Especially from the perspective of an older adult, life seems like a repetitive cycle of give and take, of gain and loss. Erikson posed that within each stage of life there is a developmental task that is necessary to complete; babies learn to trust, adolescents gain a sense of identity, and so on. There are consequences if these tasks are not achieved, thus Erikson phrased them in a versus relationship; for example, Trust vs. Mistrust and Identity vs. Confusion. In adulthood and older age, the developmental tasks are Generativity vs. Stagnation and Integrity vs. Despair.
The elderly patients I cared for as a nurse all experienced losses over time, some more than others. Loss of spouses, siblings, opportunities, jobs, abilities, and physical function to mention just a few. One said to me, “There is nothing left to lose but my life.” I was sad for her and must have tried to give some encouraging words, but being much younger at the time I could never have understood fully. I remember her words as I navigate the accelerating cycle of gain and loss.
I have lost too many loved ones: a husband, parents, young nieces, grandparents, many of them tragically before their time. I have lost abilities due to a degenerative osteoarthritic condition. I can no longer ski, hike, ride horses, golf — things that I not only enjoyed but formed my self-concept.
Pondering loss and fighting the understandable grief that comes with it, I rely on faith in God and in his words like “Be not afraid,” and “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you.” People can disagree with me on my source of comfort but I am undeterred. Each finds their own way in life.
There is a new series called “The Chosen.” A hit with millions of viewers, it is the highest grossing crowd-funded project to date. The amount of money donated secured not just the first season but the second as well. No money is asked for and it is free to watch. It is the only multi-season series on the life of the early disciples and of Jesus. Even if I had no interest in the spiritual life of Jesus I would watch the show on its period drama merits. It is good entertainment. Of course the intent is to do more than entertain but to inspire. It has done that for me as well.
As I continue to ponder the looming horizon of old age I will strive to stay peaceful. I will strive to “generate” and fight self-absorption. Stagnation helps no one. I am not as productive as I used to be, but I can still hope, pray, talk with friends, give advice, educate my children and support my husband. I may not be able to swing my driver or jump a 5-foot fence with a Thoroughbred or strap on my skis ever again, but I can do important things for my loved ones. I can still enjoy many other things in life. One can find ways to be generative in learning, loving, caring, praying, encouraging and praising.