Thursday, October 30, 2008

Aging and Death - a new reality for us all

Last night my husband and I had the pleasure of taking my mom to dinner. My mother, widowed now for two years, lives in a nearby retirement village. It's a small village and a close-knit community of individuals, all of whom waited several years to join and now value their membership. The minimum move-in age is 62, but the average resident age is probably mid-80s.

Last night I was shocked to hear my mom say she doesn't know if she still likes living there.

"There are too many people who die," she said. "I'm not used to losing so many friends, especially close friends."

She went on to tell of a memorial service that was held in the village chapel the day before for a gentleman who lived just across the grassy "quad" from her; a man she counted as a good friend.

"I had to leave after just a few minutes," she said. "The chapel was full, with chairs lining the hallway outside. It reminded me too much of dad's funeral, and I just couldn't take it."

For my mother, this was the second significant loss of a good friend in the last several months. It is, she says, one of the hardest parts of living in a close-knit village of senior adults.

I thought about this conversation long into the night. Here was a solution we'd worked hard at achieving, for both my mom and my husband's parents. Living in a community of senior adults, with special activities, outings and services designed for them, seems ideal.

And then my mom pointed out the one thing I hadn't really given much thought to: death.

It brings to my mind not only questions about how to help my loved ones cope with even more losses in their lives, but also questions about how I'll handle that phase of life.

On an even larger scale, what about the way our society deals with death and dying?

We boomers have had a way of changing a lot of society's standard approaches to living, from our teens through this aging process.

Perhaps it's time to give some thought to the dying process, and how we handle loss and grief. Maybe we can, together, find our way to a place where we better accept death as a part of life, and together learn to celebrate lives passed, rather than suffer grief-filled lives.

I have a feeling that life - and death - won't give us the luxury of spending too much time thinking about it. It certainly hasn't waited for my mom to prepare - and it won't wait for us, either.

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