Getting older comes with both benefits and losses. Benefits may include more free time, deeper relationships grown over time, and becoming more brilliantly who we are. Losses include physical and mental decline, death of friends and family members and, eventually, our own death. When we think about aging, it’s often the difficult losses that loom large.

I have been living with multiple sclerosis for more than 40 years. It’s an incurable, progressive neurological disease that has taught me much about living with loss. The MS journey is different for each person. Across the decades I have gradually become paralyzed. First, I lost use of one leg, then the other. I started using a motorized scooter. When my legs became too weak to transfer, I got a motorized wheelchair. Then I lost the use of one arm and hand and, a couple of years later, the other. Now my wheelchair is equipped with head controls and I use SmyleMouse to control my computer. With loss of physical function comes loss of employment and ability to volunteer and get out in the world. I hope to bring the lessons I’ve learned on loss forward as I age.

  1. You can choose your attitude. I have little control over the disease process, but I can adjust my inner world. That includes my worldview, spirituality, and self-talk.
  2. Be here now. My MS symptoms are likely to increase, but it does me little good to ruminate over what is yet to come. Author and creative consultant Dan Zadra reminds us “worry is a misuse of imagination.”
  3. Feel your feelings. Dealing with difficult emotions has been one of the major challenges of my life. As a young adult, I thought I was alone in feeling Big Emotions. It seemed every problem deserved intellectual problem-solving. I am learning from Resmaa Menakem to pay attention to the information my body gives me (warm, cold, tight, loose, heavy, light). Staying with feelings and sensations as often and as long as I need to is important for my well-being.
  4. Don’t believe everything you think. Pema Chodron taught me this one. Just because I have a thought (“I can’t bear this” for instance) doesn’t mean it’s true. I find the work of Byron Katie useful. She coaches us to ask four questions. is it true? Can I absolutely know that it’s true? How do I react when I believe that thought? Who would I be without the thought?
  5. Practice self-compassion. Kristin Neff and Jan Lundy have taught me to be kind, rather than judgmental. I can remember that all people suffer, and I can meet my experience with tender curiosity.
  6. Each person has their own journey. It takes the time it takes. Grief is its own territory. Your journey may look nothing like mine. There is no need to compare or judge.
  7. Show up, listen, be kind and supportive. As individuals and as communities, we can be present and compassionate with ourselves, each other, and the wider world.
  8. Welcome everything. Every experience is an opportunity to practice being aware, awake, and caring. Even difficult circumstances bring lessons. Life is rich with meaning and beauty.

The losses of life can be painful, but they are survivable. Sorrow is always making furrows for joy.