Grandma and the Challenges of Aging

Aging gracefullyA dear Grandma friend has been a marital and family therapist for over forty years.  Now she specializes in geriatric therapy.  Talking to her the other night, she mentioned that she is finding that the challenge of aging is the greatest challenge of life.  I said, no, young adulthood and raising young children was the most challenging time of life, I think.  She said no, it is the challenge of aging that is the most difficult time of life.  I said, what about when we were concentrating on our careers, and still managing family and marriage, isn’t that the most challenging time of life?  No, she said, facing death, loss of partners and friends, and declining health is the worst time of life.  I did not like that at all!  After all, one cannot deny that when one reaches the age to be a Grandma, the direction is to what some call the “third third” of life.

I know that people do better as they age by living in group environments.  I even call the country club communities with hourly scheduled activities and events “year round summer camps for the Boomer.”  I know my Grandma friends are busy, active and happy in their communities.  I know they are thriving, individually, as well as with their partners.  We never seem to face this “third third” with the thought we might be alone.  But even my Grandma friends who are now alone are happy and thriving.

Eric Klinenberg, in his excellent book, “Going Solo: The Extraordinary Rise and Surprising Appeal of Living Alone,” says:

“Aging alone is not easy.  The ordinary challenges of growing old—adjusting to retirement, managing illnesses, enduring frailty, watching friends and family dies—can become extraordinary hardships for someone who spends most of the time alone.  Yet it is not always miserable, either.  A survey in England, for instance, found that old people who lived alone had higher life satisfaction, more contact with service providers, and no more cognitive or physical impairments than those who lived with others.  And according to a recent review of the literature on aging, studies of the entire elderly population have found that “those living alone are healthier than those living with adults other than a spouse, or even, in some cases, than living with a spouse.  Indeed, in recent decades old people have demonstrated a clear preference for living alone rather than moving in with family or friends or to an institutional home.”

I think this Grandma is in denial.  As a matter of fact, my Grandma therapist friend said as much.  I went to my favorite source to look up the stages of grief.

The Kübler-Ross model, commonly referred to as the “five stages of grief“, is a hypothesis introduced by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross asserting that when a person (or a survivor) is faced with the reality of impending death or other extreme, awful fate, he/she will experience a series of emotional “stages”: denial; anger; bargaining; depression; and, acceptance (in no specific sequence). This hypothesis was introduced in Kübler-Ross’ 1969 book On Death and Dying, which was inspired by her work with terminally ill patients. Motivated by the lack of curriculum in medical schools, at the time, addressing the subject of death and dying, Kübler-Ross started a project about death when she became an instructor at the University of Chicago’s medical school. This evolved into a series of seminars; those interviews, along with her previous research, led to her book. Her work revolutionized how the U.S. medical field took care of the terminally ill. In the decades since her book’s publication, Kübler-Ross’ concept has become largely accepted by the general public; however, its validity has yet to be consistently supported by the majority of research studies that have examined it.

The Oscars are coming up.  What do the Oscars have to do with aging?  The headline in the Sun Sentinal, “Our Story at the Oscars,” by Ben Crandell, talks about a short movie up for an Oscar in the short documentary category during the 85th Academy Awards, called “Kings Point.”  It is going to be broadcase on HBO, March 11, 2013, at 9 PM.

It seems over the course of seven years, from 2002-2008, the filmmaker, Sari Gilman, also a granddaughter of a Grandma who lived at the Kings Point 7, 200 unit, 55 and older community, followed five widowed Kings Point senior citizens as they struggled with aging.  The result, according to Mr. Crandell, is “an intimate 30 minute exploration of aging in which themes of love, loneliness, rivalry and death play out in beautifully rendered scenes that balance the institutional stillness of Kings Point’s warren of passageways and the almost tangible beauty of the subtropics, bathed in languorous South Florida light.”  The filmmaker stated, “Kings Point does not offer a solution to the so-called problem of aging.  Aging is not fun, that’s never going to change, but part of the solution is having more conversations about it.”

After talking to my dear Grandma therapist friend and reading more, I think I am fine with denial.  After all, I am a Boomer Grandma not only facing societal changes, but embracing the future to be.  I intend to take care of my body and mind and stay strong and active far into the future.

I am fortunate, though, that I have a dear Grandma therapist friend to turn to when I need to face some of those other stages.  Now, I just want her to remain similarly active, healthy, and strong in body and mind, so we can share our next forty (boy, am I optimistic) wonderful years together with



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