Monday, December 28, 2015

In the Blink of an Eye

"Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened."  -- Dr. Seuss

A little over a year ago, my mom's best friend Mrs. Y unexpectedly passed away. It was a sad loss for all of us as Mrs. Y had been an important part of Mom's life (and mine) for over four decades. Mom and Mrs. Y saw each other every week, spending countless hours talking, eating, laughing and going for walks. When they weren't together, they talked on the phone and even had plans for traveling together in the near future.

Me (with chocolate on my face) and my childhood BFF.
Knowing her dear friend was no longer here, Mom was lonely. She was also saddened by not having had the chance to say goodbye. Though I was concerned, Mom impressed me with her inner strength as she kept up with her daily walks, her cooking and sewing, and socializing with others. Still, there were times when Mom spent most of the day alone, and my heart ached for her as she was clearly missing Mrs. Y. As the year progressed, Mom started going for lunches and walks with her other friends who began calling and visiting more often. Thanks to her friendships, Mom seems much brighter and jollier these days.

At age 87, Mom has lost many people including Dad, six out of eight siblings, relatives, and countless friends. Her resilience is admirable. In an article written by Paula Span in the New York Times titled, Tougher Than They Look, scientists suggest that resilience is learned through adversities in early life and people scoring high on the resilience scale are better able to bounce back from difficulties. The article states that even in late life, resilience can be acquired. This is hopeful news!

Mom's experience made me reflect on the finitude of life, and has given me greater awareness that every single day matters. Taking this to heart, I feel gratitude for life, including its challenging aspects, and all the people contained within it. Would love to learn about your thoughts and experiences. Has adversity made you more resilient? Thank you for taking the time to read this post. 

Monday, December 14, 2015

Is Independence Overrated?

Mom as a young lady.
Have realistic expectations for the kind of help you are seeking
Express your needs simply and clearly
Let others know you are there to help them as well
Praise your pals for their assistance and pat yourself for asking for help
-- Acronym for HELP by Dr. Deborah Serani

Recently, my husband and I returned from a short vacation and found Mom to be in a very grumpy mood. She stated that she pressed the wrong button on her remote so she could not get the television to work. In addition, the heater wasn't strong enough to keep her living room warm so she was freezing. All in all, Mom said she had a miserable week.

I asked her why she didn't call her friends, many of whom live within walking distance, to help figure out her television and heating dilemmas? Many of her friends also have children who live close by, within 5-10 minutes, who could resolve her issues in a pinch. Mom quietly uttered that she didn't want to be a burden to anyone. Though I wasn't entirely surprised by her comment, it made me wonder why Mom might choose to be miserable when her friends would be happy to help her.

This episode made me recall an earlier experience of Mom's friend who refused to accept help from friends and family as she faced cancer. Struggling physically and financially, she didn't want to be a burden and thought she could manage on her own. Sadly, the situation did not end well. Both Mom and her friend's experiences made me ponder why it's so hard to ask for help. There seems to be an element of shame involved in admitting we need help, but why?

Psychologist Dr. Deborah Serani discusses various myths that keep people from asking for help, and one particular myth that stood out is that asking for help makes us look vulnerable. There is also the stereotype of the frail elder that exists in society, which combined with the myths of needing help, that might make some older adults hesitant in asking for assistance. Mom's situation might also include some cultural expectations she has for me as her daughter (but we'll save this topic for another time).

In light of this situation, I try not to be too harsh with Mom. Having been raised to not be a burden to others, I may also face similar dilemmas in the not-so-far future. Rather than wondering why other people don't ask for help, however, I think I will muster up the courage to start asking for help more often. Knowing that most people enjoy supporting others, I resolve to be open to receiving help when I need it. I welcome your views on this topic. Do you think independence is overrated?