Dear Older Self,
Your body, which has served you for a long time, is beginning to take leave of its senses. Literally. Hearing, smelling, tasting just are not what they used to be.
You know what it is like to eat the over-salted food served by an aging parent. Or to have your ears ring after leaving the room where a television has been blaring so that an elderly loved one could hear it. And you know what it is like to be coughing and gasping because of the cloud of cologne an older woman just left behind as she walked by.
You have joked with friends your age that you should let each other know if you notice each other’s nose hairs growing to the point of mingling with chin hairs. It turns out that your joking was pretty much on target. It could be a good thing indeed for someone in your life, who has not yet taken leave of their senses, to be given permission to give you feedback on such matters.
Think about the older women in your life who worked as a nurse. As she got older, she began to liberally splash herself with Jean Nate cologne. She actually began to reek of the stuff. This continued until the day one of her patients told her that she used enough of that stuff “to choke a horse.” She was surprised and mortified.
So, she asked you for feedback. Was it true, she wondered, did she use too much? You told her truthfully: “Oh, my gosh, yes!” Do you remember how she responded to you? She was angry. She was angry because you never mentioned it to her. “Why didn’t you tell me I was using too much? I want to smell good, not stink to high heaven!” You told yourself that you were trying to find an opportunity to tell her without hurting her feelings. But the right opportunity never seemed to show up. So, dear older self, do yourself and your loved ones a favor and invite their feedback.
Your body is aging and your senses are naturally becoming duller. Ask the people who know you and love you to let you know if your cooking is tasteless or over- salted. Ask them if you are responding with increased frequency to their conversation with “What?!” Ask them if there is dust piling up in your house that you can’t see. Ask them to tell you if they notice unpleasant odors or too much fragrance of some kind. Give a few people permission to let you know at any time if any of these things are becoming a problem.
All of this can be done with a sense of humor. All of it will take a new dose of humility. Humility— that gift of being at ease with ourselves, knowing that we are loved and valued always, even to the end of our days. Even past the waning of our senses.
If you find this difficult to do, if you find yourself hesitant to ask for this kind of feedback, pay attention to your hesitation. What is holding you back? What shame? What fear? What pride? What defensiveness? Write, or talk, about whatever you sense. Maybe it would help to write a thank you letter to your body for being such a champ all these years, reminding your body that even in its changed state it is a gift, it is amazing.
Consider who you might ask to help you collect the feedback you need. Who would be kind? Who would be honest? Who would laugh with you about it all?
It might be useful to have a couple of check lists that you and a few loved ones look at together from time to time. So I am offering a couple of checklists for your consideration. Edit and adapt them for your situation and then share your checklist with the people who are closest to you, inviting them to give you feedback as needed.
This meditation is taken from Notes to Our Older Selves: Suggestions for Aging With Grace by Juanita Ryan and Mary Rae. You can get a copy at Amazon.com