Prior to COVID-19 striking in 2020, the First Presbyterian Church of Salisbury hosted a community workshop called “Finishing Strong” that focused on exploring the challenges and possibilities of the later years of life. Also known as “The Third Thirty,” the workshop concentrated on life being divided into thirds. From birth to age 30 are our learning years. These are the years we establish ourselves in the role of adults, with most having completed education and embarked on a career. Ages 30-60 are the middle thirty in which most people fulfill their objectives of livelihood, family, and hobbies. The third thirty are ages 60-90 and beyond, in which people reflect on their lives and begin to wonder about their mortality. The best part of the workshop was the focus on positivity and how to finish strong and make the third thirty the best years possible. The following are excerpts from each of the sessions and I hope you will glean some pearls from them for yourself or your loved ones who may be in the third thirty.
The Spiritual Dimension of Aging – presented by The Right Reverend William O. Gregg, retired from the Episcopal Church
- The best preparation for the end of life and death is to live well, both externally and internally
- Internally, preparation may be to explore your relationship with faith, what you believe and questions you may have
- Externally, preparation may include consideration of what you want your legacy to be and how you want to be remembered
- Focus on addressing unresolved issues with self, family of origin, nuclear family, friends, and colleagues
- Questions to consider: What do I think, believe, and feel about dying and death? What do I think about MY dying and death? What are the conversations I need or want to have with myself, family and friends, etc?
Getting our Legal Affairs in Order – presented by Jennifer Flynn, Attorney, and Henry Brown, Retired Trust Officer of Wachovia Bank
- Having a legal will is important for the issues of wealth and property distribution according to your desires. Even when we think we have covered it all, there are always nuances of law and probate processing that cause difficulty.
- Having a Power of Attorney gives a person the ability to transact business on your behalf if you are incapacitated.
- Having a living will and healthcare power of attorney (HCPOA) are important. An HCPOA provides the ability for someone to make healthcare decisions for you if you are incapacitated. It is not the same as a legal Power of Attorney. Having one in place does not mean you have the other in place. A Living Will is one that states your healthcare preferences should you become incapacitated, it leaves a lot of discretion and does not take the place of an HCPOA.
Facing Emotional Challenges with Strength – presented by Dr. Randy Kirby, Associate Pastor of First Presbyterian Church
- Meaning-Making is an important part of dealing with the inevitable loss and grief we experience as we age. Meaning is the deep sense we make of things and our narrative and story are essential to our meaning-making. Loss is a challenge to our story and causes us to need to revise and rewrite our stories.
- Stress comes with aging and occurs when the resources at hand cannot meet the demand. We manage stress by changing the way we manage our lives, such as changing our living location or arrangement. Stress-related growth occurs as we build relationships, develop relaxation skills, find spiritual meaning, and redefine our sense of self. Attachment is necessary to deal with stress, such as with a caregiver. Attachment to God and faith may also serve to reduce stress.
- Positive psychology is essential in the third thirty. Positive emotion, engagement, positive relationships, and finding meaning are critical. Strategies include: Learning change, facing loss, searching for meaning, cultivating connectedness, reflecting on death, and discovering renewal.
- Above all…EMBRACE HUMOR!!!!!
Keeping our Bodies Healthy – presented by Dr. Doug Shellhorn, Rowan Diagnostic Clinic
- Preventive maintenance is necessary to keep any machine running – your body included. Routine checkups with your primary care physician can help to ward off ailments that impact aging
- Preventive health includes screenings such as colonoscopies to detect colon cancer, mammograms to detect breast cancer, Pap smears to detect cervical cancer, and vaccinations such as those for shingles, pneumonia, COVID-19, and flu. All these have been scientifically demonstrated to lead to a longer and healthier life.
- As throughout life, proper nutrition and exercise are important. Walking, with or without assistive devices such as a cane, is a great way to keep your joints active. Eating foods high in nutrition and avoiding sugar, and “empty” calories such as carbonated beverages are important tips.
- Safety is paramount as you age. Knowing your physical limitations, how to avoid falls by using grab bars and handrails, and avoiding climbing when possible, such as ladders to hang Christmas decorations can all help us age gracefully
Making our Final Decisions – presented by Dr. Dari Caldwell, retired healthcare administrator (me)
- Aging on our own terms means being able to make our own decisions about living arrangements and healthcare at the end of life.
- Knowing when living arrangements need to change is important. Are you able to enter and exit your home easily and could you get out if there is a fire? Can you independently manage getting groceries and preparing your meals, doing your own laundry, and performing your own personal hygiene? Can you keep your medications straight? Many resources are available to help you age in stages within your home such as Meals on Wheels, In-home caregivers, and the installation of assistive devices such as ramps or grab bars. But when it is no longer feasible to stay alone, do your research ahead of time and understand your options. Then make the decision early enough to adjust before being forced to move at a time that is difficult for you.
- Research and understand the different levels of care available from in-home aid care, Home Care by nurses, independent living in a senior community (known as a Continuous Care Retirement Community) such as Trinity Oaks, assisted living, and nursing home or skilled care facility, as well as Hospice.
- Pre-plan your funeral or memorial service. As morbid as it sounds, it is a kindness to do this so that your grieving family doesn’t have to face crucial decisions during a time of stress. Many people create a workbook that has their will and financial information (or where to locate it), life insurance policy information, type of funeral they want all the way down to scripture and music, whether they wish to be cremated, and where they wish to be buried, if applicable. Some people even go as far as to write their own obituary so that their legacy and how they wish to be remembered is what THEY want rather than what others may write.
Finishing Strong in the third thirty can be the best part of your life if you give it some attention. A letter to Dear Abby in 1990 by E.L. Stephenson captures the essence of finishing strong.
“You can stay young when …
You quit dreading old age and realize that life begins at retirement: it’s your second chance at life – your opportunity to do all the things you’ve wanted to, but never had the time.
When you stop thinking you’re getting senile because you forgot something that wasn’t very important in the first place.
Your joints suddenly hurt, and you think “well, what can I expect at my age” …and then keep moving.
You start planning your next birthday the day after you finish celebrating the last one.
You realize that our creator gave us brains so that we can make our own decisions. Then He gave us a choice of living 70 or 100 years, so you need not join the 68 percent who are healthy enough to reach 60 but let their mental attitude keep them from reaching 75.
You realize that 32 percent of those who live past 75 are positive thinkers who want to stay in this world as long as they feel useful and needed.
My favorite handout from the Finishing Strong workshop was this poem:
Prayer of an Aging Woman
Lord, you know better than I know myself that I am
Growing older, and will someday be old.
Keep me from getting talkative and particularly from the
Fatal habit of thinking that I must say something on
Every subject and on every occasion.
Release me from craving to straighten out everybody’s affairs.
Make me thoughtful but not moody: helpful but not bossy.
With my vast store of wisdom, it seems a pity not to
Use it all, but you know, Lord, that I want a few friends at the end.
Keep my mind from the recital of endless details.
Give me wings to come to the point.
I ask for grace enough to listen to the tales of
Others’ pain, but seal my lips on my own aches and
Pains-they are increasing, and my love of rehearsing
Them is becoming sweeter as years go by.
Help me endure them with patience.
I dare not ask for improved memory, but for a growing
Humility and a lessening cocksureness when my memory
Seems to clash with the memories of others.
Teach me the glorious lesson that occasionally it
Is possible that I may be mistaken.
Keep me reasonably sweet. I do not want to be a saint—
Some of them are so hard to live with—
But a sour old woman is one of the crowning works of the devil.
Give me the ability to see good things in unexpected
Places, and talents in unexpected people
And give me, O Lord, the grace to tell them so.