“You have to make the best out of your life and have a good attitude.” Barbara Brody, a 102 year-old lady said this. She lived for a long time, and experienced much. How do I know this? I don’t. I am just guessing, since she lived to be 102, and was born around about the same year as my grandmother. She would have seen both world wars, the Jazz Age, the Depression, the Korean and Viet Nam wars, the race riots of the 60’s, peace marches of the 60’s and 70’s, the advent of rock and roll, and so much more. When I read her wisdom on life, I thought, “Okay, what if you have a chronic illness?” I see many seniors with chronic illness; I know it is a serious change to a life.
Sometimes it is so serious, you need someone to take care of you, whether it is a family member, or a professional caregiver. When you’ve been told you won’t recover, you will suffer a major loss, the loss of your health. You need to grieve over that loss. People may confuse their feelings of grief with depression. Dr. Elvira Aletta, a clinical psychologist says, “It’s not depression if you are adjusting to a major loss. That’s grief, which needs time to process. Allow yourself that time to mourn, to be angry and sad about what you’ve lost. You need time to accept the new reality.”
Once you have accepted the new reality, you need to find your way back to living. Dr. Aletta says you have to be sure you have the right doctor and have defined a circle of people on your team who understand your situation and with whom you can be frank about your day to day condition. She also stresses the importance of accepting help; things like having someone go with you to a doctor’s appointment. You are now in charge of protecting your health and knowing when you need rest and care. Understand you own limits and the signals your body provides. These things she mentions are all big tasks and may take time to establish.
When you reach a “new normal,” tend to your attitude. First and foremost, cultivate gratitude. Gratitude is important because research tells us grateful people are generally happier, less stressed, and more optimistic. Gratitude helps us be more generous to others and more satisfied with what we do have. Every day, notice three small things you are grateful for, such as a warm bed or dinner. Consider the three things as you’re going to sleep each night. Write a letter of gratitude to someone, even if you don’t send it.
Set goals for yourself. Reach as far as you can dream to go and break the goals down into smaller chunks, put steps under each chunk and begin. Make different kinds of goals for different areas of your life, some small and some large. Track your progress. Keep making goals.
Keep learning. This keeps your mind active and looking for connections. Challenge your brain anyway you can.
Volunteer, as you are able. Giving of ourselves reinforces purpose and usefulness. We all need to feel needed and to contribute. Do as much as you can. Use your team to help you find ways to contribute.
- Exercise as much as you are able. Doctors say exercise can be as good as medicine.
- Clear out. Getting rid of what we don’t need or use is cathartic and energizing. Sell, donate, or toss it.
- If you’ve lived a long life, reconnect with your past. Write down what you thought about your glory days or your firsts (date, car, big trip…) or the advice you’d give your 25 year old self. Your family may value all this, especially if you have kept an air of mystery around yourself.
Another wise elder, Irving Kahn, 106, said this, “It is very important to have a widespread curiosity about life.”Keep living.