A woman of age

When did aging get associated with stupidity or loss of intellect? Here in Ontario it seems that for women who age, especially women on their own, a general assumption is made that they can no longer make decisions for themselves.  I’m not talking about women on their 50’s or 60’s, it’s more women who are in their 70’s and on up.  And it’s typically their own kids that start to treat them like they are mentally deficient.

We are in a  society where age is not valued.  For years the mandatory retirement age suggested that at 65 years of age you ceased to be a productive, valued member of society.  Mandatory retirement at 65 was lifted in Canada in 2012; however, the stigma about older employees in the workplace is still entact.  The younger generation have been raised to believe that an older employee is an impediment to progress and productivity.  That older employees are stuck in the past and offer no real value to the future – the legacy of mandatory retirement. Thankfully the mandatory age has been lifted.  It actually forced a large part of society into poverty.

Our messaging in the workplace translated to outside of the workplace, and more especially so for women.  Years of ingrained stereotyping about menopausal women and post menopausal women suggested that there was a mental instability resulting from loss of fertility, ‘mood swings’. Heck up until the 1960s in some civilized countries  menopause was still viewed as an insanity that women were afflicted with.  Perhaps this factored into the wage inequity, the belief that women were born flawed and consequently had limits to their capacity for intellectual development.  Regardless of why, the wage disparity exists, the perceptions of menopause as a physical deficiency still exist.

Put them together:  mandatory retirement (you’re old and have no value) + you are a woman 65+ (been to the crazy land of menopause and back) + as a woman you likely earned far less than a man = somebody better look after you, because you can’t do it yourself, emotionally or financially.  We are moving away from this view, but it takes time, patience and persistence in looking for the systemic imbalances related to long held notions.

Then, individually, we have a responsibility, as we age a lot is tied to the actions we ourselves take. Sure it’s easier at some point, especially when you are on your own, to say to friends or family, ‘I can’t think about it’, or ‘I don’t know what to do, tell me what to do’, or the ultimate transfer of power: ‘you decide for me’. It’s when it gets said perpetually that the dynamics can change. Much depends on how you allow your relationships to evolve. Know your motivations, if you play the ‘poor me’ then you will be treated like the ‘poor me’.  But in some instances it’s the mature children who come in and steamroller the parent into submission. There’s no choice involved. Whether it’s a lack of time, patience or concern, the child makes the decisions, the parent allows it to happen and, consequently, the parent becomes the child in all aspects of decision-making.  It’s why does the parent allow it to happen that’s important.

Is it fear of being alone?  Is it because it’s easier?  When do the dynamics in the relationship start to shift?  Is this a financially-driven decision to cede over one’s autonomy to another?  Is it because there aren’t enough supports in the community to ensure continued independence?  I have to look for studies in this regard, to see what’s out there.  But for those of us who are getting older I suggest watching this video about a man who retired to start a whole new adventure, and didn’t miss a step in his enjoyment of life.

How much should a person tolerate?

My observation is that we live in a society that encourages ignorance and abuse. We see it on television and in tabloids, it’s okay to use words to hurt people. It’s okay to inflict one’s will or values on another, this is entertainment. It’s okay when it happens to someone else. The mentality is that it’s okay if I do it to you, you know, if I think it’s funny, or, as judge and jury, I think that you deserve it. Consider cyber-bullying and gossip and how hurtful those words can be, what negative consequences they can have. And for what, what purpose does it serve? For the magazine industry it sells, and for those reality tv series, it gets ratings. On a grander scale, the entertainment industry sends the message that this is normal behaviour, it gives the impression that rudeness, distortion of facts or fabricating facts is okay. What a sad indicator of where we are as a society. How far we have fallen in our humanity.

In the real world there’s a reason why there is a criminal charge when you threaten someone, just like it is criminal when you hit or push someone. Uttering threats is against the law. Assault is against the law. Slander, libel, they are all pursuable. It may be that one is angry or frustrated, but that doesn’t give him or her the right to cross that line. There are extenuating circumstances always, perhaps mental health issues – when an individual doesn’t have the same filters as you or I – but even then, it’s not okay, it doesn’t make it right. It’s not entertainment anymore, it’s real life and real people, and potentially a real problem.

I think about cases of domestic abuse, how many times the victim rationalizes that it is a one-off, that the perpetrator won’t do it again. The pattern often persists, though, and they do it over and over again. In your dealings with other people on a day-to-day basis where do you draw the line about what type of behaviour is acceptable and what isn’t? It depends on what matters to you. It depends on your own sense of self-worth and self-respect.

