By Barbara Pierce
If my life were a book, I’d be in the final chapters.
Not much further to go in the story. Maybe you’re there, too.
My story is packed with unpredictable and weird twists and turns — things that I never saw coming. Maybe your story has those totally unexpected twists also.
That’s what’s most surprising about life, really. The most enormous things happen in the blink of an eye. And suddenly you no longer have the life you had.
Or the changes and the deterioration can be gradual.
Getting old is hard. No one warns you how hard it really is. Challenges are hurled at you or steal into your life gradually. It helps to see them as challenges, not problems.
Your body may fail, probably will in some ways. Your partner may fail you, not by choice. You may find yourself saying “I didn’t plan for my life to come out like this.”
One of the most difficult things that happens is loss. Loss is a part of aging. Loss of one’s partner, of one’s health, one’s friends. Loss of the ability to do the things that bring you purpose and pleasure, even the things you need to do on a daily basis.
My friend, Donald, lost the love of his life; then lost his apartment; next, his car; now he’s in the early stage of dementia, depressed as he struggles alone.
My neighbor, Pat, had stomach issues that required hospitalization. Husband Charlie fell, and now is also hospitalized. I’ve been taking their beagle, Lily, out for walks.
Losing a partner is devastating. The pain doesn’t go away, but you must find a way around it, say my friends who have lost partners.
The raw, all-consuming shock of early grief will eventually begin to lessen. Gradually, at your own pace, you will adjust to your loss and slip back into a daily routine.
Members of a tribe in South America hunt at night using torches. They live in a rugged area with steep cliffs; their night time journeys are dangerous. They carry torches that cast just enough light to see one step ahead. As long as they walk slowly and keep their eyes on the lighted ground, they keep on the path. By walking just one step at a time, they keep from falling off a precipice.
Grief is like that. Some days you will feel like you are moving through a similarly threatening land. But move slowly, one step at a time.
If you’re going through grief and loss, the following tips may help you:
• Establish a simple daily schedule. A familiar routine can restore a sense of normalcy, make grief more manageable. It lends structure at a time when life seems unfamiliar and out of control.
• Try to get enough sleep, to stay healthy and alert. Sleep helps maintain emotional balance. Lack of sleep weakens your decision-making ability, even your memory.
If you have difficulty sleeping, it helps to go to sleep and get up at the same time every day; our bodies like routine. Avoid napping. Develop a relaxing routine before bedtime; don’t watch TV or use your computer, cell phone or tablet. Avoid caffeine in the afternoon; its effects linger. Alcohol makes it harder to stay asleep.
• Eat a healthy diet that includes protein in most meals. Inadequate protein intake contributes to many problems.
• Stay active. Move as much as you can. A simple walk or bike ride can you’re your emotions. Don’t ask yourself if you want to go out for a walk, just go.
• Don’t withdraw from others. Stay socially involved to help emotionally, cognitively, and physically. Build a social network through volunteering, clubs and religious organizations.
• Be positive; take pleasure in small things, like the flower outside your window, the smell of your freshly brewed coffee, a hug from a friend. Complaining only makes things worse. Keep your sense of humor.
In his book “Coping with Adversity,” Michael J. Fox says: “It was only when I could accept the fact that I had Parkinson’s disease that I began to think: ‘What haven’t I lost? I haven’t lost my enthusiasm. I haven’t lost my intelligence. I haven’t lost my passion for life, my love of my family, my curiosity.’”
When I’m stressed, I find it helps to stop and identify what’s bothering me. What can I do to change the situation? I need to do what I can to change the situation, then step back. If I can do nothing about the situation, I need to accept it.
During the dark times, you must trudge on, one small step at a time as you find your way. Trust your instinct to help you find you way.
Yes, that is what you have to do sometimes. Just count the moment you are in, just take one step at a time; don’t think ahead.
Barbara Pierce is a retired licensed clinical social worker with many years of experience helping people. If you would like to purchase a copy of her book, “When You Come to the Edge: Aging” or if you have questions for her, contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.