We used to know how to age. Yes, you would think that something as basic to life as aging would be something we would naturally or instinctively know how to do. But much like child rearing and marriage, almost all of us do it, but there is no manual.
Just a few generations back, this wasn’t such an issue. People were born, raised, worked, lived their adult lives, and died probably within a few hundred miles of where they were born. They lived with their parents, or very close by. Often, grandparents played a big part in helping to raise the kids, and then if they were lucky enough to reach the ripe old age of 60 or so, their children took care of them in their declining years. Multiple generations often lived, worked, aged and died together in the same family home or village.
Death wasn’t quite as scary as it is today, because it was familiar. By some estimates, lifespan has doubled in the last 150 years. But back then, if you made it through childbirth, childhood, pregnancy, war, and avoided all the contagious diseases and plagues, you might live to be a wise elder of your community at 50 or 60.
So, through medical advances, vaccinations, improved sanitation and a myriad of technological advances we have greatly improved the lifespan of most humans on the planet. But, as with all advances, we have lost a few things in the process. Like how to gracefully age and take care of each other during the process.
I saw my first dead body at 14, at my grandmother’s funeral. I did not witness another death until I was 23, which was probably my first experience with the actual dying process. I’ve experienced firsthand a few friends and family members’ courageous battles with cancer, sometimes successful, sometimes not. I don’t think I’m atypical, and I don’t think that these few experiences are much of an education in the process of aging, dying and death. We are all self-taught, and frankly, I don’t think we are very good at it. Moreover, how often does it occur to us to actually plan for the inevitable, and how often does that thought translate into action?
There seems to be some hope for the future, however. Resources are becoming more available, and as our population ages, we seem to be more willing to address these issues. We now wonder if constant medical interventions to prolong life is always the correct and moral course of action. We now consider concepts such as assisted suicide, which some countries have actually legalized. Hospice and home care have greatly expanded as health care options, and “quality of life” issues have become commonplace topics of discussion.
The outdated model of “nursing homes,” which were often dumping grounds for the old, sick and forgotten, are slowly being replaced by assisted living and retirement communities.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if as we experience our own aging process and witness our parents’, we already knew what resources were available and what our plan will be to handle the physical, emotional and financial challenges that lie ahead? Well, our own valley is evolving as well and an important step in the process is education. Someday, I hope that this education process is mostly integrated into society, and we learn from our parents, schools, (ever heard of an “aging” class? I haven’t) and communities in general how to age, how to deal with these challenges and how to care for our own parents in effective and humane ways. For now, it’s still mostly about self-education, but there are resources to help out with the process. The 2014 Preventative and Planning Symposium, being held Thursday at Battle Mountain High School, is a great informational tool to learn about local resources available, medical advances and technologies, and planning for the future. It’s a great place to start the process!
The 2014 Preventative and Planning Symposium will begin at 9 a.m. an continue to about 1 p.m. There will be breakfast and lunch served.
Judson Haims is the owner of Visiting Angels Home Care in Eagle County. For more information, go to www.visitingangels.com/comtns or call 970-328-5526.