Will You Be an Orphan Elder?

If we’re fortunate enough to earn the title of “elder,” a time will inevitably arrive when we ask, “Who is going to take care of me when I can no longer do it all myself?” Are you at risk of becoming an orphan?

There are many reasons that elders end up feeling orphaned, without someone close to provide caregiving. Perhaps you never found the right life partner, never married, never melded your life with another and their family. Maybe you never had children or your kids predeceased you or are estranged, too far away, or too busy with their careers or families. For some, not having children may be a sore subject later in life that arouses feelings of remorse. Maybe you always wanted children, but plans were dashed and out of your control, and now you may be reminded regularly of that disappointment.

You have a choice
Truth is that, whether childless or not, people can find themselves at a loss when it comes to figuring out who’ll take care of them. The elder’s relationship with their caregiver is, understandably, very personal. If you’ve been independent your entire life, it can be uncomfortable to be reliant on another. But, you do have choices.

There is a point at which we all need to pause and assess our strengths, financial security, and need for freedom and independence. Humans are group animals. We need others for support, which becomes more evident as we age. Now is the time to make choices that will avert your becoming an orphan elder later.

What makes you feel whole and happy? We need to nurture what is important to the quality of our lives. Developing bonds of friendship is good life insurance. Seek friends who share your desire to be safe, healthy, and secure, instead of focusing on the family caregivers you don’t have. As Byron Katie says, “You may be wanting what you already have.” You can create a new reality!

 Aging well is a responsibility

If you do have children, how can you be sure they’ll know and want what is best for you? They won’t — unless you tell them. If we don’t tell our caregivers-to-be what we need and cherish, then we get the care they give. Instead, we can shape our lives by telling family or designated friends about our visions, desires, and needs. Simply having children does not remove this task. We can’t rely on our caregivers to just know; it is our responsibility to express what matters to us.

I have a client who tells me stories about other people’s experiences with getting older and needing care. I ask her to consider what she would want if she were in that situation. We explore options she did not know existed, options that are personalized, appropriate, and calming. She is actively creating her life map.

There is nothing magical about aging well; it takes a long time to get wise. But one thing is certain: it is easier if, while still in your sixties, you set the stage for how you want your future to be. Honor your feelings, and choose for yourself. Don’t let fear drain the joy out of life. All transitions stir up feelings, and that can be challenging. But I encourage you to take responsibility for creating a better life for yourself. I wish you sweet success and satisfaction in aging well.