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How Can We Adjust to New Hard Times?

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The surge in middle-aged people moving in with their parents reflects the grim reality that has taken hold in the aftermath of the Great Recession, according to an April 21 report in the Los Angeles Times. The survey underscores that older people are quietly moving in with their parents at twice the rate of their younger counterparts. So let's face it: life for average people isn't getting easier. As a matter of fact, it's enormously complicated. Aging itself requires far more skill than it did. It's not an easy process at all.

Aging, of course, includes dying. Some people fear death to a staggering degree. Others are angered by it. (What's it all about? Why must we bother with it?) Still others make peace with it.

My mother Beatrice was one of the latter. After she contracted pneumonia in the convalescent hospital where she stayed, I was told that the end was near. I observed the acceptance, serenity and inner peace that she developed before my eyes. Beatrice's behavior in the dying process reminded me of words written by the existential psychotherapist Irvin D. Yalom: "The last gift a parent can give to children is to teach them, through example, how to face death with equanimity." Mother did that, gracefully and simply, and I shall always be grateful. She died just ten days before her 99th birthday.

My mother was born in 1898 and her life came close to spanning the 20th century. During the influenza epidemic of 1918, she nursed Navajo Indian children who were ill, then dug graves and buried the dead in the parched earth under a desert sun. Hers was a long life of service. At age 70, she began volunteer teaching at Children's Hospital Los Angeles. One young patient asked her, "You're old, aren't you?" "Yes, I am," she replied. "That's good," he said. "Then I can talk to you." When death came, my mother opened her arms to it. Grateful for life, she accepted death as an act of faith.

I remember my first experience with death. I was a young boy. Grandpa lay at home in a big mahogany bed, surrounded by the members of his immediate family. Everyone knew he was dying. Grandma sat next to him, crying softly and holding his hand. I was thinking that Grandpa wouldn't be able to take me for walks in the woods any more or hold me on his knee. We were pals and I'd miss him terribly. Then I heard his heavy breathing stop. Suddenly I realized he had lost the gigantic spark of life that had always animated him in such a special way.

I invite you to share with me the ways death has touched your own life. When? How? Did death occur violently in an accident? Quietly at home in bed -- or in a hospital? Alone or with friends? Was it expected or a surprise? How did you respond to it? I welcome your real-life stories, with your reactions of fear or hope, anxiety or peace.

Following death, life goes on. Our task is to move forward with life, summoning all our courage and energy. Yet a reader writes to me: "Death took away 29 years of my happiness. I've got to keep on living, but I don't know how. Death scares me because it's such a terrible closure. Please tell me what to do. I need help in living."

The worst way to live is to fear living. The worst way to die is to fear dying. Let joy come into your life. Stay open to others. Confront fears. Opt for service instead of selfishness. Learn to forgive. Relinquish hatred. Practice loving. Let the new day come as a carrier of hope.