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Fear of Aging: Who’s the Parent


2018’s hilarious Book Club is a movie that offers some universal —and thought provoking—moments. One that resonates with true-to-life client experience involves two daughters, each in their thirties, earnest in their desire to look after their aging, lonely and helpless mother. The solution? Move her from her milieu in Santa Monica to their location in Arizona!

Of course, their recently widowed mother is, in fact, vibrant, healthy, witty and lives amongst a circle of dear friends of long-standing. She is totally against leaving her established life, but finally agrees to move into a daughter’s basement suite to keep the family happy. (It is ok, she wins in the end.)

In one form or another, this scenario is being repeated in all over the country at any given time. It raises several questions that bear on the lives of aging women—and men.
• What has happened to open communication within families?
• Why is a parent’s aging so terrifying to middle-aged children?
• Why can’t a parent’s independence and desire to pursue a life shaped by personal interests be supported, or at least, respected?

The complexities of aging and the convoluted nature of family dynamics vary in content, intensity and practicality. But, the fact is that our parents’ intellect, physical and emotional strength, financial management and common sense has got them to this point. It should not be forgotten that this is exactly how the next generation got to where they are now, about to make choices that direct, constrain, their parents’ lives.

Sometimes, the “children” almost seem to be afraid, as if seeing their older selves through the lens of a parent’s experience. Anything that interrupts the familiar is confusing. New behaviours, brushes with health issues, are either dismissed until too late, or too early viewed as as a sign of rampant, inevitable deterioration.

In most cases, hard won skills of life and living carry on. The unfamiliar is no less confusing for the parent. It is perception and focus that has changed.

This is where family members can shine. Rather than becoming the nagging irritant, reminding mum or dad of the (perceived) signs of failing, why not discuss new opportunities, interests, perhaps expanding a circle of friends—a new companion?

Book Club uses humour to close the circle of anticipation, joy and celebration. The daughters come to realize that their mother was not disappearing. She remains as their beloved parent, while taking on the adventures of a new phase in life, one with plenty of room for sharing, acceptance, and understanding.

Aging is not the obstacle: attitude is.

Written by Anne Duggan, Invited Advisor to Bell Alliance

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