For me, I have very distinct thresholds, I am also very clear when one has been crossed. Once has always been enough. Cross that line just once and you are done in my world. It may not matter to that person anyway, but it matters to me. The people I surround myself with are a reflection of who I am, and what I value. So for those who cross my ‘values’ line, no inner circle anymore.  If future interaction is necessary, a brief and distant courtesy is it, whatever it takes to achieve the necessary objective. There are too many good people out there to suffer one who isn’t.

What Matters

There comes a point for everyone of us where we have to decide what matters and what doesn’t, who matters and who doesn’t.  There’s always a why associated with it.  Why does that matter?  Why doesn’t he matter, or she matter?  It is a significant thing when someone or something matters in your life.  Like an honour, a bit of power given to the person or the thing.  So it is a sad moment when you realize that someone or something shouldn’t matter anymore.  It’s about what’s important though, isn’t it?

What is important to you is what makes something matter or not.  For example, my children – they are worth an investment of emotion, love, communication, whatever – it doesn’t mean our relationship is perfect, it means that they matter.  Why?  Because I love them, and they represent the love I shared with Kevin. Likewise my home is also important to me.  It is a safe haven, a controlled space free from drama.  My home therefore matters to me, it is more than a house and it represents something to me, something that I value in many ways.

I have decided that other people’s drama is what shouldn’t matter in my life.  I don’t handle it well, I don’t like what it does to people, I don’t like what it does to me.  I think that drama only sucks you in when you let the people creating the drama, forcing an event or discussion, have power in your life.  Perhaps I am too clinical, and it’s “easier said than done”, but I don’t think so.  I think it is important to take a step back before you go down a path that may be treacherous and full of emotional stress to determine if there is any value to be gained.  Is it important to you?  Does it matter?  Is someone else driving or controlling the drama?  Are they worth the effort, your effort?

One of my biggest self learnings through the grieving process was that I have limited emotional energy and need to ensure I only expend it when absolutely necessary.  It’s the only thing I can control completely –  what’s important and what matters to me.  Those are the things worth caring about.

 

Gone

My coworker passed away tonight.  News travels fast and, it seems, bad news spreads especially quickly.  It will be a sad group that arrives at the office on Monday.  Fortunately, I am off that day.  This sort of news and how people will mourn can catapult me into darkness.  Tuesday won’t be much better but at least the initial shock will have worn off.  Those first raw conversations will have been replaced by numbness as people reflect on how brutal cancer is.

It is brutal, it is arbitrary, and it is shattering.  Life turns upside down in one fraction of a second.  You hear the words and everything drops away around you.  I vividly recall when Kevin got his diagnosis.  We went to the hospital for a pain in his back.  He left 12 hours later with a death sentence.  But that moment when the doctor came and sat with us to tell us what the pain truly was, I remember so well.  His words,  cancer, advanced cancer, stage 3 at minimum.   That moment in time felt both long and short, the time and place we were in seemed to stand still.  Everything fell away in that one moment of time.  The noise and the chaos of the hospital, we didn’t hear it.  We just looked at each other.  The shock of the moment created a connection through pain.  There is no thought, just pure anguish.

We went home, we were far different people than left that house 12 hours earlier.  Prepared to fight, scared beyond words.  And so it began for us.  It ended, just as it did for my coworker and her family today.  Heartbreak, desolation and despair.  Dark days and darker nights. Here I am two years down the road and I still find that the darkness can press against me.  You never stop loving, you don’t.

The Path

I walk ahead of you on the path.  A few steps but it seems an eternity.  Don’t worry I am here.  It’s dark but you aren’t alone.  I travel on ahead trying to find my way.  My path is already begun, my journey underway.  I know you are behind me, like so many others, and I want to help.  But I can’t.  It’s your journey, you have to find your own way.

It’s hard to move forward.  The first steps are the hardest.  You will fall.  I won’t help you get up simply because I can’t.  Only you can, only you know why you have fallen.  Only you know when you are ready to get back up.  You may need to rest for a bit, to simply lie down.  Rest until you are able to stand.  Stand until you are able to walk.  Realize that each step is a success.  When you fall, realize that everyone falls.  Then start the process all over again.

The path is a lonely one despite the fact that many are on it.  Some settle for abject darkness unwilling to move forward, not obstacles on the path, just part of the landscape.   Others find an inner light to guide them forward.  You will find your inner light, it takes time, but you will find it.  Know that there are many others around you.  You are only alone until you choose not to be.