By Gary Direnfeld, MSW, RSW
The reason Erik Erickson is written into every introductory to psychology textbook
is because he was the first developmental psychologist to discuss life across
the entire life span. He states that life has a number of challenges. They are
described as tensions or push-pulls to be resolved. How one resolves the tension
at one developmental stage determines how one enters the next stage.
Erickson discuses the final stage of development as “integrity versus
despair.” Accordingly, in our final stage of life, we take stock of all
that has gone before. There will be things from our life about which we will
feel good and about which we will feel bad.
When added up, if the good outweighs the bad, we are said to die with integrity,
a feeling good about life and ourselves. If the bad outweighs the good, we are
said to die in despair, believing our lives may have been wasted and without
merit. The goal, according to Erickson, is to die with integrity.
Is it ever too late to make amends? The answer is yes. However, one still has
up to the final hour.
Interestingly, children, even of the middle age variety, benefit when a parent
makes amends. Life is such that when young, we are prone to make mistakes, behave
in ways that are harmful, hurt our children. The scars and estrangements can
last seemingly forever, but truth be told, until death, can still remain repairable.
Scars and estrangements hurt not only the directly affected, but also those
around the affected person. The scars and estrangements trickle into other relationships
and like a cancer, spread to hurt others.
Scars and estrangements also run both ways. As the children are hurt, often,
so too are the parents. Even in their old age, they too may be suffering not
only the scars and estrangements from relationships before them, but also by
the hurt of unresolved matters with their offspring.
This is an interesting time in recent history. The army of baby boomers are
aging and their parents are passing on. Legacies are being determined right
now. Some parents will pass with integrity, surrounded by family and friends
and others will die in despair, with nary a soul to comfort them.
There is a profound opportunity that comes with age. We can prove ourselves
not only older, but wiser too.
If you are hurt or estranged from a love one, consider what is left of life’s
opportunities to make amends. While hurts may still abide, time has a way of
placing behavior in a context, an historical context.
We come to understand we are products of our place in history and of the family
life we experienced. We come to recognize our own foibles as well as those of
our parents. We come to appreciate we may have done better but for the tools
we were equipped by life. We come to appreciate relationships matter and most
of all, those between family members.
Seek to make amends. Improve the legacy. Alter the course of history.