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I love reading about Boomers who retire to a houseboat or a yurt or some other oddball place that will give them a shot at fulfilling the dream. Now that the kids are gone and they have a measure of freedom, options begin to emerge.
Mom’s almost 90. She’s bright, independent and social. She’s also frail and tiny. On the rare occasion she goes out in the evening, she lets me know ahead of time. This is because everyone, from local family to relatives from back east, will call me worrying if they can’t reach her after dark.
So when I called around five on Sunday night and she didn’t answer, I figured she was indisposed and would call back. She didn’t. An hour later, she didn’t answer either her cell or landline, so I drove over to her house (four blocks away). Her windows were dark but the porch light was on. I figured she went somewhere with her friends and forgot to tip us off.
Over the next couple hours, I phoned a few more times, and then let my sister know. Karen was concerned. “Have you gone inside her house?” she asked. Feeling like a jerk, I let myself in and checked every room and closet. The car was home, so I checked inside that, too. Looking out the patio slider, I was grateful to note she was not lying in a crumpled heap outside, and in fact, the door was locked, further evidence she’d gone out. As I drove back home, I noted a Christmas program going on at the Lodge, which is the clubhouse for our 55+ community. Probably she was inside, I told Karen.
It was unlike Mom not to keep us posted. She’s very responsible and thoughtful. Over the next few hours, Karen and I called and left a few more messages. Nothing.
Pretty soon it was 9:30, and I called Karen back. “What are we going to do if she hasn’t turned up by 10 when the Lodge closes?” I asked. Karen said, “Why don’t you go inside and see if she’s there?” Smart, but risky: if I showed up at the ballroom, Mom would think something horrible had happened to a family member. Then, when I told her why I was there, she’d be embarrassed in front of her friends.
But maybe I could sneak in, see if she was there, and split, undetected. I put my bra back on, as well as some decent slacks and a dab of lipstick. It was now 9:45. At the Lodge, I parked in front and headed toward the ballroom.
Great timing. The party was ending and a crowd flowed toward me. There she was: the shortest person in a sea of elders, her auburn hair barely visible over someone’s shoulder. I fled to the car, leapt in, and drove down one of the parking aisles, where I shut off the lights and waited to make sure it was her. It was dark, but her walk is distinctive after that broken leg of three years ago, and she has a slight hunch from osteoporosis. Then I saw the glint of her cane, and knew I could relax.
I called Karen. “Found her!” I said, laughing at my sneakiness, all for the purpose of ensuring Mom’s safety without her feeling impeded. Karen asked, “What is she doing now?” Suddenly angry, I said, “She’s crossing the parking lot with her old biddy friends!” I was mad with relief. Then I got the idea to race over to her house and watch to make sure she got in okay. I parked on her street, stalking her again, feeling like an inept spy.
She never showed.
I drove around back, thinking she might have gone in through the garage. Nope. I circled her neighborhood for a few fruitless minutes, but assumed she went over to a friend’s house for a snack. I drove home, mumbling and cursing to myself. And there she was, in the back seat of her friend’s little car. They were on my street, looking at Christmas lights. I managed to get inside my garage undetected.
It was after ten. I went to bed. “She okay?” mumbled Bill from under the covers. “Fine. She’s out partying.” It was, after all, my fault and my success that Mom had come to this. I was the one who lobbied hard for her to move to my community. “You’ll have friends,” I’d said. “There are always activities at the Lodge. You’ll never be bored or lonely.” Now, three years after moving away from her beloved home in the high desert, she was thriving, independent, and social.
And her kids were freaking out, acting like they were the parents.
The next day, she was slightly defensive. “I figured you wouldn’t call,” was her argument, but we both know that’s a load of hooey. I said I was glad she had friends and a social life, and that we kids put her through more than this when we were teenagers. We laughed and changed the subject. She’ll never know how upset I was. If my elderly, fragile mother is capable of independence and self-determination, and has all her marbles, I’ll stay out of her way.
