The doctor felt sorry for the elderly woman. She had recently been widowed after seventy-three years of marriage, and now she would live out her days in this rest home. “I’m so sorry,” the doctor said. “What has it been like for you losing your husband after so many years together?” She paused for a moment and then replied, “Heaven.”
Shocking, right? That’s an anecdote from How We Age by Dr. Marc Agronin.
In our culture, the prevailing viewpoint is that everything about getting old is bad, it’s horrible, it’s hell. Okay, I get the mortality thing. I don’t want to die, and the older I get, the likelier it seems. But does that mean that the older I get, the sadder and more depressed I have to feel? That’s the message our culture shovels at us.
Unless you look for counterintelligence: according to this article in Psychology Today, people in their 70s are as happy as those in their 20s! Why do you think that is?
Bill and I were discussing age and illness the other night, and here’s something we both found comfort in: if we were to die suddenly, at least we reached the crucial milestones of having raised our kids to the point where they can take care of themselves. We’ve enjoyed fulfilling careers and traveled, seen grandchildren born, and eased the old age of our parents. I’ll bet that plays into the satisfaction our group feels. They’ve won the race; now they can stop running, unless they damn well feel like running. In which case, lace up and rock out.
In the above picture, I’m greeting my newborn granddaughter, in October 2010. I was very thin and weak, having just had surgery. Fifty years ago, the urgent need for that surgery wouldn’t have been discovered in time, and my granddaughter wouldn’t have ever met me. She turned seven a few days ago.
It gives me perspective. I feel so grateful to be older.
One of the difficulties in aging is the loss of our career identities. For thirty years I was a corporate suit. I crafted and polished this identity. I spoke and dressed and thought a certain way. It took me years to let go – actually, I still one of my pant suits. I’m afraid to wear it now; it might disintegrate in public. But I can’t just throw it in the trash.
OTOH, several years after leaving that job, I realized I could cuss and wear hippie clothes and not do my nails. Take that, bureaucracy world!
In our society we “fight” aging. As if that’s going to stop time. Well, it won’t, and I’ve decided to enjoy it and to seek out people who can help me understand how to do that.
In her book, Face It, Dr. Vivian Diller talks about letting go of wanting to look young in favor of wanting to look good for your age. She says the benefits of “consciously letting go of youth” are:
You will feel differently. You will feel more hopeful. You will create a solid foundation from which to grow for the rest of your life. Yes, there is loss. But you also gain something on the other side of it. There’s a comfort level, a renewed energy for other things.
There is so much that’s challenging about getting older, but I say, focus on the blessed fact that you get to do so in the first place. Don’t you feel grateful?