In fact, it made me think of so many older adults, riddled with so many effects of a long life, so many deficits, so many reasons to think of themselves in self-deprecating terms who, even so, look in the mirror every day, so to speak, and like what they see. It also made me think of so many others who respond so differently, seeing themselves negatively, and therefore have difficulty embracing life as it is, always longing for life as it was.
If we are not careful with our words, they might sound like platitudes that ignore the struggles of aging. If we hear and see the struggles more than the possibilities, we may give the impression that there is no possible positive outcome to the situation. So how might such pitfalls be avoided or, at least, minimized? How do we help older adults look in the mirror and smile?
A clue is found in the observation; “I look good for someone over ninety years old.” My friend qualified his remarks with the words, for someone over ninety. He knew his age made a difference, but did not let that stop him from seeing someone worthy of another day. There is something freeing about the truth.
It is effective when it empathizes (gets what the person is saying and feeling) rather than sympathizes (feeling sorry for the person), reinforcing the sense that something is wrong and needs correcting. Because only then is it possible to say, even so! Even so there are possibilities! Even so my life has meaning!
In short, remember to empathize, to understand and affirm the realities, but even so to affirm that every day, every age, is a gift to be opened and embraced. Say it with actions and words. With my friend, create an environment in which the older adult can say, “I like what I see. I’m not bad for my age. In fact I look pretty good.”
About Jim Stinson
I first became an ordained member of the New York Conference of the United Methodist Church fifty years ago. Through my time with the pastoral ministry, I worked extensively with older adults, many of whom were members of my congregation. I also served as the Director of Spiritual Life for United Methodist Homes from July 2002 until my retirement in July 2015, providing guidance and support to residents, family members, and staff. I love reminding people that “old” is not a dirty word and encourage others to adopt a healthy perspective on aging. I am also the author of a book, Just Because I Am Old – A Practical and Theological Guide To Caring, which was recently published in 2014.
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