By the time you read this, I will be 84 years old. It doesn’t seem possible. It’s an age I associate with people in old-age homes, needing a walker or dragging an oxygen tank behind them. It makes me wonder where all the years have gone. Wasn’t it yesterday 9/11 took place? It feels like it to me, but I heard on the news it was 15 years ago. It’s hard to believe, because I recall exactly where I was when it occurred.
That vision is frozen in my brain. Yet, there are now times when I can’t remember the name of a restaurant I’ve frequented on numerous occasions, or when I call one of my grandchildren by their siblings’ name. It doesn’t stop there.
Several days ago, I couldn’t open a soft drink bottle, and I admit my secretary opened it with ease. My excuse – “it’s because of arthritis.”
Then, this morning, I replaced the 5-gallon container on the water cooler, though it wasn’t as easy to lift as it used to be. I wonder if all these events are telling me something: That I’m older than I perceive myself to be, which is somewhere between the ages of 65 and 70.
There are many more examples I can provide, but I suspect you’ve gotten the gist of what I’m saying. It’s that “Getting older isn’t pretty, isn’t for sissies, and the golden years aren’t necessarily golden.”
You experience aches and pains you’ve never noticed before, and your visits to doctors’ offices increase exponentially, and those are the facts, not the problem. The problem is “how are you going to deal with those facts?” Determining that solution isn’t easy. There isn’t one physician, medication or solution that fits us all. Each of us has to find one that suits us best – the only rule being it needs to be constructive, uplifting and emotionally rewarding.
Even then, there will be days when you may choose to pull the covers over your head and stay in bed. On occasion, that’s perfectly all right, though long term it isn’t a permanent or healthy solution. Long term, you have to face reality, alter what you can change and accept what you can’t. That’s the advice I heard myself give to a patient that I hope will resonate with you.
The patient was a divorced woman, whose husband had left her after an affair. Consciously, she suspected it was going on, though unconsciously, she chose to deny it.
She said, “I feel like I’ve been hit with a ton of bricks. His betrayal of me, my friends knowing but not telling me, the kids learning about it, and now my divorce, I’ll never get over all this. My parents divorced when I was 10 years old, and I swore I’d never do that to my kids. Now, I can’t forgive myself. I should’ve left years ago, but I was too scared. Then, when I finally got the courage to leave, I got cancer. I don’t know what I did to deserve this. Brad didn’t want me before my surgery and now I’m only half a woman. Who would want me now? Even worse, I wake up every day fearing the cancer will return and thinking life isn’t worth living.”
I said, “I know exactly what you’re feeling, and you’re not alone. You may feel you are, though there are many people in the world who feel the same as you. They’re overwhelmed by their ‘facts,’ because that way they don’t have to face their real problem. In your case, all your facts are true. A lot of things in your life really suck. Heretofore, you’ve been able to hide from them through denial. Now, they’ve grown so large, you can’t help but see them, but it’s not the end of your life; it can be the beginning of a new better life.”
As I said earlier, I will be 84 on Oct. 1, and believe it or not, I’m going to die – I hope later rather than sooner. It’s not a matter of if it will occur, but when. Statistically, I’ve already overstayed my welcome on earth and at the rate I’m going, I may have another five or possibly 10 more good years. If you think about how fast the years have passed since 9/11, that isn’t very much.
I could be depressed about this, rather than enjoying my life. I could be downsizing, playing it safe, making fewer plans, limiting my interest and curtailing making new goals. I don’t want to do those things. I want to live until I die.
My intent isn’t to cover up the reality of my future demise by denying or running from it. It’s to acknowledge and accept it. By doing so, I take away its power, diminish my fears and direct my energy to living, instead of leaving. It enables me to be thankful for the time I have left and to harvest the joy that life still holds for me. So, despite the fact I can’t run as fast, lift as much, think as quick or verbalize as well as I used to, there’s much I still hope to accomplish.
It can be the same for you. First, you have to recognize what’s good and bad in your life. Then, value the good, i.e., your children, the fact your cancer is in remission and your opportunity for a new life. Then, do the same with the negatives. Acknowledge them and don’t run or hide from them. Instead, face them, walk through them, and put them behind you, as opposed to holding on to them and letting them govern and control you emotionally. Your mantra has to be, “I can’t avoid my hurts, disappointments or pains, but I can learn to deal with them, positively.”
I listened to my advice to this young lady, and it made me think, Dr. Ed, you know far more than the little kid inside me sometimes gives you credit for. It’s the same for all of you. Each of you has an adult inside you to whom you don’t always recognize or give sufficient credit.
In the future, I want you to trust him or her more and behave in accordance with what he or she knows, as opposed to what the little child in you fears. It will allow you to live a far more satisfying life, every minute of every day you have in your future.