Here is the surprising thing about loneliness: it actually has an upside! According to Dr. Abraham Palmer, a professor of psychiatry at the University of California, San Diego, “Loneliness may be a warning sign that motivates people to try to develop social links, in the same way the pain of a burn motivates people to move away from a hot flame.” Dr. Palmer is suggesting that instead of viewing loneliness as something inevitable that we just have to endure, we can see it as a signal that we need to do something different.
I asked Ginette about other family members that might be able to help her in providing support to her parents. She told me she had one sister, *Marta, who lives several hours away. Ginette said she and Marta had a good relationship, but she was getting increasingly frustrated that the whole responsibility of caring for their parents was falling to her.
The holidays can result in more time spent together as a family than typical at other times of the year. During these family gatherings, it’s not uncommon for adult children to notice changes with their parents.
A few years ago, I stumbled upon the song “Closing Time” by Semisonic, and found it acknowledged the emotional complications of life transitions in one poignant line: “Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end.” That sums up why people often feel quite ambivalent during a transition: we may be grieving the closing of one chapter in our life as we step into a new one. This is frequently true for an older adult if they are considering, or have decided, to move from the home they have been living in to a retirement residence.
When we hear the term “wellness,” it may conjure up the image of someone who is physically active and eating a healthy diet. Yet, wellness is so much bigger than that, and includes staying mentally and socially engaged in life, too. In fact, having a sense of purpose and meaning is a vital aspect of wellness.
Think back to when you went away from home for the first time, or started your first job. Can you remember how you felt in each of those experiences? For most of us, we experienced mixed feelings—likely excitement about something new, nervousness about whether we would like the new experience or fit in with people there, and perhaps a bit of sadness about what we left behind. All are normal feelings associated with changes in our lives.
There is a societal mindset that many people share in that I believe can interfere with making good decisions about where and how to live as we age, both now and in the future. This is the idea that the best place for someone to live as they age is the home they are already in—the home they may have been in for most of their adult lives.
Most adult children want to be supportive of their older parents as they decide what they want as they age. Should they stay in their own home? Should they live with a family member? Should they move to a retirement residence? There is much to consider about this next chapter of life, and the significance of these decisions can contribute to family members having strong opinions about what is best—so much so, adult children may find themselves at odds with each other, or with their parents. Worse, our aging loved one may not feel they are being listened to or respected.
I was recently struck by the story of Shirley, a Chartwell resident living in one of their communities in Whitby, Ontario. Shirley was exploring retirement living because she thought the lifestyle would benefit her; she’d have more people to socialize with, less worry and responsibility, and just an overall increase in her peace of mind. The problem was, at age 82, Shirley didn’t think she should spend her money on a retirement residence; instead, she thought she should continue to save for her future.
Every person I talk with about aging tells me they want to continue to make their own decisions about where and how they want to live as they get older. Yet, when I ask if they have taken steps to ensure they will have the life they want as they age, very few have done much—if any—planning. I believe that planning for our later years is extremely important, as it prevents us from being reactive in the face of changes that can be significant. Simply put, proactivity creates a much greater likelihood that we will get what we want as we age. An effective way to plan for our later years involves a three-part process: Contemplation, engaging thought partners, and communicating our needs and wants to people important to us.