Having made it through the end of a tumultuous 2018, I have come to appreciate just how challenging it is to age alone. Now don’t get me wrong, I have lots of very supportive friends, but I don’t have children of my own. So when I say “alone”, it pretty much means that my inner circle consists of close friends and neighbors. I value my independence, but am starting to recognize how essential it is to have a stable of go-to friends to call on for various needs.
Perhaps the most challenging need is who do I put down as my “emergency contact”? In contemplating this, my thoughts go to, “How can I ask someone to be that responsible for me?” It feels as if it is a burden too big to ask anybody not related to me to share. Since my relatives are not located anywhere near me, this seems to be a dead end (no pun intended.) I have occasionally put my own name down and have never been told this is unacceptable. This underscores a sad fact –nobody who asks for this information actually reads it!
What does it mean to be an “emergency contact” anyway? You would think this is a pretty straightforward question, but it is NOT! After looking through several websites, I came across this definition that speaks to me: “Someone who is available, local, and someone who you can share health details with confidentially.” While this is good, I would add a couple of things to this list. I want my emergency contact to be a bit younger than I am, but old enough not to be intimidated by authority. I want him or her to be fearless in making difficult decisions and detail oriented in managing easy decisions.
Living alone and enjoying my independence does have its limitations. Who do I ask to take me to doctor’s appointments when I cannot drive myself? Who do I ask to take in the mail when I am out traveling? Who do I ask to take me to drop off my car when it needs servicing? These questions reflect my needs but also reflect my community. Since I live outside of a small, rural town in Northern California, I have limited resources in terms of public transportation. Because I have lived in the same house for the last 22 years, I have neighbors who I have known for years. They are, for the most part, however, my age or older. As a matter of fact, I am the go to person for driving for many of my neighbors, because I am one of the younger ones who still can drive at night!
One of the lessons I have learned is to share the joy of being supportive and helpful. I am naturally inclined to be a “giver”, and have received many pats on the back for being a good one. Along with that is a certain feeling of satisfaction that comes with being a giver. I want to be careful that I don’t feed a need for that feeling by always being the one to give! That means learning to receive graciously. Probably the biggest barrier is me — I am reluctant to call on friends. This is much more my issue than theirs, and I need to start practicing asking so that I won’t be so awkward in my entreaties.
My intention this year is to put effort into recruiting at least one person to be my emergency contact, as well as finding a back-up.
Another intention I have for this year is to release, let go of, and give away belongings that I have no further need of or enjoy having around. I had one of those “aha!” moments the other day after visiting a friend’s home. Everything looked bright, shiny, clean, and inviting. I came home and saw my environment through a different lens. I made a commitment to change things around and then, almost simultaneously with that thought, sat down exhausted with the overwhelm. This, too, comes from living by myself. I put the thought on the back burner, yet something had changed. I re-arranged some pictures, put furniture in different places, tried out new ways of organizing things. Nothing dramatic, just small things that encouraged me to continue the process.
Several months ago a friend of mine encouraged me to read “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up”, by Marie Kondo. My friend explained the basic premise – too much clutter makes us anxious and irritable. There is a protocol for selecting things to keep and sending the rest on its way, and this can all be done with joy. I nodded my head knowingly, and came up with all the reasons why such an approach would never work for me.
I proceeded to describe how my mother had succumbed to the burden of caring for several generations of household treasures she had inherited over the years. When she finally had to leave the family home, her collections became my burden. I shared my commitment to never acquiring such an amount of “stuff”. Then I looked around.
Kondo’s book has enjoyed world-wide success and now there is a program on Netflix showing just how this system works. I binge-watched episodes last night and am now inspired to get my place cleaned up, “spit-spot”, as Mary Poppins would say. The one major difference is that unlike participants on the show, there is only one of me to go through these items. The drive and energy needed to complete the tasks is limited – not just physically, but also psychologically. There is something about having a friend or family member there to share the stories, the memories, and the unfinished business all this “stuff” entails that lightens the process. So I am now looking for suitable companion(s) for this endeavor. Any volunteers?
End Note: This year I am going to set aside a portion of my blog each week for information related to the Five Pillars of Aging: creating legacy, staying engaged with the aging process in healthy ways, adapting to and accommodating the changes that come with aging, spiritual aspects of aging (i.e., end of life issues, letting go), and believing you are “enough”. Five Pillars is a program that supports individuals in aging with purpose and meaning. We are currently developing materials for self-study, as well as workshops and retreats. More to come!
Thanks for reading!