Even if she does drive me apeshit.
I’ve always loved Leonard Cohen’s voice and music. This tribute to love is beautiful and poignant.
So sad to think of this poor man suffering with the almost-insurmountable problems of addiction and depression (LATE ADD: and possibly also Parkinsons’.) He also had medical problems (and we’ve seen that heart surgery can bring on depression). On top of that, he had money problems, and Robin Williams wasn’t in his peak earning years anymore.
His death has prompted important conversations. According to this story in the Washington Post, white males die by suicide more than any other group by gender or racial demographic. The number is four times as high as for the next highest group, and it dwarfs every other demographic on the chart.
…Aging may take a larger toll on the male psyche. Older men who value their self-reliance may find themselves less able to cope as they age, when they are no longer in their prime physically, sexually and at work.
“I often refer to them as being developmentally unsuccessful, because they’re not equipped to handle the challenges of getting older if they are so tied into their masculinity . . . and making a lot of money,” said Christopher Kilmartin, a psychology professor at the University of Mary Washington.
“Things aren’t the way they used to be,” said Dost Ongur, associate professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. . “The power you knew, the control you knew, aren’t the same.”
I want to tread carefully here; what I say next is not meant to minimize Robin’s physiological and psychological burdens. I’m not qualified to offer an opinion, but want to use the statistics as a starting point for discussion.
Many of us, particularly men,
are unable to accept have a hard time accepting the aging process and our own mortality. We’re swamped in a noxious wave of cultural messages that, at a certain age, we’re worthless, stupid, pointless…and we buy it. We look in the mirror and see the work of time, and it’s not flattering. We retire or get forced out of jobs. We wonder what the point is. What good are we?
After a lifetime of being brainwashed to believe bad stuff about old people, there’s new research that says people who believe negative things about the aging process die, on average, 7.5 years sooner. What a self-fulfilling prophesy.
Yes, physically, we’re on the losing end, but mentally and emotionally there is much to be grateful for. Here are a few tidbits worth celebrating:
- Myelination doesn’t peak until your sixties. Myelin is a substance that coats the brain circuits and improves neurotransmission. I wrote about that here.
- Positivity increases later in life, and you have greater control over your emotions – even though older people feel them more strongly. Something about changes to the amygdala. That’s in the same blog post, linked above.
- Bilateralization occurs later in life. It means you use both halves of your brain all the time, instead of just the right brain for art/left brain for analysis. This adds up to deeper, more creative, more out-of-the-box thinking. Have you ever heard this before? More here.
So we’re on the short end of the mortality stick, but from what I hear, the older you get, the more at ease you are with the prospect of death.
Robin Williams was a generous benefactor to many causes, and even now, he’s helping humanity by raising difficult subjects. I ask that you consider the positive aspects of aging, and talk about them. Give your kids, and the rest of society, a reason to feel good about the last third of life, because there is good. Why not celebrate it?
Rest in peace, Robin.
We Boomers may have tried too hard to give our kids a sense of self-esteem. We stand accused of rewarding the munchkins for all manner of nothingburger “accomplishments” and fostering a sense of entitlement in Gens X and Y. Now, the tide has turned. Self-esteem is out and resilience is in.
Resilience, which allows a person to roll with the punches, is built internally, and does not rely on external validation. I’ve been trying to develop it myself, because older age can be daunting.
When I am in a situation where somebody is driving me nuts, I enjoy being able to turn it around. I consider how this crazy situation might enhance or inform my life. How might I see it differently and laugh about it, or use it for enlightenment? When bad things happen, I try to find a different, more empowered, perspective. For example:
- One day, Bill was noticeably bummed out. He said he was missing his parents (both deceased). I said I was sorry, and he said, “I’m not. The pain reminds me that I loved them.” Way to turn it around.
