The Tasks of Aging

***  Time for this post? Reading…5 minutes. Considering…the rest of your life.

I’ve been wondering…if aging is a stage of human development, then what are our tasks as we move through this stage.

So I asked someone I knew would have ideas about this. Nora Bitner is a Therapist. Mother. Grandmother. Great-grandmother. Writer. Thinker. And did I mention that Nora is 90 years old? At the end of a message on another topic, she said…

Before I close for today (running out of steam) I’ll just touch briefly on your wonderings about tasks at the end of life.

Like you, I find myself wanting to tie up loose ends, which does indeed cover a lot of ground, especially for someone like me who likes to gather and do things, not just physical objects, but relationships, experiences, journals, chronologies, and has a hard time behaving as though time and energy are running out and I can’t be certain there will be a tomorrow. After all, these things are my story.

I love your word “frailty.” That’s exactly what it is for the old-old, like me, who are dwindling out of existence. I’m always aware of it, but I don’t dwell on it, choosing to live in the moment as much as I can. I see it as a process of letting go, which is hard to do.

The following day, I received another email from Nora. She said: I found myself jotting down more thoughts on tasks towards the end of life. Here are some of them, as I see it.

  • I always expected that I would live to a very old age (family genetics), but I always saw myself as an energetic old person. I did not expect the frailty. So it’s important to consider this as you age. The reality of getting old means losses—independence, diminishing strength, health possibly, energy, hearing, sight.
  • It’s important to keep a perspective that accepts these possibilities.  Focus on what you still are able to do, and don’t moan about what you could do 10 years ago, 5 years ago, or even 1 year ago. But keep moving, that is vital, at whatever level of ability you have, and enjoy it.
  • I can’t emphasize enough that, to maintain your perspective, you need to keep your sense of humour. That quality was reinforced by the Alan Watts video. So funny!
  • Ignore the pious who take death too seriously. I detest the use of euphemisms like passing away, or just passed….I’m always tempted to say “passed what?” We die, it’s very simple. Everything dies sooner or later.
  • Stay curious, keep learning, set priorities – how do you want people to remember you….realize it will be hard for your children to watch the progression of frailty. I believe that assisted dying should be more available, depending on your circumstances. I don’t believe that it’s “good to suffer” as some religious people might say. Quality of life is more important than quantity. I believe we should have the right to choose death if and when it seems the natural and beneficial thing to do.

She concluded…

I feel like I’ve wandered all over the map here, and it’s time to get out and walk around my deck in the sunshine.

Nora Bitner

Nora Bitner, nonagenarian, at home on her deck

…and you?

What is your version of walking around your deck in the sunshine? How would you describe the tasks of aging?

P.S. Nora is wearing a t-shirt with the first line of Jenny Joseph’s poem, “Warning.” Jenny Joseph was an English poet who died last year at age 86. Apparently, this poem was written in 1961 when she was only 29. I think you’ll enjoy listening to her read it.

2 thoughts on “The Tasks of Aging

  1. Well..very wise words from a very wise woman. Not that i am the tiniest bit biased. Thank you Laurana and Mom for being such excellent examples of growing old graciously and passing on your wisdom.
    An inspiring read..and now I have some sunshine and deck business to take care of 🙂

    • Such insights are like ripe fruits in the summer, the sweetest is saved for last. I delight in the understanding I share in it all, as my own journey unfolds. Thank you Nora!

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