#89 Independence or Aging Well?
I lived with my parents until Dan and I married at age 19. We lived together for 63 years until he died two years ago. Somebody always took care of me.
We planned to age well together, but then. Dan had dementia, and I was his primary care provider for four years. Kicking and screaming, I took over the finances, the driving, and the household duties - making mistakes and learning. Even though I was in charge, his presence was my rock. When he died, I floundered, doubted every decision, and wanted to crawl into a hole.
I was a healthy 83-year-old widow - on my own- for the first time. Was I going to sink or swim - let others take care of me or put on my big girl pants and take care of myself?
Through tears and doubts, two specific goals surfaced. I wanted to age well - to live the rest of my life to the fullest, and to be independent - to rely on myself and not ask others for help. However, there was a problem!
Aging well means physical, intellectual, social, spiritual, and emotional wellness. Being independent means taking total responsibility for my life. However, the aging process, old habits, and new fears said, “wait a minute - not so fast.” Let me explain.
I had eye surgery for a detached retina several years ago, and while I see well enough, I have double vision, and my depth perception is problematic. So, with my family’s encouragement, I did not renew my driver’s license and sold my car.
I can walk to a dozen restaurants, three grocery stores, and even the doctor. I use Amazon Fresh for groceries and Door Dash for meals. While Uber and taxis are available, they are expensive. There is also public transportation, which I haven’t explored.
That means I have to ask others for rides. While friends and family are willing and the decision is wise, I am less independent.
I often do the same thing repeatedly without thinking about it. One example is my pattern of automatically handing computer problems to someone else for fixing. My reasons - make that excuses - are as follows: I might make a mistake or fail, I don’t understand, and they know more.
The truth is I can fix some of the issues. So, on the one hand, I can be more independent. On the other hand, there are times when I do need help.
James Clear, author of the book Atomic Habits says
All big things come from small beginnings. The seed of every habit is a single, tiny decision. But as that decision is repeated, a habit sprouts and grows stronger. Roots entrench themselves, and branches grow. The task of breaking a bad habit is like uprooting a mighty oak within us. And the task of building a good habit is like cultivating a delicate flower one day at a time.
Is it time for me to uproot the mighty oaks in my thinking and cultivate new delicate flowers?
Fear plays a significant role in my struggle to be independent. Since being on my own, I question my actions, make decisions tentatively, and dread going places alone.
Last Spring, my daughter, son-in-law, and I visited the Big Island of Hawaii. I would never have done that on my own - weaving my way through airports, using QR codes, driving to Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park to Pu’uhonua o Honaunau National Historic Park, and so many other spectacular places.
I would not have had those memorable experiences without them.
So, the problem is that my goals conflict with reality. It’s true I can be independent if I stay home, clean house, and read every day - but then I’m not living life to the fullest. To age well, I need to try new things, challenge myself, and , yes, allow others to help me at times - to be less than totally responsible for myself.
The serenity prayer offered guidance - accept that being totally independent may not be in my best interest, do what I can, and know when to ask for help.
That lead me to revise my goal:
be as independent as possible
seek help from others when it feels right
contribute as I can
appreciate the support
We’ll see how that works - stay tuned.
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