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HORIZON BLOG

Helping Mom Accept Aging

Question

My mother seems distressed about her advancing age.  She is approaching 80 now and she mentions how she looks quite a bit. I would say almost every time that I see her, she brings up that she is old. Frankly, mom looks great. She never put on any extra pounds after she retired. She is active and I believe she does something physical every day. 

I have noticed that she stopped wearing makeup a few years ago and I have not seen any new clothes on her lately. Dad died two years ago, and I know that it changed her social calendar somewhat. She still has a decent circle of friends though that she hangs out with from time to time.

Mom is driving and quite self-sufficient. She has four children, all in the area, and six grandchildren. It seems that she has enough company.

What I wonder is how do people learn to accept aging and retain a zest for living?  I am starting to wonder if mom is struggling.

-READER

 

Answer

From what you described your mother is experiencing very common life experiences for her age.  That does not make her losses irrelevant or unimportant though.

Aging is not glorified in any way in our society. Wrinkles are something we try to get rid of. Sagging skin is not considered attractive. We lose the ability to do some of the things we did when we were younger. Often the elderly feel marginalized and ignored.  Half of us will lose a spouse that we may have lived with half a century or more. We all hope to live a long life, yet aging to do so is what we fear.

Losing a spouse has a tremendous impact on the surviving partner. The focus of her world has been completely and permanently altered. Since it has been only two years your mother could very possibly still be adjusting to her husband’s absence. You may think that she should have moved on, but she may still feel the loss. It is very likely that she is grieving to some extent.

New clothing and makeup do not a person make. With that said, what is notable is the change. If your mother is no longer taking pride in her appearance when she did before, one might wonder about depression. Just because she may not have said anything, does not mean that she is doing well. There is the possibility that she is grieving her losses and not getting the support she needs. She may not even be aware that she is acting differently.   

In answer to your specific question the zest for living comes from purpose. The physical aspects of aging annoy everyone. Her outlook may have altered though because of loss. Did she lose that purpose when her husband died? Was caring for him her purpose? Has she failed to replace those activities and instead created an inner focus? Has her health declined affecting what she thinks about?

It is impossible to know for sure what is affecting how she acts. It might be best to state the next time she complains about aging, “mom you mention getting older frequently, is something on your mind?” Then be quiet and let her express what she needs to talk about. When our lives are busy, we sometimes do not take the time to really listen. A few open-ended questions may give her an opportunity to share what she is thinking in more depth. If that does not prompt discussion be a bit more direct. Do not ask her when anyone else is around, as you will not likely get an answer in a crowd.

Do continue to draw out what she is thinking and feeling about aging. Something has changed in her life, and it could be helpful for you to find out how she is thinking below the surface. Your mother may need some gentle assistance to refocus her energies at this time in her life. You are thoughtful to notice the change in her and in seeking a solution.

I wish you well as you journey together.

 

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