Throughout most of our lives, falling has been a necessary part of the learning curve.
We might not remember the hundreds of times we fell as a child while attempting to stand up and walk to a parent who was urging us to come and take their hands. But I expect that most of us recall the experience of running down a hill, snow sled in our hands, and throwing ourselves down on the ice and riding our sled to the bottom.
For many of us, falling was a means to an end, and not seen as something to fear. Even to this day, I recall coming down Chickies Hill on my way to Marietta and thinking what a thrill it would be to ride a sled down that hill all the way to the bottom.
When we are young, the thrill of falling is a necessary part of discovering the adventure of childhood. But as we approach the twilight of our lives, a very different experience awaits us.
As an elderly person, a fear of falling has become a part of my daily experience. I have fallen numerous times, and the pattern is always the same. I fall at home, am taken by ambulance to the emergency room, where I am evaluated and admitted to the hospital because of a wound or broken bones.
When I am discharged, I go to a rehabilitation hospital, and after several weeks, I am finally discharged to home and independent care. As months pass I maintain continuing care, physical therapy and other strength-building opportunities.
Eventually, however, I fall again and repeat the same process over. It’s enough to make one wonder if this is truly a quality of life that I want to continually experience. After repeating this process over and over, some elderly individuals begin to question whether they wish to continue the pattern or stop their lives altogether.
As a hospital chaplain, I found conversations about this subject to be fairly frequent, and positive proof that this is a difficult conundrum. Fortunately, most of us decide to keep on living and put up with the inconvenience, repetition, suffering and pain that this requires.
It is often a decision that takes great courage, although most elderly people do not think it is all that courageous.
They focus on things like, “ I wonder who will win the election in 2020” or “I want to see electric cars take over the highways,” or “What will be the effects of climate change,” or “I’ll wait to pass until daddy dies.”
When we confront the risk of falling and what it entails, our hopes for the future are usually based on far more personal issues than these. The fact that we have not replaced the slippery kitchen floor or the steps going down to our basement is testimony that our hopes rely on much more personal issues then those mentioned above.
It is true that many individuals want to complete a self-styled bucket list before they pass on, but usually our desire to hang around involves such things as witnessing our first grandchild, a marriage, a graduation or an anniversary.
I believe that this is a wonderful time for an older man or woman to consider their spirituality, to ask themselves about the purpose, meaning and values they have lived throughout their life. It is a good time to come to terms with conflicts that we have never resolved.
Many find it is useful to talk with a therapist, a pastor or a spiritual director who can help us probe the depths of our soul. If you have never walked this path before I strongly suggest you consider some professional guidance.
Many have found this to be an eye- opening experience, and the opportunity to inject new life into an old spirit.
Robert Olson is a pastoral psychologist and family therapist who specializes in geriatric issues. He invites comments and speaking invitations at firstname.lastname@example.org.