By Marianne Delorey
A Scottish writer, Alexander Chalmers, is attributed as saying that the three components of happiness are “Something to do, someone to love, and something to hope for.” I believe that this quote may provide some insight, but it is not complete. Especially as you age, while you can remain forward thinking and continue to hope, you become more accustomed to the idea that you may not be part of a future. Certainly, accepting that you may not see your 8 year old great granddaughter graduate from college may be a healthier response than believing yourself immortal. However, we all need a reason to keep going. That is why I would instead say that everyone needs something to do, someone to love and something to strive for.
There are a lot of reasons to like the word strive, but first among them is that “to strive” is an active verb, defined as “to make great efforts” or “to struggle or fight” versus “to hope” which focuses on feelings and beliefs. Hoping is very passive and the locus of control for hoping remains external to the person.
Sometimes, we are required to strive by circumstance. My mother was fond of saying that as you age, more of you goes in the drawer at night – the reading glasses, the teeth, prostheses, etc. The challenge of altered abilities is a common experience for many elderly people. Most people would consider physical limitations to be a barrier to living life fully. Perhaps, though, that is not entirely true. Maybe these hurdles can be considered something to overcome, something to push against. Maybe overcoming change can be something to strive for.
Even those closest to death can strive for something. Meet Mary, who is facing death with great dignity and courage. I asked her what she thought of looking forward at this point in her life and here is what she had to say:
“What could I want that I don’t have? Really, there’s nothing. With my remaining time, I want to spend as much time with those I love as possible. I spend my time thinking about beautiful and amazing places this world has to offer. We grew up poor, so I never dreamed big, but I loved travel and I still love the thought of seeing some of the marvels of the world like the Great Wall of China or the cherry blossoms in DC. But I am quite happy. My son has helped to write my obituary and I read it with some wonder – did I really do all those things? I am a pretty happy person.”
Those closer to death are still striving. They can strive to wrap up details like final arrangements. They can strive to learn how to control discomfort and embrace the good days when they come around. And like Mary, they can strive to find peace with who they are and what they did with their lives.
While we are never the master of death, we certainly can do more to help ourselves than just “hope” for the best. We should actively seek out the best life has to offer no matter the circumstance for in doing so, we prove Leonardo da Vinci correct when he noted, “While I thought that I was learning how to live, I have been learning how to die.”
Marianne Delorey, Ph.D. is the executive director of Colony Retirement Homes. She can be reached at 508-755-0444 or [email protected] and www.colonyretirementhomes.com. Archives of articles from previous issues can be read at www.fiftyplusadvocate.com.