People say that when they lose a loved friend or family member, part of them dies too. Perhaps they don’t realise what they are saying, but in feeling this way they are conditioning themselves to follow in their footsteps. If we were not surrounded by more and more of our acquaintances passing away as our life progresses, the possibility of extended life would etch itself into our cells. Put differently, it is the death of other people that deprives us of the possibility of long life.
We must learn to deal with loss and change if we are to stay ageless. The loss of our past – the familiar buildings that are now gone, the people who once staffed services we use, the relatives we used to meet in summer or New Year – shocks us into thinking we are on our way out too. The subliminal messages our emotions send to us say : if the building is gone, then what am I still doing here?
Feelings of nostalgia and yearning for an earlier period while complaining about the present are the hallmark of the middle-aged and beyond. It hurts us to see the world changing so quickly. But it is only by embracing change, allowing it, and saluting those who pass from this world with a gentle acceptance that we can sit comfortably in each new epoque, and thus allow our lives to flourish in them. Refusing to learn how to use new systems, doggedly doing things the old way is walking along the highway towards infirmity and obsolescence.
Perhaps the greatest challenge comes with the death of a parent. The most likely age of an adult child on the death of a parent is between 45 and 64 years of age. Since we learnt how to do most things from our parents, if they die at a certain age we may feel condemned to do the same. If we exceed their age of death we think we are living on borrowed time. Becoming an adult orphan often coincides with the shock that most people on this earth are now younger than us. How can this be, this was never the case before?! We may conclude the world has become hostile towards us, and that we no longer belong in it. This is relinquishing power over our health and destiny. It is sending a poisonous e-mail to our cells.
This is not about denial. Denial is said to be one of the stages of mourning, but there is no typical response to loss. Dr Kübler-Ross who spoke of the five stages of grief said herself there is no imperative need to pass through each of them, and even less so if we have thought through the meaning of death and the possibility of controlling our lifespan. Instead this is about taking control.
One aspect of the death of a parent that is more often than not suppressed is the feeling of relief, and release. Common though it is, fear that it is disrespectful prevents people from speaking of it openly. Freedom to be ourselves fully is a sensation many bereaved “children” have experienced, which can mean we only fully become an adult in late middle age. With no one to please and no one’s disapproval to fear, we are free to choose the paths that attract us. “When she died,” said Jean of her mother’s death, “her power over me was finally gone. I felt free to be successful at last, and no longer had to fear her envy.”
The secret to living beyond 80 – 90 years is to find a way to reconcile the unresolved hurt of losing the things and people we love.
We are answerable ultimately only towards ourselves. Loss is a part of the process of change and renewal. It never stopped, we only notice it more as we accumulate more years and experience. We need to allow other people their experience of death without taking it personally. This is love without attachment, unconditional love that is not about what we can get from other people. Loss is part of the ebb and flow of the earth’s energy, it is a force for good since it allows new forms and new ideas to emerge. It should never frighten us into feeling our time is past and that our demise is fast approaching. Just as the doctrine of reincarnation has us adopting many guises and roles from one life to another, whoever stays ageless does the same, but within a single lifespan.
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Photo Credit: Todd Ehlers via Compfight cc