Dear Older Self,
You like your privacy. We all do. Whether it means dressing behind closed doors, going to the doctor alone, or being in charge of what you eat. These are matters of autonomy and privacy for most adults. But autonomy and privacy around your physical well being will change as you age. You will need to let go of some of the privacy you have taken for granted and begin to embrace sharing your physical concerns with the people caring for you. This is something we thought we would be done with once we became adults.
Do you remember when your sister, who was fifteen at the time, shouted in dismay: “Can’t a person even get hungry around here without the whole world knowing about it?” when she was questioned about a missing candy bar? And do you recall the indignity you felt at nine years of age of having to answer your mother’s questions about whether or not you were having trouble with constipation? You dreamed of becoming an adult because you believed that would mean never having to answer such private questions ever again.
Your dream for privacy did come true. As an adult, you have had a much greater say over if, who, what, when, where and why you divulge such information. However, this is about to change. As you become more dependent on the help of others, you will have to accept the need to share more of what you have considered to be private information.
The steps that you will need to take in letting go of privacy, may feel shameful. Whatever shame you might be carrying about your body may surface and leave you irritated, or even angry. And this shame may make you want to hide. It is a good idea to tell yourself that there is no shame in having a body. There is no shame in having an aging body. Your body has served you brilliantly. It is so complex, we don’t understand even half of the amazing antics it is pulling off at any given moment. Our bodies are beautiful. Just as they are. Even as they slow down and get creaky. Even then they are beautiful.
There is also no shame in needing help to address your physical concerns. It can feel vulnerable. And it is. But keep in mind that the vulnerability of sharing your private physical concerns with a few other people can become one more opportunity to experience grace. Not only will you be far more likely to get the help you need, not only are you likely to avoid much bigger problems, you will be offering the gift of trust to another person. You will be deepening your intimacy with the person with whom you share your concerns.
You can expect that those who are helping to care for you will need to question your activity level, your self care habits, your appetite,your elimination patterns, your pain, and your intake of medications, among other things. Do your best to accept these questions as coming from a place of concern and care. And do your best to share this information freely with those who are supporting you.
Keep in mind the elderly friend who ended up suffering needlessly because she was ashamed to share her concerns about her physical well being. She spent many weeks covering an infected sore on her leg. She felt ashamed and chose to keep it private rather than sharing this problem with people who would have made sure she got to the doctor. As a result, when the sore was finally noticed by those who were helping her, she needed specialized, intensive wound care for weeks in order to bring the infection under control.
On the other hand, don’t forget the more positive outcome that happened for the elderly family who had advanced skin cancer on his scalp. He could not bring himself to go to his barber because of feelings of shame at the thought of having his barber see his wound. A loving family member was sensitive to this need for privacy and offered to trim his hair. He agreed to her kind offer. Soon they both looked forward to these monthly hair trimming sessions. He appreciated her companionship and help. And she enjoyed the many humorous stories he shared from his early years, his days in the Navy, his travels, and his perspectives on the family.
And remember that one dear woman who was so embarrassed at the state of her feet. Her congestive heart failure made it difficult to bend over without becoming short of breath. So she became unable to scrub her feet or trim her nails. As a result, her physical activity decreased because her feet hurt. When she finally became willing to share her problem with her family, she learned that there was someone who made house calls for elderly with problems like this. She allowed this person to come to her home and give her regular pedicures—something that she came to really enjoy.
So, dear older self, please let go of the shame and pride that cause you to hide your physical concerns. Step by step let go of old patterns of privacy and begin to share important information about your physical state with those close to you, inviting them to help you.
You will be so much better for it. And so will those who are working to help you.
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