Aging in Place: Centering yourself in a place of grace not easy
I was 39 when my mother died at the age of only 64 in 1976. There happened to be a Quaker meetinghouse about a mile away, and for some reason I started walking there, attending meeting, and walking home down the quiet, very rural back road. That particular meeting was very silent, very rarely interrupted by anyone rising to speak. The Society of Friends believe that you only speak if you feel God is trying to speak through you.
Later I moved to the Boston area and tried the meetings in downtown Boston, Cambridge, Wellesley, and Concord. They were rarely silent. Those congregations had a high percentage of retired or currently active professors who seemed to feel God urging them to “share” every week.
I have attended Friends meetings all over the world, Aukland, New Zealand being the most distant. If you have never participated in a Friends meeting, it is quite a unique experience.
Quakers have no minister, priest or rabbi, only a clerk who reads off notices; no dogma (you are free to believe whatever you wish); and they frown on proselytizing. So, you sit in silence for an hour in the company of other people doing the same thing. You attempt to find a place to center yourself in a place of grace. It sounds so simple, but is actually not easy at all.
What Quakers call “the gathering of the meeting” is when someone stands up and says just about exactly what you have been thinking. That is really eerie, but it happens frequently.
Why am I writing about this today? I am not a conventionally religious person. Working for hospice, though, for 30-plus years, I am very aware how important having faith, any faith, is when a person is dying.
Because I am such a stubborn, mulish, don’t-try-to-tell-me-what-to-do person, Friends meetings work for me. I am noticing as my cohort of friends gets older and older, that the almighty “I” is showing up front and center. My friends are, by necessity, focusing more and more on “self”: self that has aches and pains, self that is anxious, self that is lonely, self that is running out of money.
Getting away from “self” is one of the healthiest things a person can do. Ruminating and obsessing about “self” means you are circling the drain and solving nothing. The quasi-meditative exercise of sitting in silence, whether you do it in a Friends meeting or in your own easy chair and breathing deeply and slowly can take you away from self to a safer, better place. Distraction is the best medicine.
Try focusing on someone else who would benefit from your attention. Who might be missing you? What small thing could you do today that might brighten someone else’s day?
This getting old thing is a wild, new experience especially in the era of COVID-19.
Most of the old, tried and true distractions not only do not work, they seem pretty silly. Going to the movies, buying a new dress, having a vodka and tonic, pale before the specter of watching good friends wither and die, succumb to using a cane or a walker, having the family take away your car keys, being forced to move from your longtime home. I seem to be of an age where these things are happening around me in my circle of friends. The bubble of invincibility keeps getting punctured. Coping with all this looming uncertainty demands a lot of flexibility and something to hang onto, like faith.
While I wish it worked for mulish me, I do know that having faith in something larger than yourself is enormously valuable. The other tried and true route is devoting yourself to the well-being of someone or something else, not dwelling on self. Jennifer Fitzgerald and I are beginning our 10th year of the Caregivers Support Group.
Now, there is a group of folks focused almost entirely on someone else. Their whole days, weeks, and lives are spent in service to the person for whom they are caring. Frankly, it is stunning to watch in some of these instances, and very humbling.