Aging is not for the faint of heart. It brings on physical, mental, and emotional challenges. Losses often accumulate. A lifetime of successes and regrets lies more behind than ahead. Marshaling the energy to deal with setbacks and to turn negative situations into positive ones is more difficult than in earlier times. Thus, resilience becomes very important.
William L. Randall, writing in The Gerontologist, summarizes characteristics of resilience. Resilience, he says helps people interpret negative life experiences so they become growth-propelling, forward-moving stories. Resilience includes humor and the ability to find the silver lining in life’s thunderclouds, the redemptive beam of hope that gives meaning to suffering and setbacks. It includes being able to be detached from one’s own experiences enough to weave them into a larger tapestry or narrative and to have a sense of irony about life.
Writing a memoir can help construct a comforting and reassuring narrative of one’s life that gives a person strength, helps integrate the personality, and achieves a sense of order and serenity about the way one has lived.
Elderly people naturally engage in life review. A caregiver can help them to do so constructively, in a way that lends meaning to their lives, including the negatives of setbacks, losses, and suffering, and ending in a positive, resilience-enhancing assessment. Younger relatives may interview the older person, record the interview, or help the older person organize chapters and life events.
…prompt the senior to reflect on more far-ranging issues too, such as who has influenced them the most in life and in what ways.
Basic biographical questions such as birthplace and date, parents, siblings, childhood, teenage and young adult experiences, education, career path, marriage, children, etc., can start the process. The helper should prompt the senior to reflect on more far-ranging issues too, such as who has influenced them the most in life and in what ways. The caregiver may well ask, “What do you count as your greatest successes? Greatest disappointments? What are your thoughts, hopes, and concerns about the future? How do you relate to the historical backdrop of your life–what cultural, ethnic, national or international events impacted your life and how? How do you feel you fit into the grand scheme of things?”
It is important to help the senior find running threads through their lives. There may be several major threads that emerge from a person’s personal narrative or memoir. “It looks like you consistently accessed your spirituality during trying times, and it helped you. When and how did your spiritual journey start? What were some milestones along the way?” Or “You found a lot of satisfaction in your work even when personal relationships weren’t going well. How has your work impacted your life? What did it mean to you?”
These threads can be used to help weave a meaningful tapestry of a person’s life and serve to provide a sense of peace, mastery, and a feeling of a life well-lived and ready for more challenges ahead.
Haber, D. (2006). Life Review: Implementation, Theory, Research, and Therapy. International Journal on Aging and Human Development, Vol. 63(2), 153-171. Available online at http://jshellman-reminiscence.wiki.uml.edu/file/view/Haber_LR_Rem_200.pdf.
Hengudomsub, Pornpat. (2007). Resilience in later life. Thai Pharmaceutical and Health Science Journal 2(1):115-123.
Randall, W. L. (April 26, 2012). The Importance of Being Ironic: Narrative Openness and Personal Resilience Later in Life. The Gerontologist. The Gerontological Association of America, Department of Gerontology, St. Thomas University, Canada. Available online at http://gerontologist.oxfordjournals.org/content/early/2012/04/26/geront.gns048.full.