Aging Gracefully

DON’T YOU PAST TENSE ME!”—-AGING GRACEFULLY

By Rev. Dr. David Elseroad, LMFT, LCC Counselor

Lydia, a vivacious seventy-five year old, was already a decade into retirement after a career as a teacher when she sought out counseling. She missed her work and felt rather useless; she was also still grieving her husband’s sudden death two years earlier. Ellen, on the other hand, was adjusting to having her spouse around all the time; retirement, she quipped, is twice as much husband on half as much money! Harry came worried about having enough money with Social Security and a meager pension to outlast his “sunset years.” Samantha was despondent over her failing health which was limiting her mobility and autonomy. And Jean came to look at her rancorous relationship with her daughter and a son who bounced from job to job and still depended on her for financial help to get by. All seniors, they’re sorting through feelings and concerns, intent on living out the years ahead with renewed zest and purpose. 

They’re not alone. We’re all getting older. In fact, we spend our whole life getting “older.” Every single day 10,000 people turn 65—that’s seven every minute!—and the tidal wave of 77 million baby boomers will see the elderly double to 20% of the nation by 2030. We are an aging society.

The elderly experience special needs and face unprecedented challenges, many feared, many unforeseen. Limits and loss characterize all of life, but in the senior years they are compounded. Changes in life’s rhythm and routine with retirement, the loss of a spouse and friends, health reversals and terminal illness, and family problems can occasion deep despair and despondency. Apprehensions and uncertainties about functioning independently, diminishing capabilities, and being cared for—where? by whom? and at what cost?—can kindle intense anxiety. Both depression and anxiety, so common among seniors, are highly treatable. Elder abuse in its various forms and the wider sense that society with its youth culture no longer has a place or consideration for the elderly also ravage. There is much for seniors to concur with Ecclesiastes in saying of their years, “I have no pleasure in them” (12:1).

Yet late adulthood is an opportunity for life experience, maturity and wisdom to blossom. In his hierarchy of human needs, Maslow sees the elderly consolidating self-esteem and self-fulfillment and moving on to spiritual needs, transcending the self through faith and service to others. Jung saw a person in old age turn inward, to reflect for answers from within rather than from society. And Erickson in his eight stages of life development defines the task of late adulthood as “integrity versus despair,” reflecting on one’s life to find satisfaction, closure and acceptance of one’s death. For this reflection and purpose, Christian faith in the God of grace and new life offers wonderful resources. “Even when I am old and gray, do not forsake me, O God,” we pray, “till I declare Your power to the next generation, Your might to all who are to come” (Ps. 71:18). 

If you are a senior or have a senior parent, relative or neighbor confronting difficulties and seeking hope and healing, call the Center for an appointment. Your life is not solely “past-tense;” the gift of life is for today and tomorrow. There is “grace upon grace” (Jn. 1:16) for every age, old age included. Age gracefully, for “your youth is renewed like the eagle’s” (Ps. 103:5)! 

Dr. Elseroad, a licensed marriage and family therapist in NY, is fluent in both French and Spanish and has a Doctorate of Ministry in Pastoral Counseling. He counsels children, teens, couples, individuals and families at LCC’s Mineola, Bronxville, and Interchurch Center, NYC sites. Call Lutheran Counseling Center at 1-800-317-1173 to schedule an appointment at one of our nine sites.
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