A few examples of the power of our personal stories:
My father’s health had been excellent until he had a slight stroke in his early 70’s and then had a Pacemaker installed for his heart. He was not happy about this and used to say “Getting old is Hell!” Then he would joke, “but consider the alternative”. However, when he had to give up his beloved game of golf, that statement was no longer a joke to him. Aging became his enemy and in the last few years of his life, became more angry and irritable. He died of lung cancer at 77.
My mother, whose health had been vastly more difficult than my dad’s, suffered from severe osteoarthritis and chronic pain. But she adopted a very different story. When medical providers talked “down” to her, treated her with disrespect, she became angry, pushed back and advocated very strongly for herself. Her anger empowered her to stand up to medical personnel and say – I’ve lived inside this body for 75 years, I know what I am experiencing! Pay attention!
As she aged, she chose the people and experiences that enriched her life, gave her pleasure and peace, and a few days before she died peacefully at 85, surrounded by her family, she told us she was “Excited for this next amazing adventure.”
Maybe because of Mom’s health challenges, she had developed over time the skill to be present to the small joys and pleasures of life which served her well as she aged. She did seem to grow into aging, a strong, sturdy plant that flourished with time.
The Movie “Rocketman”
This excellent film is about the life of rock star Elton John. We learn that he was raised in a very cold, unemotional home with a largely absent and unloving father and distracted mother. Although not spoken directly, the story Elton learned of his worth was loud and clear. Later when he came out as gay to his mother, she said “I really don’t care, but you will never be loved, not properly. Never.” Layered on top of his already unloving experiences at home, this sealed his personal story about himself. I am not worthy of love.
Elton, despite his fame, became addicted to drugs and alcohol and nearly died from an “accidental” drowning and again from an overdose. It wasn’t until his mid-40’s when he went into rehab and counseling that he was able to begin his healing work and change his story.
An acquaintance, Anna, had been one of the first women pediatricians of her time. She had a successful long career, was brilliant, traveled, acquired wealth. When she retired due to health problems, she felt that she lost her identity and worth.
As Anna aged, she became angry and embittered and went to her death at 97 a very lonely woman.
Her story is particularly sad because from the outside anyone would say — wow, job well done! Be proud of your accomplishments and grateful for such a rich life. But Anna’s personal story dictated that identity and self worth are completely tied to professional life, so she was left bereft as her health deteriorated.