In the course of my everyday life, especially in the process of the job that I carry out three days a week, I have the joy to meet and to converse with many people who most would call elderly but who I prefer to call the elders of our community. And during the course of whatever form our relationship takes I get to hear much of their life story and as a result, I am more often than not totally amazed and inspired by the richness of the lives they have lived. Many have come to accept how their lives have changed and where they find themselves now, but some are really struggling to accept the changes that have often been forced upon them as a part of the ageing process. They want life to be as it was but deep down there is a sadness in the knowing that it will never be the same again, and so perhaps they are closed down to the fact that there could still be a most wonderful life to be lived until their last breath.
I have one dear friend whose life, both current and past, has continually inspired me since I first met her about 12 years ago. This wonderful woman, Dorothy, has already inspired two blogs, and now a third.
When I wrote the first one – ‘You’re never too old to Change’ – she was 88 and still living in her cosy little unit, still driving around town in her little car and one morning a week, volunteering. What inspired me to write this part of her story was the incredible amount of change she had brought to her life in the previous 12 years, self-loving changes which had her feeling and looking the best she had ever been in her life – and remarkably, all this unfolded in her late 70’s and 80’s.
The second one – ‘Adaptability and the Ageing process’ – was written earlier this year when, as the result of a fall during which she broke her shoulder, Dorothy made the choice to give up driving, sell her car and move out of her unit into a rest home. During this process, I and all her friends were blown away by her adaptability as we watched her effortlessly surrender to her new way of life. Day by day she let go of all that had been normal for her including most of her precious possessions, and without any resistance, she accepted and embraced her life as it now was.
As I live about three hours away from her new home, I don’t get to see her often, but I keep in touch regularly and love to hear about her everyday life. But just when I felt there was not a lot more to add to Dorothy’s story the other day, she surprised me again.
During our conversation about the daily goings-on in a rest home that was in lockdown due to Covid-19, Dorothy began to share how much she loves her life and her little room, and she then spoke about all the things in her room that she loves; her ornaments, her super comfortable and supportive chair, her new writing desk, photos etc. As she ran through the list, I could really feel how much she appreciated every single thing she has around her which is so much less than what surrounded her in her previous home. She had willingly let go of so much and in the process, I had the joy of saying yes to taking one of her paintings of some beautiful pink roses.
She went to on to say that she is so well cared for, having her meals cooked, her bed made, her washing done and so much more; the everyday things that a year ago she was doing for herself. The thought of being in a rest home and seemingly losing her independence was definitely the furthest thing from her mind back then.
Dorothy also shared that she loves connecting with many of the beautiful people in the rest home, both staff and residents, but she is just as happy to stay in her room and read or rest.
I loved what she was sharing but what she said next had me in tears and as I listened, I could feel such a stillness settle over my body, so much so I couldn’t speak.
These were Dorothy’s words.
“I’m rich, I have everything I need right now.
I wonder how many people who seem to have everything can say that they are truly rich.
If I had a house, would I feel as content or as rich as I do now?
I have no wish to have a husband or a home or anything else or to be anywhere else than where I am right now, or that things could be different.
My whole room is my life and I love it. I could not be happier.
I am no longer trying to run away from myself.
I have beautiful friends
I am content with myself.
I love my life.”
When she finished there was a long moment of silence as I realised the grandness of the gift Dorothy had just offered me. This gift was overflowing with the understanding that when we get older and life begins to change, the more we let go of how it has been and of the wishing it could be different, but instead simply surrendering to the process, the more beautiful and settled the last years of our life can be. And to have this priceless gift to take with me as I age, I have the deepest appreciation, an appreciation which comes with the knowing that I cannot keep it to myself as it is to be shared with others so it may support them to accept the changes that are often inevitable during the ageing process, especially in the last years of their lives.
Over the years I have come across many older people who have been really struggling with accepting how their lives are now and often their frustration at how life has turned out is palpable, with the consequences of this being so evident in their bodies and the way that they move.
Yes, I have noticed that those who accept the process and those who are still fighting it move in completely different ways. Those who accept, like Dorothy, exude a beautiful sense of ease and joy as a result of surrendering to a process that is in truth totally natural and those who, for whatever reason, choose to fight the process seem to have built a hard shell around them to protect themselves from the sadness, the pain and what they perceive to be the unfairness of where they find themselves right now in their lives; they feel weighed down by all these emotions.
It has become so clear to me that the way we feel about ourselves and our lives shows in every movement we make and in everything we express; we cannot hide how we truly feel inside.
Dorothy doesn’t move with the speed and the strength she used to and she might be a bit wobbly on her feet at times, but I can still feel and see a lightness and a grace about her as she moves; there is nothing weighing her down, literally or figuratively. And as for her gorgeous sense of humour that is as contagious as ever and a conversation with her never ends without a laugh or two, even at her own expense.
Two months away from her 90th birthday the way Dorothy has accepted and adapted to her new life is nothing short of inspirational. I know, from what she shares often, that every day she lives with the total acceptance of where she finds herself at this time in her life as well as having the deepest appreciation for the care and the love that surrounds her, and that is what makes her feel that she is indeed one very rich woman, rich in the truest sense of the word.