Finding Rhythm and Purpose
I am writing this month from the Oregon Coast. I can see and hear the Pacific Ocean between the houses behind us. My in-laws have lived here full-time since retirement, in a home built as a summer cottage by his father when they first developed the area in the 1920s. My father-in-law was a college professor, enabling them to spend summers here for years, and the family has continued to gather in August almost annually.
My father-in-law is 92 and my mother-in-law is 91. Over the past three years, it’s been increasingly challenging for them to live independently, though they want to stay here in their home. The family has explored several options, which has been difficult from the distances of Hawaii, California, Boston and Pennsylvania. One sister-in-law has been with them full time since early December. She felt so strongly that family care was the only acceptable choice that she has put her life on hold. We are giving her respite by covering June, while the other sisters will cover July and August, and then she will return.
When I arrived, I knew I had a lot to learn about their daily routines, dietary requirements, medication regimens, etc. But what I observed with awe is the delicate rhythm of the dance of their lives. My sister-in-law has been so dedicated and tuned-in that she met many of her parents’ needs without their notice. She has fine-tuned how she helps them find their way with dignity and a sense that they are making choices. In the few days we had together, she showed me how their lives flow like waves, so she senses when to move in and out just when needed. They, in turn, have been more open to assistance and guidance. There is a new feeling of being at peace with their lives, genuine gratitude for the gift of family care, and a tenderness I have not seen in the 30+ years I’ve known them.
I have slipped into this routine as seamlessly as I could. Life here goes at a different speed than I am accustomed to. Meals are leisurely, a time for connecting as well as nourishing. Decisions evolve from lengthy deliberation and frequent repetitions for hearing and cognition. I am reminded to slow down, and to make sure they know where I am going when out of sight. I listen to poems and letters written long ago and look at pictures of people I’ve never known. I find time to read and walk on the beach daily amidst the tasks of daily living. And I open myself to feel the rhythm of when to move in or out.
I think that one key to successful aging at this stage of life is continuing to find purpose. This has been more challenging as they have less mobility, fewer living friends and spend more time reflecting inward than connecting outward. My mother-in-law happily finds purpose in reviewing (“sorting”) letters and photos. My father-in-law finds purpose in monitoring events in the neighborhood, from the roofers across the street to the latest building development. Together we weed, tidy up and prepare meals.
Being a part of this stage of their lives has been a gift that I know strengthens my ability to help other family caregivers. I am grateful to my sister-in-law for showing me the rhythm of this life. Now I hope to share what I have learned with my husband when he joins me this weekend, who will pass it on to his other sisters, each of whom will also adjust the dance to fit who they are.
Susan W. Hoskins, LCSW
June 2013 - Age Friendly Communities
June 2013 - Age Friendly Communities
May 2013 - Navigating a Changing HealthCare Landscape
April 2013 - Becoming Visible
March 2013 - Navigating Life’s Transitions
February 2013 - Partners in Caring Princeton
January 2013 - Men as Caregivers
December 2012 - The Safety Net
November 2012 - Going Solo
October 2012 - Documenting Your History
September 2012 - A Journey of Transformation
July - August 2012 - Gratitude & Moving
June 2012 - Diversity
May 2012- Aging in America
APRIL 2012 - TEN YEARS
March 2012 - Patient-centered Care
February 2012 - Can you Spare an Hour?
January 2012 - Challenges & Opportunities
December - Are you Prepared for Emergencies?
November - We need YOU!
October - Chocolate for Memory
September- Looking Back and Looking Forward
July - August 2011; Ageism
June 2011 - Accessibility
May 2011 - Paper retention
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Lessons and Legacies, March 2011
Independent Living February 2011
Home Safety January 2011
Witness to my Life December 2010
Elections, benefits and open enrollment November 2010
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Am I Old?
Aging In America May 2010
Volunteering April 2010
Spirituality March 2010
Encore Careers January 2010
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What Are Social Services? November 2007
Plan for the Future September 2007
The Up-side of Aging Summer 2007
Volunteering June 2007
Strategic Plan May 2007
National Conference on Aging: Let's ReThink Aging April 2007
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Resiliency February 2007
Transportation January 2007
Season of Giving December 2006
Medicare Part D November 2006
April Hill McElroy October 2006
Civic Engagement September 2006
Change June 2006
White House Conference on Aging May 2006
Hearing Loss April 2006
GrandPals March 2006
Lets Talk February 2006
Eldertopia January 2006
Hoarding December 2005
Annual Report: November 2005
Are You Prepared? October 2005
Planning Ahead October 2005
Watch Your Language September 2005
Medicare Part D Summer 2005
Sue Tillett June 2005
The End of the Journey May 2005
Clutter March 2005
New Dietary Guidelines February 2005
Transitions January 2005
Funding December 2004
Caregiving November 2004
Civic Engagement with GrandPals October 2004
A New Look September 2004
Safe Driving Summer 2004
Food Safety June 2004
Communication June 2004
The Challenge of Giving Care May 2004
Seniors On The Move April 2004
Depression March 2004
McGreevey February 2004
Medications January 2004
Random Acts of Kindness December 2003
Civic Engagement November 2003
Reverse Mortgages Oct 2003
Emergency Preparedness, Jan 2003