There is a fountain of youth: it is your mind, your talents, the creativity you bring to your life and the lives of people you love. When you learn to tap this source, you will truly have defeated age. –Sophia Loren
Many of us dream of living to a ripe old age and passing peacefully in our sleep. The reality is that our elder years can be filled with cognitive, emotional, financial, and physical challenges that feel turbulent rather than serene.
One common thread that I have noticed with dear ones who lost functioning and appeared weak, was that it took enormous courage and strength to deal with the aging process. Here are a few examples of people close to me who tapped the source that Sophia Loren references in the quotation above.
First, people with cognitive decline associated with Alzheimer’s or other dementias are still vibrant under the fog of confusion. In 2009, my 82 year old father had a catastrophic heart failure event that transformed him overnight from an independent and vibrant gentleman into a confused, frightened soul with vascular dementia who was just a shell of his former self. During his final months, I saw glimpses of the former rock of our family and realized he was admirably fighting hard for life within his clouded mind and physically fragile body.
Second, people who become grounded in a physically declining body can inspire excellence with grace. My mother spent the last several years of her life mainly home bound and fended off many debilitating illnesses, including a terrible case of pneumonia one winter. Although she yearned for the return of her agility and independence, she always had a warm smile and positive attitude for those who supported her.
In her final days, my mother was fighting the ravages of an incurable cancer and bedridden at home with in home hospice supports. The day before she passed away, she rallied and had energetic phone conversations with many old friends and family members along with hosting visitors in our home. My mom was the life of the gathering as we had a house full of people.
Prior to her battle with cancer, my mother loved to bake and cook and host special dinner and dessert parties. Her hosting skills returned to the forefront on that final special day as she strove to make all guests feel cared for. She even directed me to lay out certain dishes that went along perfectly with the food others were bringing. After all, I learned from my mother that “presentation makes a difference.”
Finally, an aging person can inspire joy. My beautiful 93 year old aunt recently attended her grandson’s 30th birthday party. She has overcome some serious recent health challenges and lives with terrible chronic pain in many of her joints and both legs. Physical pain can negative impact emotional health.
I know from conversations that she is saddened by the loss of her husband, my parents, and almost all of her cousins and friends. Remarkably, she does not let her emotions or pain stop her from enjoying family celebrations and letting her youth shine through. My aunt made an appearance on the dance floor in her wheelchair at my cousin’s birthday party. Everyone cheered as they were struck by her strength and determination in the face of aging and loss.
It is understandable to dip into feelings of fear and sadness as we, or people we love, show signs of aging. Share and release those feelings when they arise. Take time to also notice the beauty, strength, and wisdom that accompany aging. It will keep you youthful in spirit and deepen your appreciation for life.