In dealing with our ongoing process of aging we have to use all our remaining intellect, skills, strategies and tactics in order not to let go and let the alcohol or the nursing home get the better of us.
When I am writing about aging I am dealing only with the “normal” process of aging. It is about the lucky ones among us, who only slowly get older and weaker. I have not sufficient knowledge to talk about the maladies such as Alzheimer, Dementia, Parkinson’s disease, Aphasia etc. and then one should rather remain silent.
Stoicism and the Middle Path
The old Greek concept of Stoicism as well as the Buddhist teaching of ‘The Middle Path’ both offer excellent tools for us to keep our balance while getting older. They represent the opposite of the consumerism and thrill seeking pleasures so common in the stressful years of our working life – until they finally lose their attraction and we have to find more valuable foundations.
The core of Stoicism is that reason must govern emotion. We must stay cool and not give in to the chaos of emotions with unpredictable consequences. Stoicism thereby helps us to carry the burdens put on our shoulders, losses and sadness, in a calm and reflective manner. ‘The Middle Path’ demand from us that we “stay neutral, upright and centered. Meaning to investigate the core of life with an unbiased attitude”. I can only recommend more reading about these two subjects , but will emphasize that they are not only techniques to be learnt ; you can practice them extensively if you have decided to stay proud and upright as long as possible. A supervisor or ‘teacher (ajarn)’ would be an advantage.
To the dogs?
Right here we are at the crossroads: It is up to us, as individuals, to decide whether we intent to stay proud and upright or whether we will let ourselves go to the dogs. Easy to say, I know, but I fight every day and so can you.
Going to the dogs will often mean alcohol with all that follows, legs full of arthritic veins, liver problems etc. This country is not geared for old and weak foreigners; it is geared for the healthy and wealthy. Not much network among ourselves; often nobody to take you under the arm.
Going to the dogs in Denmark will usually mean that you accept the room in the nursing home. Here you will experience that decline in your faculties and dementia is around the corner. You will be under a regime where the nursing home owners – the municipalities – bureaucratic rules design your day and what to do when: There is the duty roster for the staff. Get up time, breakfast time, lunch time, coffee time, dinner time and bed time. Individual deviations are not appreciated and by the end of it, the sooner you develop a light dementia the more practical for the staff.
Through many years of my working life I have visited so many different homes for the elderly but the picture is almost the same. The staff can hardly be blamed since they have been ‘silently’ disciplined into the system. Furthermore it seems that the politicians and leading staff in the municipalities don’t have the intellectual capacity to lift their thinking and decisions up from the 175 years old bureaucratic way to build organizations.
The way we look at others
Unfortunately, other people invariably see us through their own filter. In his thesis: ‘Om oplevelsen af andres adfaerd’, Professor, Dr. Psych. Franz From (1953) points out how our perception of other people’s behaviour tends not to have much to do with the truth about that behaviour, action, expression. It is only all too easy to apply one of the many stereotypes like: stupid old fool, dirty old man, old clown, old bitch, old witch, old cow, and old crow.
Also from our children we can only expect a filtered experience and not a searching and unbiased mind, the stereotypes tend to win, they are easy, convenient and an easy way out, hence also the ‘Generation Gap’ mentioned in my earlier article on aging published in February. Respect for the individual seems to die with the end of that persons working life. Therefore we will also have to cope with these labels, stigmas also called.
Eventually the cruel joke of the Gap will repeat itself. Our children will, when their children are grown ups, and they themselves are starting old age, from their offspring realize that they are met with the same prejudices as we were.