- A guy flies past me on the freeway, cutting in and out. Instead of being pissed, I imagine he’s racing to the hospital, having gotten bad news about a loved one, and sympathy replaces my anger.
- Falling asleep last night, I was wracked by anxiety. Instead of buying into it, I told myself, “Your amygdala is on overdrive. Sleep will fix that.” It wasn’t me, it was a gland; a tired, overactive, mixed-up gland, which I could repair by nurturing my body.
- Standing in line at the pharmacy, I’m fixated on how annoying, and annoyingly slow, everybody in front of me is. But wait: it’s actually an opportunity. I whip out my phone and resume reading a novel I started last night on Kindle. Or check my email.
- In the same line, guy is talking loudly on his on cellphone, and I’m forced to listen. Instead of getting annoyed, I listen avidly for characters and situations I might use in my next novel. Thanks for the material, buddy!
I admit my examples are pretty lightweight, but the brain has a certain plasticity about it; what if you started small and worked your way up? Might this skill not help you when dealing with the heavier difficulties in life?
I get a real rush out of not feeling stuck, trapped, or victimized. Resilience is a powerful tool to use, and a good skill to model for our kids and grandkids.
What are some examples of resilience in your life?
Remember Gloria Steinem’s quote on my home page?
To be defiant about age may be better than despair – it’s energizing – but it is not progress. Actually, after fifty, aging can become an exciting new period; it is another country.
Many of us boomers don’t like thinking of ourselves as old. Nope, we’re in midlife (guilty – see website subhead). Age is just a number, because we “still” (fill in the blank). I mean, you can’t be old if you went hang-gliding last weekend. But if you face the reality, you’ll be happier, says Ronni Bennett of Time Goes By:
On blogs, forums, commercial websites, health-related sites and more, it is amazing how many people debate this question.
Invariably, someone will say he or she (usually she) or a friend looks and acts younger than they are (whatever that means). Or someone drags out that hoary old aphorism, you’re only as old as you feel…And the all-time favorite of everyone who refuses to acknowledge the passing years – age is only a number.
The 66-year-old writing that essay refuses to accept herself as a senior because, she reports, she and her friends are active, some “still” work, others exercise, read, play with the grandchildren and volunteer. But the people at the home where the writer volunteers “are seniors for sure,” she says with some certainty, because they are “limited in what they can do.” She doesn’t say what the limitations are but it’s not hard to guess.
What she is trying to do with that statement is separate herself, as too many healthy elders do, from people of the same age who are disabled, infirm, demented or even just a little addled, never considering that there but for the grace of God…
This defensiveness is, we know, the result of fear. Fear of aging which, if you take a step back for a longer look, is just a smoke screen for fear of dying. I understand that (but)…perhaps think awhile on how much time and effort it takes to pretend you’re not old. Surely you must be exhausted from it. Surely you can imagine what a relief it would be to just – well, be.
Me? It took me years of trying to arrive at liking my old age, liking myself as an old woman but I arrived and nowadays I look forward to enjoying that achievement for many more years…
Right now, I want you to know that it’s worth the effort to shed the pretense of youth. Shed the mistaken idea of the woman above who apparently believes being old doesn’t happen until you can’t work, cook, play tennis, volunteer, exercise or play with grandchildren any longer.
But she is wrong to define old age only as the arrival of infirmity. If we are willing to be honest, old age is the natural progression of life from childhood to adolescence to adulthood and, now, elderhood.
Why waste these years trying to be something else? Do you really believe you can rid yourself of wrinkles, gray hair, a poochy belly, mashed potato thighs, saggy skin and all the other physical manifestations old age with drug store potions and wishing? You don’t need to be a Buddhist to appreciate this next thought from Buddhist writer and teacher Lewis Richmond, from his book, Aging as a Spiritual Practice.
“As long as we keep comparing ourselves to a younger, better self (who may have been better only in hindsight), we shortchange the possibilities for becoming an older, wiser one. The wisdom of adaptation begins in the willingness to let go of who we used to be and embrace who we are now.”
