Reflections on Aging

I am part of the generation born during WW II, who now look in the mirror and are startled by the realization that even we are aging. The youngest of us has already reached that unheard of age of 65 and with Medicare card in hand are trying to make sense of how did we become our parents generation.

Ilena J. Blicker, MD
Ilena J. Blicker, MD

We are not as limber as we once were, some are on regimens of medication and some have tried to hide time by visits to a plastic surgeon in Chicago. But time hidden is also time lost. My mother used to say that she enjoyed every age and relished it. The thing was to find joy in it and not worry about every gray hair or wrinkle. Of course she had very few wrinkles, having taken the unheard of practice of not getting sunburned or even tanned most of her life.  She aged gracefully, stayed active, walking at least a mile a day, maintained an ongoing interest in reading and the world and interacting with others until she died at almost ninety.

Many issues face my generation now: how to stay healthy and fit, planning for long term health care and even funerals. My grandparents and parents bought their cemetery plots not near the end of their lives but soon after they married so that the family would not have to worry about what to do if an unforeseen accident occurred. My generation has tried to deny the inevitable, that someday even we would die. After all we were indestructible and could do anything. For many it is frightening to even think about or plan what we want to have done yet alone discuss it with our families.

Of the many hats that I have worn in my life were that I spent 35 years as a neurologist in solo practice and 25 years serving on multiple bioethics committees even chairing one for over 20 years.  One of the ongoing memories is that of numerous families literally arguing with each other over the hospital bed of a parent, spouse, sibling or child as to who really knew what the patient wanted. Far too often I was asked, “What would you do if it was your mother?” The issue is that it wasn’t my mother. She had made it very clear what her wishes were and what she wanted done if she was hospitalized and how she wanted her funeral. We started having that discussion when I was in High School and a friend’s father was killed in an auto accident. The ensuing havoc that wreaked on their family fueled my mother to sit our family down and start a very frank discussion. Obviously in those days, Advance Directives and Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care did not yet exist. They do now. Even if you are not ready to sign one yet, start the discussion, even if it is just with yourself. In future writings I will explore more of the issues dealing with end of life decision making.

For me a major part of aging is how it affects my relationship and travels through my Jewish life. My thoughts and interactions with my religion have changed and evolved since childhood. In many ways they are richer but also bring up more questions then I would have ever imagined. How do I find the wonder and awe and sacred in my every day life as my knees creak going down steps or feeling that I have had that conversation with someone one time too many. How do the rituals relate to me? How do I find my own words and rituals that reflect where I am today?

To write our own prayers that fill in the spaces and cracks that appear before us, to find one thing brings a smile to our hearts or warmth to our neshama is enough. Since childhood I have written poems and thought pieces mainly for myself but I have had the opportunity for several years now to write our Sisterhood Shabbat service. The first two years I found thought pieces or poems written by Rabbis and scholars and where I couldn’t find something I liked, I simply wrote my own. For the past two years all of the introductions to prayers have been my own. Even if no one else would have found them helpful, they helped me to see the depth and sacredness of Judaism. Apparently others were touched as well, as I am again charged with writing next year’s service.

It is different for each of us, aging, end of life decision making, relating to the sacred, finding meaning in our lives, but it always starts with deciding to take the next step even if we wobble a little at first.  Like anything else we have learned in our lives, we have to practice and with practice comes a sense of accomplishment that opens doors that we forgot existed.

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