... because that is the way life is.
                         Bernardo Bertolucci

We started talking about endings with clients at the beginning of Spring Term in class.  All of us graduate students see the end of our first internship year coming, and all of us have people we're working with it will be difficult to say goodbye to.

On the flip side, in all honesty, we all have people it will be less difficult to say goodbye to.

I brought this up with my on-going clients Week One of Spring Term (the last week in March).  Primarily, I started the ending phase that early (11 weeks before it happens) because of the mild, age related cognitive impairment my on-going clients happen to share.  Forgetfulness is common.  My youngest is 87 years old.

There was another reason, though.   Erik Erikson characterized the last part of a human being's life - the last part of lifespan development -- as one in which the elderly person ideally reaches ego integrity -- "a fundamental acceptance of his or her own life, regardless of how good or bad it has been, and looks back and feels satisfied with the past" (Tornstam, 1999, p. 11).  Part of this acceptance, then, is generativity.  As I come to terms with my life and I examine it now, what am I giving back?  What are my contributions now?  What mark am I leaving?

 I started the ending process so early to ensure that my on-going clients understand that while I have been providing counseling to them, they have been enriching my life beyond measure.  This is part of their generativity. It will take me years to sort this out - what exactly this year with them has meant and how it has changed me.

It will take longer than the time they have left to live.

Here are some of the bigger lessons:

From my field supervisor:
"You stop doubting yourself.  You see people and you understand people and it's time for you to stop being so timid when you present your assessments. Next year you'll be an advanced clinical student, so say what you have to say with the grace I know you already have.  That time is now."

From On-going Client One:
"You go on and you tell them that being old is something they need to think about now.  You tell people what it's like because people need to come to terms with that before it surprises them.  Old age isn't what it used to be, but old age isn't something to be afraid of."

"Stay out of the pool hall."

"Cause enough mischief to keep things interesting."

From On-going Client Two:
"When you get as old as I am, you should reach the point where you're able to live harmoniously with your family.  That's the only thing that matters."  (Research has, indeed, shown this to be a primary goal of the aging population [Carstensen, Fung, & Charles, 2003]).

"Only marry your boyfriend if you know you can handle the aging process with him."

From On-going Client Three:
"I have told my story about my WWII battalion to as many people as I could have.   Soon, my story is only going to live in the people who have heard it.  Tell it.  Tell them about the 442nd.  Tell them how we're just now being recognized for our work."  (Obviously, I only tell you now as it is his wish for me to do so.)

"You listen too good.  I tell you too many things, but that's ok. When you leave here, you be sure to listen to people just like you're listening to me now."

From On-going Client Four:
{and this is difficult for me, personally, to write; on-going client four is dying.  there is little talking now.  there is just companionship.}

"That boyfriend of yours?  You tell him that he has a good woman and that he would be foolish for him to not marry you.  You tell him that."

This is the advice for newly married couples:  "Be careful!  No getting pregnant right away and she should keep her trim figure!"

"Don't dye your hair back to brunette.  Stay blond.  Stay fun."

(Why so much talk about my boyfriend?  Because that was the first question they all asked me:  are you married?  All they really know is that he exists, and anybody working with the elderly understands there's a teensy bit more self disclosure than when you work with other demographics.  

It was how they were taking care of me.  It was part of what they wanted to teach me.  And they did.  And they are.)


Carstesen, L., Fung, H., & Charles, S. (2003).  Socioemotional selectivity theory and the regulation of emotion in the second half of life.  Motivation and Emotion, 27(2), 103-123.

Tornstam, L. (1999). Transcendence in later life.  Generations, 23, 10-14.


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