The final stage of life has become a prominent topic at the State Capitol as legislators grapple with a bill that would enable some to choose their own death.
It’s a topic that makes many of us uncomfortable. Yet the fact remains that life has a beginning, middle and end. And in order to be fully alive, we must be fully aware of dying.
There are so few role models to aging gracefully. Reconciling who we once were and who we are can seem impossible, especially when society prizes youth with such fervor. Yet people, who are 65 and older, are Hawaii’s fastest growing age group.
Denial of aging is understandable and a natural defense for anyone facing the downsides of growing old — mortality, loneliness and incapacity. However, the downside of denial is that those who allow it to become a mindset deny themselves the experience of valuing, accepting and truly enjoying this final stage.
In fact, acceptance can help us to better use our time and offer greater diligence to improve our quality of life. It’s impossible to have a better quality of life if you are unwilling to acknowledge that your body and mind is slowing. Accepting the years can inspire us to keep exercising mentally and physically, and strive for wellbeing, optimal health and love for the present moment.
Here are some alternate approaches to denial that take courage, compassion and conviction.
>> Reflect on each stage of life and recognize each successful transition. Every stage offered lessons that shaped who you are today. Innocence gave way to knowledge. Experience has led to wisdom.
>> Reframe this life stage as a time to learn about how to specialize, like you would in a job. In a professional career, people solve problems, find ways to collaborate and improve at their job. With more experience, the work can become easier, calmer and more relaxed. Apply these same techniques to the golden years of life.
>> Revisit any negative mindsets you may have on aging. Those who look at older people with fear and view the aged as worthless will more likely be in denial that they could ever be old. Now is the time to change that attitude because fear of getting old actually robs life of meaning.
One of the greatest attributes of Hawaii’s island communities is that younger generations have remained in close proximity to the family elders. This intimacy of ohana — no matter how burdensome it may feel for caregivers — has provided an experience for adult children to learn from senior members of the family. It has given children and grandchildren an opportunity to see with great lucidity how their elders age and to be a part of the experience.
It is this gift of time shared that can lead to important questions such as these: What will I want my golden years to look like? What mindset will best serve me when I’m at the age that mom and dad are at now?
Alice Inoue is the founder of Happiness U. Visit yourhappinessu.com.