The Golden Years…

My mother-in-law used to say that there wasn’t anything golden about the golden years.

As I walk this sad and painful journey of dementia with my mother, I am often reminded of that.

I watch this once vibrant, active, and very engaged senior – the “gal-about-town” as I used to call her, the “social butterfly” – slowly slipping away before my very eyes, and  my mother-in-law’s words now echo through my mind, even though she herself is long gone. “There isn’t anything golden about the golden years…”.  I now understand what those words really mean, far better than I ever possibly could have before.

I have often reflected on the pattern of life, and have tried to make sense of it. I’m not there yet. In fact, to me, it seems oddly cruel.

We come into this world, vulnerable and dependent.

We spend our early years very much at the mercy of others. Hopefully, the adults in one’s life treat them well. Sadly, we know that is not the case for all children. But whatever one’s childhood is like, eventually that child grows up and endeavors to make something of his or her life.

It’s usually not without struggle, or a lot of hard work and sacrifices.

We work hard to build businesses or careers, or to simply earn an honest living.

We work hard to raise good children and to take care of our families.

We work hard to build character and strength, and to build this within our children too.

We commit ourselves to a lifetime of learning, to giving; commit to the betterment of ourselves and others.

And as we approach the end of all those years of hard work, struggle and strength building, our reward at the end of it all generally appears to be some form of suffering.

In a perfect world, seniors would reach those golden years, and they truly would be golden – the ultimate reward for a life well lived. Time to finally kick back, take it easy, have plenty of time and opportunity to do all the things one enjoys to do, and no longer have to do the things one prefers not to do. It should be time to partake in the good life.

That is the idealism behind the concept of the golden years.

Yet somehow, but for the lucky few, the golden years – the time spent before one passes from this earthly existence – are spent, to one degree or another, in some level of suffering. Most who leave this world pass away after first enduring a period of suffering as the last phase in their human experience.

It seems very unfair.  And yes, cruel.

Spiritual teachings tell us it doesn’t have to be this way. Suffering is not what God wants for his children, just as no loving Father would want for their child suffer. According to the theory, our suffering is something we, in fact, choose for ourselves, usually rather inadvertently and unknowingly, through the free will we were given to form our own lifelong thought patterns.

Thoughts are things, and thoughts have power. Every thought we think – yes, every thought – has an effect that comes back to us, whether we know it or not, whether we understand it or not. That’s why we are taught: “whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things” (Philippians 4:8).

That’s all well and good. I believe there is tremendous truth to it. But few among us are masters of the Laws of Mind, and so suffering is part of the human experience, and typically part of the elderly human experience – as cruel and unfair as that appears to be.

Our own thought patterns may indeed be ultimately responsible for each and every one of our experiences in life. But that’s of  little consolation when you are suffering, or watching a loved one who is suffering, and all you are left with is what is.

In future posts under the “Our Story” category, I’ll be sharing more of my personal thoughts about my mother’s journey through dementia as I walk by her side and fight this fight for her – since she can no longer fight by herself.  If you too are walking that path with a loved one, I’d love to hear from you at any time. Feel free to share your thoughts, experiences and comments.

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