Dear More Playful Than Me
My older sister is 93 years old and I am 86. She has always been the most outgoing of the four of us. It was always so much harder for me to have fun and to be the attractive one because she was always so much more playful than me. She always had lots of dates over the years and she just seemed to naturally see things in a half full way. I have been envious of her ability to be like this all my life.
Unfortunately, in recent years, she has become more withdrawn and seemingly unable to get out of herself. She has lost a number of friends. Her husband died about 8 years ago. My daughter and son-in-law keep asking me what they can do to help their aunt. I am not sure. Do you have any thoughts or ideas to help us? We are feeling stuck and sad.
Dear More Playful Than Me,
As you will note right away, I have selected to address you as “More Playful Than Me” rather than “Feeling Stuck and Sad.” I have intentionally done so to take a positive perspective of your concerns. You have provided me with a foundation of information to work from which includes so many important personality characteristics. This provides hope. Your sister is still the same person. Because of changes in her life, she may have lost track of that part of herself. It may be the best thing you and your children, her niece and nephew can do, to help her to find that earlier sense of self. Your head may be spinning at this point wondering what the heck I could be talking about. Let me explain.
Once upon a time your sister was playful. She may have been described as spirited, spontaneous, outgoing, fun-loving, sprightly and possibly vivacious. Does this sound familiar? Well, guess what? Those personality traits do not just go away in people. They can get squashed in adult life simply by expectations and demands. They can also lessen due to cumulative losses in our older years. But I am here to tell you that it is likely that with a focus on helping her to find this inner self, she can live a much more fulfilling life going forward.
So share this blog with your adult children. Sit down with them and talk about their memories of your sister. Share with them your recollection of her as a child, an adolescent, a young adult and so on. I will bet that you will find yourselves laughing about “those days.” You will readily find yourselves retrieving from your bank of memories the building blocks that we will use to strengthen her positive foundation. Once you have done so, which by the way does not have to be a defined, isolated and finite conversation, go forward. What does that look like?
Get together with your sister in a different way than you or your children have been doing. Maybe pick a place to go where you can all enjoy something, but also provide an opportunity to talk. No, not a movie, unless of course it may portray some of what we are discussing here. A concert of sorts? Maybe. You certainly wouldn’t be talking during the performance but it would give you a topic for your cup of tea or cool drink following. Better yet, a stroll with or without adaptive devices, through a glorious public garden or arboretum. Maybe plan ahead and bring a picnic basket or cooler with drinks and a special sweet treat.
As you find yourselves settling in on a bench or chairs, have the children start to talk about something positive in their memories about their aunt. She may be surprised by what they recall and it may be a jumpstart toward a more positive conversation. Before you know it, you will be asking questions and drawing out of her more situations to tell you all about. Reminiscing can be a powerful tool to get us back in touch with how we used to be. We can still be that self with a little help from friends and family. Continue to ask about different things that she may have done and the time that you all did……… that’s right.
One of the best things about doing all of this together is that it will be a positive experience for you and for your children. It will serve as one of life’s better lessons. We can find that former self that enjoyed life, laughed and was maybe even a bit frisky. Go there. It will be so good for each of you and for your children as they approach their older years. Maybe, just maybe, in this process, you will find yourself coming out more and may even be a bit more like your sister whom you were envious of. If not, that’s okay. Be you.