Things Used To Be SO Different…


Even withstanding COVID, truer words were never spoken… or written.

We are juggling as fast as possible to make sense of and adapt to the changes around us. We have had countless opportunities to hone our adaptation, resiliency, and flexibility skills in the past two years, yet more continues to be required.

As part of normal aging, we formulate our perception of "normal" from our background and collective experiences. Yet, I often hear, "everything is so different," in my unscientific and anecdotal observations of elder care-related issues, hospitalization, primary care, and emergency medical treatment. If it's true for my age group (the end of the Boomers), how is it for those in the decades before? The bullet train is coming through town, and many feel it has left them in the dust.

Integrating how things used to be and how they are now might be one of life's most challenging endeavors.

I see those around me, our clients, and immediate and extended families trying to use all their resilience and mental flexibility skills when serious illness and/or advanced age takes its ugly toll – an unprecedented time for many families, especially in those scenarios where "she wasn't sick a day in her life." We know what we know… we use history to help form these perceptions, and they often stick around long after they are no longer the case.

We love tradition, in that we do the same things repeatedly.

It feels familiar, safe, and known. Tradition connects us. We take our place at the table, see the dishes passed down in the family, and for a moment, think about those who are no longer with us. We think about how many meals were shared at this table and from these dinner plates. We want to be present and fully engaged, yet we travel back to another time. We don't want to appreciate one at the expense of the other, but sometimes we are victims to the swings of emotion and don't feel so fully in control.

Not only do circumstances in our hearts change due to death, shifts in family dynamics, illness, or disability of a loved one, but life is different outside of our heads, too. So how do we make meaning of what seems unknown, unpredictable, and frightening? How do we help those in our circle to feel empowered, secure, and experience quality of life? How do we help bridge the gap between "then and now," especially when now feels so foreign?

Merging what was and what is might be expecting polar opposites to coexist.

Is there a way to validate both experiences, honor and celebrate what was, grieve its loss or end, engage in what is, and be empowered to say I miss, or I long for…? Managing conflicting information, tolerating both/and, and reconciling the yes and the no of it all seems to be the final Jeopardy category. Of course, this rhetorical question has no answer, but I still think that asking it has value. Merging yesterday and today as part of our overall experience seems the goal – easy to say, very hard to do.

As our beloved ones’ age, they (and we) ponder what is no longer our reality. Simpler times, better health, absent loved ones' present, the estranged…reunited. Perhaps having a companion to share these complexities is the key. The validation of what is very real has a powerful impact and can go a long way.

Sharing our joys doubles them, and sharing our pain halves.

It's nearly impossible to make sense of so much in the inner and outside world, but sharing the burden lessens the load. Be honest about what we wish were different, courageous enough to say it out loud, and brave enough to tolerate the pain that often accompanies not getting our way. It's "crazy out there," but we are resilient, powerful, and adaptable. Sometimes, we just don't feel it. Take this article as your reminder.