Famed human development psychologist, Erik Erikson, mapped out our lives in eight stages. I’m in the 7th where work and family are important. At my best I believe I am contributing to humanity’s advancement in these so called best years of my life. At my worst I may feel “stagnated” and at a loss for my life’s purpose. Thank God for God cause I’m erring on the former side.
I think of my dad who at 70 doesn’t look a day over 50. Looks spry and fit. Yet I think of these past few months and I know it’s wearing him down. He doesn’t have a job to go. No children to raise. Not many active friends like he used to have. Very little to keep him busy and distracted and his mind on the mundane things in life. He grieves the best way he knows how. Most are held “hostage” by children whose lives are too busy (like mine) to make a day of bringing all the parents together.
My dad has been dealt a recent blow. My half-sister’s mother passed away in Haiti this week. I hear the sadness in his voice when we speak. There is a life long connection with the person you have children with. Theirs was an amicable relationship. He worried about her care during her long illness. There was always compassion in his voice. Now both sets of his children are motherless.
Erikson says the “65-death” stage should be years of “ego integrity” where one is able to reflect and eventually close this chapter with a true sense of accomplishment. To have done right by loved ones and left a footprint worth remembering. Then there is what Erikson calls despair. That searing hopelessness that causes its inhabitants to live in the land of regrets. To wish and dream of yesteryears. Wishing to undo or redo what can never be changed.
I want my dad to be on the ego side–and to stay there. To know that his life meant something, that it still means something to we his children. That as his friends and loved ones become ill and in-firmed, as his own body continues on it’s ultimate decline, his life was worth living. That his life lessons have been passed on to others. That his passion to help others and his work ethics has taken his children a mighty long way.
Aging is not for the faint of heart. It takes super human strength (and the enduring grace of God) to gracefully exit stage left.