Goodbye 2013

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Two-thousand and thirteen was a hard year for me and I am very glad to see it go. I insist that 2014 be better. Of course, I have no control over what this New Year will be like, but I have steadfast, hopeful expectations. I have to believe it will be an improvement because the events of 2013 left me weary and changed in ways that I am not sure I want to acknowledge. So much of what happened this past year were things that everyone goes through – deaths of family members, life-altering medical findings among loved-ones, and close friends feeling sad and worried about their own kin.

Good things also happened – the birth of a new family member, personal and professional accomplishments, and seeing my oldest grand-nephew prepare for college. But the difficult episodes seemed to have overwhelmed the lovely occurrences, probably because there was more obvious sorrow than palpable happiness.

As is my usual tendency, I got through each smaller and larger crisis, but with a toll. Events kept happening, one after the other, and there was practically no time in-between to sit back and heal. There was a period when I felt my brain was so full that it could not hold any more information and strain without it popping. To manage that inundated sense, I began to sort through every new item that crossed my path and created an imaginary little sac tucked behind my right ear. It was here that I stored the miscellaneous data bytes that would have to wait until the more pressing issues were resolved. This storage unit held things like responding to people who had contacted me about one of my articles, dinners with friends, and picking out the paint color for my kitchen. I know this “sac” idea may seem weird but, at the time, it was a stabilizing strategy that allowed me to get through each day and handle the urgencies that couldn’t wait.

I guess that things are smoothing out because my little data storage sac is gone from my imagination and those put-on-hold things are returning to my consciousness for resolution. But it has taken me weeks to begin to shake a stifling sense of weariness. This is one of the parts I didn’t like- the feeling of sluggishness that goes along with being emotionally drained. Yet, throughout this period I kept reassuring myself that it was OK to keep a low profile. It was my way of healing. There were a few things that helped – watching old movies on DVDs and writing. I watched wonderful, clever musical shows like “Damn Yankees” and wrote several articles. Composing an essay was a powerful message to my self-esteem that my mind was still working and that I could still conjure up reasonable thoughts to put on paper.

Another unlikeable reaction that I had to all of the stress was to sink into nostalgia. I found that I was reflecting perhaps a little too much on those memories and observations about the past which made me fill up with tears. That is not to say that nostalgia doesn’t have its place but I was concerned that it would engulf me, and inhibit my ability to find meaningful messages from history and present happenings. I became fearful of drifting into ongoing, permanent sadness and using nostalgia as a coping mechanism.

As I emerge from this difficult period (and I am emerging) I do feel changed. I have come to realize that I have entered a different life-phase. I have the luck of being pretty healthy, which is wonderful. But along with that benefit, comes the reality that difficult times are more likely to occur now and into my future compared to what has happened before. That is the nature of aging. Simply because of my age, I and the rest of my contemporaries are more apt to experience health, psychological, or social setbacks. Sorrowfully, we begin to experience the untoward events that impact the younger generations behind us. This is the toughest assault of all. I know because it is happening in my family and I feel its profound weight.

So, my circumstances have changed. I have entered a new stage brought on simply and naturally with each additional year that I live. Because of this advancing age, I too have changed partly because I am not a really young person any more but, more importantly, I recognize that I must learn how to accept and contend with new, and possibly troublesome, chapters. I have confidence that I will figure it out but realize that it will not be without more change, worry and, yes, some sorrow. Despite the altered circumstances, I will continue (probably with some adjustments) doing what I do. Tomorrow is in front of me and I will greet it whether it is good or troubled. I have no choice.

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About Marian

Marian Leah Knapp, Ph.D., wants to start a new conversation about “aging with intent.” Much of what is written about elders is from the point of view of physicians, psychiatrists, gerontologists, and adult children. In her roles as author, columnist, speaker and elder activist, Marian is reporting from the front lines.
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