Vulnerability and Aging

It's been a rough week. Two very dear friends were in the hospital. One for a potential heart attack/stroke. The other for what ended up being a blood clot in her leg. First and foremost, I'm proud of both of them for going to the hospital. Women tend to easily excuse going to the doctor or hospital. "It's not that big of a deal." "I don't want to seem like a hypochondriac". "I don't want to waste everyone's time". Both are fine which is great. There were however, some amazing insights that came out of last week's experience.

Going to the hospital ER is the ultimate vulnerability. In both cases, my friends were facing potentially life threatening health issues which dredges up incredible fear and uncertainty. Both were nervous to talk to their friends, family and children about what had happened. They wanted to have all of the facts before reaching out. They wanted to be armed with the assurance that they were in fact, not old or weak or a hypochondriac prior to having what would prove to be difficult conversations. At the heart of all of it was sharing a very vulnerable and fearful experience and exposing potential weakness. Regardless of age, when health issues start compromising your life, vulnerability is exposed. So how do we share that vulnerability and fear with our family, children and friends in a way that is respectful and supportive of all involved, because there is a definite opportunity for shutting down, hurt feelings and/or miscommunication?

Brene Brown is one of my heros. I have read each of her books several times over - The Gifts of Imperfection, Daring Greatly, Rising Strong, Braving The Wilderness, Dare to Lead and am so grateful to have seen her speak. Her books, The Brene Brown Ted Talk on Vulnerability Brene Brown Netflix Special A Call to Courage have changed millions of lives and given us the vocabulary and more importantly permission to talk about difficult subjects. She has the most incredible ability to translate fragmented feelings into digestible and actionable language. Some of her quotes on vulnerability:

"What we don't need in the midst of struggle is shame for being human."

"Vulnerability is not about winning or losing. It's about having the courage to show up even when you can't control the outcome."

"Daring to set boundaries is about having the courage to love ourselves even when we risk disappointing others."

"We don't have to do all of it alone. We were never meant to."

The experience last week with my friends and their conversations with their family, children and friends made me realize that this is a multi-generational issue. Age is irrelevant when someone is feeling vulnerable about their health. Everyone has the exact same mindset - they don't want to be seen as old or weak and they want to minimize their vulnerability.

So I plan to make some changes in how I listen and respond, both with family and friends. I will listen without the intent of fixing. This is a HUGE one for me. I realize when I try to fix, I am minimizing their experience and that I have quit listening. So, changes I will make: I will honor the courage that they had in coming to me and trusting me enough to share the experience by listening and being fully present. I will hear the words, feelings and emotions of what they are sharing and acknowledge them without trying to change or fix them. I will use my words to empathetically share my love for them, acknowledge the fear and listen to their needs. There is a time and a place for sharing an honest opinion, but it is not in the moment of someone you love exposing their vulnerability to you. Have you experienced this? What are your thoughts?

Photo credit: @_ronniesmith_


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