I am at the point in my living span where there are fewer and fewer people my age or older. Getting older, of course, is normal in the big scheme of things, except it isn’t so normal for me. It’s a new experience because it is the first time I have been this age. So, I am a bit tentative about how to navigate through this untested period. 

In the past, I took care of many relatives as they continued into old age and eventually died. I learned a lot from observing what happens in the aging process and how to manage it. The progression that happened with all of my older loved ones is becoming real and personal for members of my generation and that includes me. However, what I learned from caring for people doesn’t necessarily mean that it is easy to apply these lessons to myself. I’m making the effort, but it’s an existential struggle. 

Many friends, a very few remaining relatives, and I are dealing with chronic or acute illnesses, broken bones, or loss of balance. Some are experiencing memory problems. These ordinary, but unwanted, intrusions can prompt us to contemplate making changes. Some of us prefer not to think about it, others take a wait-and-see approach, and still others try to be  proactive. I usually like to think ahead and do some planning, but in this case, it’s not simple. I feel that I am in an in-between time where the beginnings and ends of this elder segment keep shifting. The problem is that it isn’t clear when to make a decision or whether or not to make one at all. What is the right moment to face reality? It is simpler to delay thinking and acting. 

For me, this in-between phase feels like I’m straining to keep my balance on squishy terrain which I know can become less stable in an instant causing uncertainty and confusion about what to do and when. There are decisions to be made on both the small and practical, as well as larger, life-changing levels. The smaller ones are relatively simple. Be cautious on a walk and watch for tripping hazards so as not to fall and break my arm. Keep my sensory system on super-alert for any attention-worthy caution signal. A problem is these targeted foci can easily become neurotic, incapacitating behaviors.

The bigger issues like whether to stay where I live or consider a place with more community supports and services have, perhaps, greater significance. They raise the unsettling specter of admitting I am not the same as I was a few years ago, or even last spring. This in-between time embodies a profound dichotomy between two deep-seated necessities: retaining a sense of self-sufficiency versus acknowledging a decrease in adeptness that may signify a need for additional support and some loss of autonomy.  

Friends and relatives have handled this conundrum in different ways: stay where they are and hire help, or move to a facility that provides meals, activities, and housekeeping. Actually, each scenario involves some acceptance of aging with all of its implications. There is no right or wrong, except when there is no decision and we put ourselves at risk and potentially negatively impact the lives of those who care about us. What is “wrong,” is denial of our aging and failure to make appropriate choices and accommodations in light of this inexorable process. 

This uncertainty period can last for a long time or a precipitous event can prompt an immediate, crisis-driven adjustment. So, I sit here thinking and trying to accept my own advice to plan ahead. If I figure this out, I’ll let you know. In the meantime, I continue living in the time in-between.