I have entered new territory. The door has just opened for me into the world of dependence as I age.
Hiring my neighbors to help me shovel the snow in February feels like it’s just the beginning of the dependence spectrum. This is the first time I have hired someone to do something for me that I’ve always been able to do for myself. It’s OK, I am trying to accept it with grace, but I am recognizing it and see this new path as one of challenge.
Asking for help, especially if we’ve been independent most of our lives, is very difficult but an important step in this aging process. It exposes our vulnerability and yet opens us to humanity, to what people have done forever. Requesting help seems to make us more honest, and in touch with the interconnectedness of all humans everywhere. Without people to help, what would the helper-people do?
My neighbors helping me shovel also gave me a sense of safety and security just knowing they were nearby when those huge swooshes of snow would slide down my roof in the middle of the night sounding like tornadoes hitting.
After a surgery I had a few years ago, I needed help from my son in Denver. It was very difficult to reverse roles and have him be the caretaker instead of me. But it opened up a whole new way of us being together. It was so sweet to see that compassionate side of him.
I am just starting this path. A friend several years older than me just gave up driving. This is a big one! Driving surely gives us all a sense of independence, to know we can go wherever, whenever we want. She made this decision herself before any accidents happened, and I applaud her. This takes strength and clarity, something I hope to have at her age.
The desire to be independent as we age is twofold. It gives us some control during this time of rapid change. It also gives us a sense of achievement, which can give us a better sense of self-worth and well-being. From our early years, we all try to be as independent as possible and even try to support our children in this. It does not diminish with age.
It’s important to balance this autonomy (freedom and independence) with our vulnerability now. These two things often oppose each other; the more help we need, the less autonomous we are. Participating as much as possible in our care can help. Being out there with my neighbors shoveling made me feel like I was still “taking care of things and had some control.”
Things continually change, and we are all dependent on other beings and occurrences and events. This is the nature of things. If we can accept them as they are, instead of what might have been or what might happen, then we will have more joy in our lives, even though we need help.
What are the gifts here? For me, it is the deeper and more delightful relationship I now have with my son because it’s more reciprocal. With my neighbors, it’s a sense of safety and care as I age through these years, critical when living alone with no family nearby.
So, hop on board the receiving train, and start seeing how this feels. Many of us agers have partners who take up the slack for us – wonderful, and lucky for you. The dependence card may be delayed a bit for you, or not. But whenever it arrives, acceptance of reality is key for longer and more quality lives.
Martha McClellan was a developmental educator in early childhood for 38 years. She has moved her focus now to the other end of life and has written a book, “The Aging Athlete: What We Do to Stay in the Game.” Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.