking out of your old routine and building a new one,

and this can lead to a new you, with new interests.

Learning to become resilient can open us to things that can ultimately change our lives for the better. Here's a way to get started: pretend you're a visitor in your own town, and decide to try a new restaurant every month for an entire year. Write the names down and pull a new one out of a hat every month. Invite a new friend to join you, or organize a group outing. In this way, you can socialize with a new circle of people, and engage in new activities together while getting to know each other. That can lead to new friendships, which can be hard to find in our later years. It's worth a try. Change is progress, and accepting change is essential in order to move forward. Focusing on what you want and being open to new possibilities can be life-changing, for the better.

"feeling good is its own reward!"

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