On Aging and Expectations

I have been learning that letting go of my major expectation of aging and family will be healthy for me. I remember seeing a card once that said “Having assumptions only makes an ass of me.” I am sure my kids can attest – though if they were to say this directly I would probably be pissed.

When I grew up I watched as my paternal grandmother was the honored center of the universe. She moved from one family household to another – 3-6 months at a time. She adored her grandchildren and they her. My fondest memory as a child is with her cuddling on a sofa – my head in her lap, listening to her stomach growl, the clicks of the needles, the murmur of “knit 2, pearl 2” as her latest project, mostly grandkid sweaters, would emerge. If I held really still she would trace my ear with a knitting needle and I would go to sleep smelling her light perfume. This is a totally visceral memory for me – a feeling of being loved and pure contentment.

I know this memory provided support throughout my life as I faced multiple losses – my mom to cancer, cousins, friends, my dad, my step-mom, many aunts and uncles, my grandma herself, a pregnancy, my marriage, and clients of 16 years of hospice work, eventually my career. The memory was of underlying safety and knowing that love was always bigger.

Then a few things happened – I ended up alone with a very small family (mostly my children and theirs)and a handful of very close friends. Emotionally exhausted I was diagnosed with PTSD from prolonged exposure to death, dying, suffering and pain. It expresses itself mostly in anxiety and is triggered by loss, certain places and strong emotions. This is not a good thing when coupled with my childhood expectations of aging into my children’s lives. So another loss – my health.

I manage the PTSD with meds, therapy and Uber attention to quiet living, being in nature, appreciating my animals and the steady rhythm of daily care of my horse. Riding and gardening keep me physically active and while travel is getting overwhelming (too much stimulation and memories of losses) I am back to making friends.

My strength comes from my memory of my grandma, what Penny taught me about time, the steadiness of my friends, art, the occasional writing and my grandchildren. And in current day reality – FaceTime. It all amounts to savoring moments. KAIROS. This is also the source of my faith in the sacredness of love.

What has really tripped me up in recent years is my assumption that my aging would be the same as my grandma’s – that I would become a part of my children’s homes and their children’s day-to-day lives. Families have changed….busy lives are led, priorities differ. Everyone does their best.

And it is not a match with my long held expectation and now my health. Struggling with feelings of abandonment has been the strongest result in many areas of my life from losing my mom early. Now I am learning that my lifelong expectations about aging are triggering these feelings far too easily. I am causing myself too much pain.

I guess learning never ceases and some expectations of life must be let go. I need to work on feeling gratitude for my childhood experience of my gram, to stop expecting a repeat of her life in my aging and to put myself first in self-love – respectful of a health diagnosis that I am told will always be present. It is a hard lesson.

Flighty to Grounded

My life has been one long journey from flighty to grounded. Left unattended I have a tendency to float – a trait born of illness in my family as a child. In those days I never knew what each day might bring – so becoming uber sensitive and ‘floating above’ were fine traits for observing and preparing to react. Survival skills.

These same skills were helpful in long years of hospice work. The sensitivity would resonate with subtle changes in my patients as they were detaching from their bodies. It allowed a sort of companionship and reduced their fears. I learned it was important to intentionally ground myself when they transitioned so that I would stay put and not float away.

Eventually when I became emotionally exhausted with waves of loss in my family I found comfort in gardening which for me was “playing in the dirt” – one’s hands on the ground feeling the earth’s stability. This passion remains important to me.

My horse helps ground me also. She demands undivided attention, total “being in the moment.” If I approach her in flighty mode, anxious about something else going on and distracted, she will stomp her feet, swing around and think about kicking me. She demands I have my feet squarely on the ground so we can tune in to each other. Then we both relax.

  • In the dictionary ground, grounded, or groundedness speaks to
  • A solid, firm surface
  • A foundation or basis of belief
  • A conducting connection between an electric surface and the earth
  • To put out of action
  • To be steadfast
  • I like the notion of “energy connected to the earth” as it implies tapping into something so much bigger for strength. “To put out of action” seems to invite stillness which for me is an essential ingredient for appreciating kairos.

I expect I will forever have to reinforce groundedness because flightyness results almost instantly when I am frightened or at all anxious. For now I restrict floating to my dreams. It is there that I can fly easily and am certain that I was a bird in another life!