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the fragility and resilience of life

by Judy
February 7, 2013 

As I delve into writing this blog, I feel in some ways like a detective, a social scientist or perhaps just an acute observer who is studying the whole process of aging. What does it look like, how does it change? It’s not like aging hasn’t been studied before - now more than ever - but however much knowledge is out there, for each one of us, how our family ages and ultimately how we age, has its own distinct qualities. However much we know, we are all still going into new territory. In this way I feel that Andrea and I are treading softly and digging deep inside - observing the nuances of aging literally month by month and observing ourselves in the process. Of course there are landmark changes that happen, but then there are the changes that occur almost imperceptibly - only cognized in retrospect.

This morning I was reflecting on how fragile life really is and how at any moment, seemingly out of the blue, my mom, for example, could have another stroke; she could die… a whole litany of possibilities can and do happen suddenly and then everything changes yet again; changes the “history” of our life. This becomes very evident in the elderly, but also it applies to me and to everyone. We human beings are vulnerable and particularly as we age, we become more vulnerable and fragile. As I’ve written about before, there is a physical fragility and also an emotional one. For example I notice my mother can’t handle what might be called intensity of any kind: not too much speed, sound, talking, confusion or activity. It’s just too much. She likes the safety of the familiar; more or less the same schedule, same environment, same food with some, but not too much variation.

I think of the nearby tea shop run by a Northern English couple. It’s very quaint and quiet; very few people are ever there. My mother loves going there. In addition, she has a tender, sweet joking relationship with the owners. In the past, this kind of restaurant would never have appealed to her. It would have been too slow; too laid back. This was a woman always up for adventure; going to new places, liking excitement, enjoying the discovery of new routes to get places. Now like an animal that sheds its skin… she has moved on to another phase in her life – one that is content with less; not more.

Yes, there is this fragility and at the same time, human beings are so resilent. Life really wants to thrive and grow and keep growing; life wants life. Life carries on through so much “adversity” in one way or another. So on the other side of the picture, my mother is still so resilient.  She’s survived a number of physical traumas; deaths in her family, stroke, and just all the ups and downs that are part of a long life and still she has spirit; humor and even curiosity. She lies in bed most of the day; does some exercises and kids around when she can. Although so much quieter these days - often listening - still she definitely doesn’t want to be left out of the conversation. If she hears laughing, she wants to know what we are laughing about and join in. If there is talking and she can’t hear, she wants to know what we are saying. I always respond when she asks honoring and valuing that spark in her that is still interested; still engaged. In a way this interest is part of the resiliency; it’s what keeps the spirit alive.

Fragility and resilience: it's like a spider’s web that is delicate and can break so easily under certain conditions and yet is so magnificently strong. The web survives rain, wind, even storms and yet with the quick turn of a broom, it’s gone. In life, sometimes the resilience seems more prominent and sometimes the fragility, but they are both part of life. At this point in her life, my mother needs that simplicity of routine, strong, consistent caregivers and basic harmony. In this environment, she can relax and her inspiring resilent spirit can shine through.

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