1. How did your work helping victims of tragedies, such as 9/11 and the Columbine and Sandy Hook school shootings, lead you to study how we grapple with aging?
Having worked directly with bereaved individuals, families, and communities on the front lines and in the trenches over the past 40 plus years; having written, lectured, trained, taught Grief Literacy across the US (including the Harvard School of Public Health, Navy Seals Foundation, etc.); and having lost my 21-year-old daughter in an accident while studying abroad, I understand a great deal about loss. Much like healing, healthy aging is affected by the manner and extent to which we grieve the loss of our younger selves. A person who is looking backward at their past lives misses out on their present and future life.
2. Your new book is called “Raising an Aging Parent.” Why did you use the word “raising” rather than “caring for”?
Many adult children become increasingly involved in the support, caregiving, and lifestyle management of their mothers and fathers as they get older. Much as it’s their job to raise rather than diminish their children as they grow up, it’s their job to raise up rather than diminish their parents as they grow older.
3. We usually think of family as what happens in the first half of life with our family of origin. How is that changing dramatically today?
As our population ages, there are equally important changes, challenges, and opportunities that exist in the second half of life. How and whether we address them has a lasting and profound effect on the quality and character of our lives and the lives of our families.
4. Some of us are caring for aging parents while raising a family of our own. What are the biggest challenges facing the “Sandwich Generation”?
Being “squeezed” between caregiving for aging parents and growing children, the biggest challenges are maintaining some semblance of balance in our own lives and preventing burnout. Most SanGens, as I refer to them, have yet to acquire the self-care skills necessary to manage this level of stress. Along with recognizing the dangers of burning the candle at both ends and working ourselves into a state of depletion, we need to acquire the self-care skills to prevent it.
5. You have a “Self-Care Checklist” for those of us who are caring for an aging parent. What is your advice to
Three essentials that need to be on your Self-Care Checklist are:
1. Taking time to come up for air and do things that replenish your energy.
2. Surrounding yourself with support from other caregivers.
3. Communicating in loving, respectful tones with your parents and eliciting their cooperation (to whatever extent this is possible).
6. Your book contains a lot of practical advice for adult sons and daughters caring for aging parents, as well as how to face their first holidays without an aging parent. What do you say to them?
I am so sorry for your loss. Grieving is as natural as bleeding when you’re cut. Allow the sorrow that comes with losing a beloved parent. Give yourself permission to go through a period of mourning. Rising up out of the ashes of a loss of this magnitude will probably take newfound strength, courage, faith, and self-compassion. Be kind, patient, and accepting of your condition.
7. Caring for and coping with the challenges of aging parents brings out a lot of feelings about our own lives. What are some of those feelings, and how should we deal with them?
Watching our parents get older can afford us a sneak preview into the future of our own lives, and force us to face the inevitable. What we do with all this is up to us — whether we live in fear and dread; shrivel up and get smaller; or live in adventure, curiosity, and gratitude, expanding our horizons and making peace.
8. We live in a culture that is obsessed with youth, dreads aging, and avoids discussions of mortality. Do you see that changing and if so how?
Outgrowing our obsession with youth, summoning newfound courage to counter fear and avoidance as we get older, and making peace with our impermanence are tall orders. The opportunities for us, individually and as a society, to become the better version of ourselves and grow spiritually have never been better. And the benefits are limitless.
Author BIO: Dr. Ken Druck is an international authority on healthy aging and author of the new book “Raising an Aging Parent.” He has spent four decades helping people grow into the more courageous, compassionate, and resilient version of themselves by transforming adversities and losses of every kind into opportunities. Learn more at www.kendruck.com.