The first thing that comes to mind with the word vitality is someone who is leaping about, full of energy and health.
But in the process of ageing – I am now nearly 75 – I researched and realised the real meaning of the word vitality.
The free dictionary online gives the following descriptions of vitality;
- The capacity to live, grow or develop.
- The characteristic, principle, or force that distinguishes living things from non-living things.
- Physical or intellectual vigour, energy, or force that distinguishes living things from non-living things.
From the age of 32, I have had a lot of experience supporting older people, in various capacities, as a carer in the care industry, Nursing Home proprietor, a friend and having elderly parents.
Along the way, I observed the values, beliefs, and characteristics of those people who were content with being older, and the differing ones of those, who made everyone’s lives a misery, including their own.
For example, when I worked in the local care home, there was a man who everyone dreaded attending to. I was on night duty at the time, and he was the last resident whose needs I attended before giving my report after a long night shift. He started to verbally abuse staff the minute we opened the door to his room. I found out afterward that he had been a cruel husband and father, and no-one came to see him anymore. He was now bitter, twisted and a very lonely man.
There were also those who professed to be Christians, yet they were among the bitterest ones.
The happiest ones were the ones that gave a smile and thanks when we did anything for them. They were the ones that the staff would love to sit and chat to, which is ironic because the bitter ones were probably the ones that needed the chat. But try as we may, we just heard them bemoaning their lot and that drove us away.
Among the most remarkable was a woman who had lost one leg, one eye, and her breasts. Of course, she needed a lot of attention. But far from feeling sorry for herself, she used to make us laugh. “They will get a big discount when they bury me” she used to joke. “Because there is only half of my left.”
From quite an early age – I decided to get rid of everything in my mind, body, and soul that would make my sunset years unhappy.
That meant forgiveness to those who had hurt me in any way — forgiving myself for the hurt; I may have caused too. I realise now that my strengths as I get older, such as patience, compassion, a way with words, staying cheerful, being grateful, will be much needed for the time I have left.
Life happens, and during my 40s, problems arose for me, and this was the time when someone said to me that I needed to find who Patricia really was, and where she was going.
That started the ball rolling; I realised how much I depended on the teachings and examples of others, and that I needed to start finding out how to be free.
I am now coming up to 75, and it has been a long journey of discovery. But in the last seven years, as I got nearer the top, my ascent became more enlightening. I am not quite there yet, but I have certainly found The Truth for me.
The journey has been one of a major loss, divorce, bereavement, but also love, forgiveness, finding out who I am, and a second very happy marriage.
Ten years ago, I used to walk 25 miles a week, and I remember thinking and hoping that I would still be doing that in my 80s. However, now I am experiencing the limitations of some of the things that an ageing body can bring.
I have a vision impairment and fibromyalgia, but I am living with those conditions, and dealing with them, and avoid saying that I am “suffering” from them.
I do not believe in the anti-ageing industry but rather that we need to accept ageing; but in a vital way.
Society, in general, is afraid of ageing and death. People do all they can to look younger and ignore the fact that we all die.
I was amused this week when I saw an article about objections to planning permission for a funeral director’s office because it would be near shops, and where a lot of children go. Are we supposed to hide funeral directors’ offices away so that they only come out of hiding when someone dies?
During my research around vitality in ageing, I came across inspiring teaching from a Buddhist, about the grace of ageing. That if we can forgive both ourself and others, it will contribute towards being a gentle and compassionate older person. And also if we can learn to receive graciously, as well as give, it will help us to accept the care that we may need and make those who care, want to carry out their task with pleasure.
And so, I have reached a point where not only am I a full-time carer for my husband but I am also living with fibromyalgia and vision impairment which can at times make life more difficult.
I have found the grace to ask for help, from neighbours, friends and family. Rather than live in denial of my needs.
I have realised that being vital – stays with us until we die. I want to be a vital human being, in the way of recognising that I still have a vital force within me that will not go until I draw my last breath.
I can be vital by being gracious, grateful and knowing that even just a smile can make a difference.
Of course, I do forget at times, that is the human being that I am. I too can moan, be annoyed, irritated and worried. But I soon realise that I do not have to do that. My fellow humans all have feelings, past stories and experiences that make them who they are today.
I practice mindfulness and consciousness, and as my dear old Dad used to say; “Put yourself in their shoes.”
The biggest influence in my life before all of this was being a member of churches who preached the fundamentalism of Hell and Damnation if you were not “saved.” So I grew up feeling pretty worthless. The only way that I could be loved was to be a born again Christian and behave like those around me.
A big part of my growth, study and research from the heart over the last 27 years, has been learning how the teachings of these people, have done so much damage. I have studied the history of early Christianity and how the bible was written.
My complete story is in my upcoming book “The Truth Has Set Me Free.”
And it has set me free to be who I am and made ageing a pleasure instead of a burden. I am ageing with vitality.
I run a group, on Facebook by that name, (please note the e in ageing.)
And if you go to my website http://www.patriciacherrylifecoach.com you will find blogs about my favourite subjects, including weight and food management, ageing, death and macular degeneration.
Since becoming 67, I have gained two recognised diplomas— one as a Life Coach, and the other as a Funeral Celebrant. In the last 12 months, I also trained as an End of Life workshop facilitator, with the not for profit company “Before I Go” which you can find online — run by Jane Duncan Rogers. At the moment, I have had to go a little slower because of my husband’s health making every day a bit uncertain, but I am still going forth in the way I wish.
Patricia’s book The Truth Has Set Me Free is available here.