We of the baby boom generation, are often dealing with aging parents, even while becoming “seniors” ourselves. We have had to take the car keys away; refurbish homes with new safety railings and ramps; worry about what our parents are eating; and, if we don’t live nearby, to hire aids and nurses to help with the dispensing of prescriptions and to drive parents to doctor appointments. Probably the worst thing for our aged parents is loneliness. For those who are fortunate to still have friends and family that they can see and talk with regularly, life is better, no matter what their physical or even mental restrictions.
Because of worry, we often view all the changes in our parents as problems. Sometimes the busyness of life gives us an excuse not to slow down enough to interact with our parents at their own speed. But just because our parents can’t move around as quickly as before does not mean that they have turned into different people or that they cannot enjoy a new experience.
When an individual becomes older . . . the focus for that particular kind of concentration [intellect and critical thinking] is no longer so immediately available. The mind actually becomes more itself, freer to use more of its abilities, allowed to stray from restricted areas, to assimilate, to acknowledge and create. (The Nature of Personal Reality, p. 256)
As someone very familiar with Seth’s words, I tried to think of what he had advised about aging while I dealt with my own father’s situation. My Dad had a pretty routine life for someone of his generation, which included naval service during WWII, a long-term marriage and fatherhood, a lifetime blue-collar job, and a certain amount of ups and downs, like anyone else.
When he was in his early 50s, he had a massive heart attack and quintuple bypass surgery, which set him back for about a year. However, he recovered physically and mentally and was able to carry on. When he was 77 my Mom died. Within a few months of her death, my father’s home of 50 years was taken by eminent domain and he found himself having to move to a strange place. This made him extremely angry and he felt betrayed. Two such major life setbacks in a short time affected him greatly. It was no surprise to me when he was suddenly diagnosed with a rare form of cancer. While living alone in a new, strange place, he had to go for radiation treatments and take himself to all kinds of appointments. There were nurses, aids, and social workers coming to his house. He took at least a dozen pills every day and had to fend for himself for meals, since he didn’t cook. As he got older there were other health issues, surgeries, and so forth–all this as my father aged into his 80s.
Meanwhile, Dad showed signs of increasing dementia. I took him for a geriatric evaluation and was told that he had early stage Alzheimer’s disease, as well as signs of depression, and that he should not be living alone. The office suggested a very nice assisted living center with specialized memory care. We were able to make this change, which my father agreed to. In the first few weeks he did not seem to adjust well, but soon after he began to thrive. He made friends, participated in lots of activities, had a girlfriend, ate regular meals again, and had a trained staff member to dispense his prescriptions.
Once the stress of living alone was removed, I began to get to know my father in a whole new way. As we spoke daily, I learned a lot about his outlook on life and the things that he was curious about. Soon, aspects of his much younger personality began to emerge. This must have been what he was like before marriage and family. He came across as much more of a risk-taker than I remembered. He showed great curiosity about progress and changes in the world, especially technology. And he frequently explained to me that people ought to stay positive and believe in themselves if they expected to be happy and successful in life.
One somewhat shocking thing that happened was that I received a call from the assisted living staff to say that my father was acting in a “sexually inappropriate” manner by saying suggestive things and even groping at staff and residents. I found this so out of character for my father, who had always seemed to me a proper gentleman, conservative in his ways. I also heard about how he finagled extra drinks for himself during Happy Hour and was the life of the party at social gatherings! What explanation could there be for this alternative side of my father’s personality?
I should not have been so surprised. Seth says:
As the mind within the body clearly sees its earthly time coming to an end, mental and psychic accelerations take place. These are in many ways like adolescent experiences in their great bursts of creative activity, with the resulting formation of questions, and the preparation for a completely new kind of personality growth and fulfillment. (The Nature of Personal Reality, p. 253)
Seth said that, unfortunately, these new aspects of personality make those around the elderly uncomfortable and are often viewed as “grotesque” because they don’t fit the stereotypes we have of old people. Their behavior is simply attributed to mental deterioration. But Seth says that:
In old age. . . it is here, as in adolescence, that the greatest creativity may emerge but go unrecognized. This era could be more advantageous to the individual and to the race than any other period, were it recognized for what it is and understood. (The Nature of Personal Reality, p. 255)