Many times I have heard people ask someone the question ‘If you could write a letter to your younger self, what would you say?’ Even my therapist has asked me this question. My letter would be simple:
Enjoy your life as much as you can, you only have one.
Choose wisely and truly who you love, and don’t leave heartache along the way to finding that.
I’ve even seen this posted on Facebook, challenging people to write or say something to their younger selves.
I try to not live in a world of regrets, wishing I could go back in time and change anything. I try to live in the present, conscious and aware of the past, and preparing for the future. I realize that to go back in time and ‘fix’ anything, unless you are Sherman and Mr. Peabody, or H.G. Wells, is not a possibility.
I cannot, therefore, really place much stock in what I would say to my younger self. That person is someone that I no longer am. That person made choices and mistakes. He tried to learn from them, and to not repeat them, but could not repair them once they had been made. It’s all part of growing and living. That person is someone I cannot change, and wouldn’t try. That person made me who I am today.
I can, however, say a lot to my ‘older self’, and still see it come to fruition. I can set it aside and read it 30, 35, 40 years from now and follow my own advice. That person may need some guidance at the time through tough situations and to be able to recall lessons he learned in life that he may have forgotten along the way. That person is someone I am yet to become.
I have aging parents. They are both 82 years old. Their bodies are failing them more and more over time. My dad had a stroke in 2006, following the loss of his second wife a year before, and has resided in an assisted living facility in the dementia unit ever since. He can manage some of his self-care, but cannot live alone any longer, and some of his needs are more than his two sons can take care of for him. He has gone through bouts of depression and aggression over time when he is refusing to take his medication, and lashes out at the staff and other residents, physically and verbally. He doesn’t get out much, was never much of a checkers person, doesn’t read as a hobby, and has very little to enjoy at this stage of life. He goes through phases of hating where he is and simply accepting where he is. He never once has progressed to liking where he is.
My mother lives on her own still in the house I grew up in. She has seen her five siblings pass on before her as well as her parents. Many of her long-time friends have also passed away. She has wanted to live independently still, yet she cannot stand long enough to make a meal for herself (she buys pre-cooked and microwavable foods), she cannot kneel down to wash a floor, she has trouble with stairs, cannot shovel snow, etc., etc., etc. So she is independent with a lot of assistance. My brother and I say ‘It takes a village to keep her independent’, and it’s true. She needs a lot of assistance to stay ‘independent.’
I saw my grandparents age and pass, and have seen my own parents age to the point of frailty and struggle. I know it’s not going to get better for them before they also pass…it will likely get even worse….perhaps far worse. My dad will likely not know me at the end, and perhaps my mother will get there too. There is time to get to know their young grandchildren, but they most likely won’t be here for or simply not be able to participate in their teen accomplishments and young adult lives.
I will one day be there myself. With luck, another 35 – 40 years or more will pass for me before I pass on.
I have the ability to influence the rest of those years, and to influence the stage I will get to eventually to a very large degree. At that time, I hope to look back on what I witnessed with my grandparents and my parents, and remember what it was like for me to see it.
If I were to write a letter to my older self, to be reviewed years from now, here is what I would want my older self to know:
Don’t regret the things you can no longer do. Life is full of possibilities, no matter what age you are. So often in our younger days we wish we had time to do this or that, and now you do have the time. Try something new every day. Learn a song in Italian and sing it even if there’s no one listening. Eat a food you never imagined you would. Watch a documentary to learn about something you never knew before. Read a book you never thought you’d get through. Talk to a complete stranger. Smile 100 times in one day. Always look for things you can do, rather than dwell upon the things you can’t do now. If you do, life will always be a series of possibilities rather than a set of failures.
Your children never outgrow their need for you, it simply becomes a different kind of need. They may not need you as a parent; to tell them how to tie their shoes and clean their wounds and wipe their tears away and give them advice. But it’s just as important and valuable to be someone they can count on to love them unconditionally throughout their entire lives. They will always be your child, no matter how old they grow….but they become adults eventually. One day you have to stop ‘parenting’ them, but you never have to stop loving them.
Help is so hard to ask for, because you feel it makes you vulnerable, and you’ve never been comfortable with that. Everyone needs help now and again. It doesn’t make you weak. Knowing your limitations and doing something to overcome them, even with the assistance of another, is a strength in and of itself.
Just as it’s hard to age, it’s hard to watch your parents age. Your children do not wish to see you suffering or going without. Be honest with them and with yourself about your needs. When you simply try to convince them you don’t need help, you are not sparing them anything……you are only making it more difficult for them in watching you struggle.
Don’t dwell upon the things you feel you did ‘wrong’ in life. No matter how hard you fell, no matter how badly you think you failed…..you made it through…and rose above it. Be proud of yourself. Be grateful that you had the courage and the strength always to get through it all, no matter how difficult it was. You didn’t fail…you stumbled, and you picked yourself up and kept going.
Tell your children everything you wish them to know, no matter how hard it is to say, while you still can. One day they won’t have you to talk to, whereas your mind may not be as sharp as it once was, and they will be left wondering about a great many things in life.
Love yourself. Until your very last breath you are a teacher, a role model and an example for your children, no matter how old they get, and for others.
These are the things I hope to remind myself of when I am older. I can always add to the list as I live my life. Unlike the notion of going back to my youth and trying to fix the mistakes I made along the way, which is not possible, I can try to avoid making certain mistakes in the future.
I cannot say that I will be able to follow all the above advice to myself when I’m at the age to need it.
I do hope that I will try.