The Value in Being Present as We AgeApr 12, 2023
I am writing this blog post after returning home from an amazing weekend with family as we celebrated my mom's 80th birthday. (Although she is technically my stepmother, she and my father have been together for over 30 years and she is the "mom" in my world.)
There was a lot planned for the weekend with family coming and going and a surprise party with friends and family.
I had the privilege of getting there first and leaving there last.
I continued to work on my practice of being present the entire weekend. It has become easier to do, for sure, but I still have to remind myself to do it when I find my worry and control tendencies creeping in.
I was also able to observe it in my mom.
I arrived on Thursday night and was alone with my parents until my son and his family arrived on Friday evening. We spent much of that time catching up.
My mom is typically full of energy and constantly in motion. She was less so and it was noticeable to me. She spent time talking about the recent removal of moles and freckles on her face and how it bothered her how it looked while it was all healing. We talked about their beloved dog and how he was getting older, slowing down, and hadn't been feeling well.
It felt as if she was struggling emotionally with this birthday, a bit. Although she didn't say it, there were several comments down the lines of, "you kids need to start deciding what you want" (as in, "when we're gone"), and talk of the increase in funerals of their friends.
There was discussion around their decision to age in place together and not move to a retirement community that had services attached when needed.
There was also a very reflective story around the death of her own mother.
I felt a very different vibe than was typical, especially from her. She's usually full of piss and vinegar and ready to do do do. She's often encouraging my dad to get moving and do do do.
I sat with this in my head. I mentioned it to my husband but not to anyone else.
I found myself wondering when this change happened. Was it gradual? Sudden? Birthday related?
My dad also seemed very tired and quiet. But, as the weekend progressed, I realized that this was related to the stress of pulling off the surprise. He perked up throughout the weekend and was back to normal by Monday.
Dealing With The Physical Changes
Some of these physical changes were apparent to me during my visit and others were just talked about. I got the sense that facing these and dealing with them was a constant battle.
And one that I'm certain added to the emotional effects that I was noticing.
My Observations on Being Present
As the weekend progressed and family started arriving, I noticed her mood shifted. She was full of joy.
She seemed so happy on the night of her party with her family and closest friends around her.
On Sunday after the party, her family came over to hang out for the day. We swam, talked, and laughed.
My mom and I have always said that we are at our happiest when "all of our birds are in the nest at the same time." And, she was positively glowing.
She was taking in every moment.
She was very present that day. She didn't want to miss a second.
Her bounce was back.
Being Present Doesn't Always Equate With Joy
The following morning, my brother, my sister in law, and I were the last left. We were planning to head over to our parents for a last "hang out" before we had to catch our various flights.
I took a moment alone in our Airbnb before I locked it up. I walked through the rooms where my son and his wife and my grandchildren had been. I sat in the living room, remembering how excited I was several days ago when I entered the house for the first time to check it out and wait for everyone else to arrive.
As I am typing this several weeks later, I am experiencing the same sadness I felt. The same lump in my throat.
I took those moments on purpose. To allow myself to feel those feelings of sadness. Of the normal disappointment that our much anticipated time together was over, for now.
I didn't try to suppress it but did the opposite. I sought it out. I allowed myself to feel that lump in my throat.
At that moment, in that situation, I was being fully present. In addition to allowing ourselves to be present without worry during the joyful times, we must not push down our sad feelings during the sad times. We have to allow ourselves to feel them. They are normal and healthy.
When we push them down, they will surface somehow in the form of anxiety or physical ailments.
I took a deep breath and left to hang out with my parents for a few hours before I had to go to the airport.
When I got there, my mom expressed her feelings of sadness that the weekend was ending and we were all heading out. She said, "My heart was so full yesterday. I felt so much joy this weekend. And, now, I feel sad."
I gave her a big hug and told her I understood and that it was okay to feel sad. I told her that they would be back to their normal life this week and that the sad feelings would fade gradually, but that it was okay to feel them right now.
I reminded her that it meant that she'd had a great weekend. To feel the sadness but to take a moment and also feel the gratitude.
When I called her a couple of days later, she was her bouncy self again. They had played golf, the sun was shining, and they had been reflecting on what an amazing weekend it had been.
A Few Weeks Later
I got a handwritten note from my mom. It was a thank you note for being there that weekend as well as for our gift. But, along with the thank you, was a message that facing this birthday had indeed been harder on her than she expected. She'd been wondering how much of a future she had at this point and how much more of an impact she could make.
And then her family - her children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren showed up and she was surrounded by love.
She realized that she had made a positive difference in all of our lives and said, "I can still make a difference and make the world a little sweeter."
Indeed, she can.
Being Present Affects Every Aspect of Our Lives
It Helps Us Be Self Aware
This, for me, has been THE most beneficial reward of my focus on being present. It has allowed me to:
- fully feel the feelings in the moment - both negative and positive;
- which has allowed me to be more aware of thoughts that are coming from a place of anxiety.
This, in turn has enabled me to do things that I wanted to do in spite of my anxiety. I've been able to push through.
At this stage of our lives, we aren't going to magically shed our negative core beliefs and our anxiety. But, being self aware is a huge step in the right direction. Self-awareness can allow us to understand where our fears and anxieties are coming from and that we will be okay.
We get things done when we are self aware. Because we understand where the feelings are coming from.
It Increases Our Overall Happiness
When we are truly present in a particular moment or event, we are not worrying about something completely unrelated. We are removing stress from our mind and body in that moment.
Even in sad moments, when we are fully present, we are able to find gratitude. It just happens.
And, all of this gives us not only better mental health, but also better physical health.
Consider this quote from Eckhart Tolle:
“Most humans are never fully present in the now because unconsciously they believe that the next moment must be more important than this one. But then you miss your whole life, which is never not now.”
This seems like an awful way for us to live out the rest of our lives, doesn't it?