Nurturing Elders and Others: The Final Illusion of Control
By The Rev. Paul Graves
My guess is that within the last six months, every person reading this blog has lost a loved one or a good friend to death. My latest “opportunity” to grieve came just one day before writing this reflection.
Two days before, I had read in our local newspaper that a 62-year-old man had died while fishing in the Clark Fork River, just east of Sandpoint. He wasn’t identified in the article because his family had not yet been contacted. Two days later I was told the man was my friend Leland.
He was the general manager of The Bridge Assisted Living Facility in our community. I was privileged to have led a memorial service for the residents, staff, and friends. The grieving goes on – as it should. So does my reflecting about how suddenly our illusion of control can be taken away!
In Leland’s case, he didn’t die because he was fishing in the river. Something happened within him that was unavoidable. So it is accurate to say only that he died when he was fishing.
He had even told many folks that he hoped “to die with a fishing pole in his hands.” Because that was something he loved to do, there is meager comfort to know he “lost total control” of his life doing what he loved to do.
But knowing Leland, I’m sure he definitely would have chosen to postpone his time of death until much later, so he could continue loving the residents and staff at The Bridge for a long time. Fulfilling that desire was not in his control – or even his illusion of control.
Learning to let go of our illusions is an ongoing inner battle for most of us. (Though others may just be too comfortable with their illusions.)
In my own aging consulting ministry, Elder Advocates, I’ve had some fun with the word “geezer”. At least in our living area, I’ve been able to help some folks see “geezer” in a more positive, even enjoyable, way.
It started some years ago after I discovered that geezer comes from an old Middle English word for “disguise”. So for me, a “geezer” is someone who is young in mind and spirit even if he — or she – has gray hair and wrinkles. I write a bi-weekly “Dear Geezer” column for our local paper, and I host a bi-weekly “Geezer Forum” for folks to come and explore any aging issue they might want to discuss.
There is a picture I saw (that I wish I could feature in this blog, but cannot due to copyright issues) of the old man looking into a mirror seeing in his reflection a much younger man. It’s a great reminder of what older people want to see in the mirror. Sometimes that encourages a healthy, more vibrant attitude.
But there is a shadow side to that image. The old man can see the young man without realizing the image is just an image. The old man can pretend himself right into an illusion that he will “live forever.” That illusion has far more negative implications than can be listed here.
Franciscan monk and author Richard Rohr speaks so well of how important it is for us in our later years to focus on “letting go” of our illusions. In Rohr’s “The Art of Letting Go.” (a CD), he says:
It is good to remember that a part of you has always loved God. There is a part of you that has always said yes. There is a part of you that is Love itself, and that is what we must fall into…To go back to the place of inherent abundance, you have to let go of all of the false agendas, unreal goals, and passing self-images.
“It is all about letting go. The spiritual life is more about unlearning than learning, because the deepest you already knows.”
The Rev. Paul Graves serves as the chair for the Council on Older Adult Ministries.
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This article was originally featured in Channels 56, September 2012. Download this issue, here