2023: Discussing the ‘Undiscussables’

By Rebecca Crichton

I once told someone that I’m a ‘Fool for Meaning.’ I was reflecting on my life choices that included facilitating grief support groups as well as crafting and officiating at marriage ceremonies. Even though I can assemble a gathering with over twenty people in less than twenty minutes, I prefer one-on-one or small group conversations that share life stories and personal discoveries. I revel in talking about meaning and purpose.

Perhaps because of this, when I tell people I meet about the work I do, not only is their interest evident, but they want to talk about those aspects of aging that are avoided in most settings.  

I grew up in a time when three things were taboo in polite conversation: Sex, Politics and Religion. Another avoided topic, for reasons that ranged from ignorance to fear, was Aging. It’s also true that most people under the age of 50 don’t think about getting older. I remember my outrage when AARP somehow ‘found’ me and sent me my first issue of their magazine. Despite having a full set of dead grandparents, I never really thought about what it means to be older.

Now, finally – due in part to the Boomer generation hitting retirement age – we are talking about aging. We are thinking about dying. The Business of Aging has made its way into Corporate America.

While many of us want to talk about what it is like to live with less time to look forward to, we are also hesitant to do so. When I ask what keeps us from sharing our fears and feelings about aging, I can count on a few answers:

Nobody really listens. Nobody wants to hear me complain. There aren’t any ‘answers,’ so why talk about what will only depress me?

In neuroscience there is recognition that our brains keep developing. As our brains change, our minds change; as our minds change, our brains change. We know the aging brain is not as large or cognitively nimble as younger brains. We also know that aging brains are still creative, contributing and wiser from experience and knowledge than younger ones.

What you pay attention to – think, feel, want, and how you work with your reactions – sculpts your brain. Our brains connect with systems throughout our bodies. We should be talking about the ‘Mindbody’ and release the former view of their separation.

Since thoughts, emotions and our bodies are so interconnected, the need to talk about how we feel is more important than ever as we age.

As you know if you’ve read this bulletin since September, my 80th birthday provided a pivot point for review and reflection about what is ‘mine to do.’ This is the question I suggest people use when considering their lives. And what this ‘Fool for Meaning’ feels is that what is mine to do now is to Discuss the Undiscussables.

The ‘Undiscussables’ are the subjects that feel important and uncomfortable. They are the things that hover and haunt. We avoid them – they’re not ‘nice.’ We simultaneously want to talk about them and do our best to avoid them.

Some fall into what I call the Big D’s – Dependency, Disability, Dementia, Death and Dying. Others are equally concerning but not quite so scary: Grief, Friendship, Where and How We Live…

I invite you to join this exploration with me over the next few months. Maybe those things we’ve been so hesitant to talk about are exactly what we need to be engaging with out loud. Let’s find out together.