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The Caregiver's Cairn: Fear Limits Life

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Greetings one and all…

This past weekend proved to be frightening for the furry members of our family. The July 4th holiday is always a scary proposition due to the fireworks before, during, and after the actual holiday. This year we had the added bonus of thunderstorms moving through the area. The rumbling of the weather gods along with the snap, crackle, and pop of fireworks proved to be debilitating for two of our dogs. Although we offered constant reassurance and love, the dogs remained fearful. There was a whole lot of shakin’ going on! As a result, the dogs were physically and emotionally exhausted by the end of the weekend.

Today, reflecting on our experience of the 4th, I recognized the lesson to be learned from our dogs. Fear limits Life. Because our dogs were consumed by their fear of the unknown (the storms and fireworks), they were unable to embrace and to enjoy the moment. Instead, they chose to retreat and to hide from the holiday.

Perhaps you have experienced this kind of life-limiting fear related to aging and death. I have. And, I have witnessed this fear in countless people encountered over the course of my lifetime. This is not surprising since we live in a culture that is age denying and death averse. We struggle with the inevitability of the physical and cognitive changes inherent in the aging process. We resist accepting what is beyond our comprehension—death. The fear of aging and death thus generates emotional and spiritual turmoil that can be exhausting. We may not shake outwardly. But there is a whole lot of shakin’ going on internally! Fear-FULL, we become guarded, cautious, anxious, and limited.

Speaking from personal experience, living a life limited by fear is no way live. Life is then reduced to a mere test of endurance. Over the past 62 years, I have come to believe that Life is not meant to be merely endured. Instead, Life is meant to be savored. So, how can we overcome life-limiting fear?

1. Accept the Reality of Life - Human beings are destined to age and to die. As we age, we will experience a myriad of changes that result in losses as well as gains. The key to aging well and living well is learning to balance the burdens with the blessings. Furthermore, since no one has a guarantee beyond THIS moment, choose to focus on NOW. Death will arrive at some point. But for NOW, focus on LIFE!

2. Realize that Finitude Enhances Gratitude - Philosophers down through the ages have recognized that Life is meaningful only because there is an expected ending. We don’t have forever since we are mortal. Every moment is a gift to be savored, treasured, and LIVED. Consequently, gratitude for Life deepens due to our finitude.

3. Surround Yourself with Life-giving People (and Critters) - Our experience of Life is greatly affected by the company we keep. The ideas, attitudes, hopes, and fears of others serve to inform our worldview. Therefore, be discerning about your traveling companions. Seek to surround yourself with life-giving, loving, compassionate, caring, appreciative, positive, and courageous family members, friends, critters, and colleagues. Create a community that fills you up, brings you joy, and soothes your soul.

4. Be Fascinated Instead of Fearful - When confronting the mysteries of aging and death, we can choose to be either fearful or fascinated by the unknowns of Life. If fearful, we tend to pull back from Life in order to mitigate our exposure to any potential risks. We choose to anxiously observe Life instead of eagerly participating in the process - just like my dogs on July 4th.

However, we can choose to be fascinated by the unlimited possibilities presented by Life. Being curious, eager, and excited, we lean into Life assured that the adventure will unfold in amazing an unimagined ways. Fascinated, Life will never be the same. And neither will we. Unlimited - we can savor the ride of a lifetime! A good thing indeed.

As always, I look forward to the ongoing conversation. Until my next posting, take good care and remember to enjoy the moment. Blessings to you and yours ….Jane W. Barton

Do you have a question for Jane? Please email us at coaarp@aarp.org and we will be in touch soon!

Jane W. Barton, MTS, MASM, CSA is a passionate speaker, writer, and listener. Jane is the founder of Cardinal, LLC, a consulting firm that provides educational programs to assist people in confronting the daunting challenges posed by aging, serious illness and disability. Jane is well-versed in the areas of grief and bereavement, caregiving, hospice and palliative care, change and transition, and spirituality and health. She presents innovative, transformational programs to community members, healthcare providers, pastoral caregivers, clergy, funeral service providers, and national audiences to improve the experience of people and families challenged by serious, advanced, or terminal illnesses. Previously, Jane served as Director of Education for a hospice and palliative care educational institution. She has also served as a hospice chaplain and bereavement facilitator in hospice and palliative care. Jane is a certified Spiritual Director as well as a Certified Senior Advisor. In a former life, she worked as a financial services representative and an exploration petroleum geologist and manager.
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