Lynne here. Thank you, Ronni and Lewis, for showing us a way forward into a more peaceful, powerful mindset. This last third of our lives can be more satisfying and gratifying than we ever imagined.
Amour is a difficult film to watch, but worth it. If you’re feeling discouraged about mortality, Amour will put things in perspective.
It’s a stunning film, one that stays with you. Depressing? Actually, it didn’t hit me that way, maybe because I was a bit confused about the ending, so went online to gain clarity. There I found an essay asserting this isn’t the way most of us will end our days, and the film is ageist in painting elderhood with such despair. I hope so.
The rest of this post contains some spoilage, so you might choose to stop reading here.
Anne and Georges love each other deeply and in spite of their advanced age enjoy a rich life. Then she has a stroke, at which time both of them reveal their strength and in his case, heroism.
After the first stroke, Anne reveals to Georges that she would prefer to die. She tries and fails to refuse food and liquids. Then she has a second stroke and loses the ability to enforce her decision. This is one of the main aspects of the film that resonates with me, what most of us fear – that we’ll wait too long to make the choice, or that we’ll have no choice and will have to live out our final days (years?) regardless of the impact on our loved ones.
The upside of Amour was that it put things in perspective. My aches and pains seemed laughable and my existential fears no more than childish superstitions compared to the reality portrayed in this movie. I was also left with the determination, should I ever be struck by a horrible terminal affliction, to move immediately to a state that permits me to end my life when I chose.
Did you see Amour? What did you think, and/or how did it make you feel? If you haven’t seen the trailer, here it is.
POLL RESULTS: If you’re interested in the poll results from earlier this week, click here. Thanks again for your input.
I never expected to feel as alive and vibrant and spirited and vital as I do at this time of my life.
These are the words with which my friend, elder blogger Ronni Bennett of Time Goes By, began a recent post. It seemed so powerful I asked if I could reproduce it for Any Shiny Thing. The following words are Ronni’s. Enjoy.
“There is little if anything in our culture that would lead me to believe I would feel this good about being an old woman. The media relate to old age almost entirely via health, poor health – and mostly about dementia.
“There are more news and feature stories about Alzheimer’s, for which no prevention or treatment exists, than reports on all other elder health issues combined.
“The New York Times publishes what is now a long-standing, daily blog about and for elders titled The New Old Age. Day in and day out over several years now, it is exclusively about being sick or frail or demented or all three at once as though there are no other states of health in “the new old age.”
“Someone ought to tell The Times that 80 percent of old people live independently until they die.
“Then there are the politicians. Elders are a big topic for them because we are more frequent voters than younger people and our numbers are ballooning.
“But the pols see us exclusively in economic terms, wringing their hands over how expensive we are, a bunch of greedy geezers who they would rather starve than allow a Social Security cost-of-living increase.
“Is it any wonder nobody likes old people?
“The only positive words about us involve freaks who jump out of airplanes at age 85, reported by the media either as a joke or as an object lesson to all other old folks to get off our duffs and climb Mt. Everest.
“As regular readers know, I think about these things a lot and frequently rail against them…
But that doesn’t stop me from being amazed at how good old age feels. This is the most interesting time of life I have known.
“It seems to happen when I’m not paying attention that a lot of former imperatives fall away, making life easier and far less fraught with shoulds.
I am done improving myself. Self-help be damned. I am what I am and so I shall remain.
“My ambitions these days are about how I might be able to contribute to my community and not the next better, higher-paying job. I’m not competing for work or recognition or awards anymore and that takes off a load.
“My concern about myself has shrunk to little more than a daily mental checklist on well-being rather than how I compare with others. I have less to prove to them and to myself.
“I’ve almost learned that there are good days and bad days, good and bad moods, and that’s all right. Each is as much a part of living as the other.
“And, as I’ve mentioned here before, I have lost my younger sense of urgency, the need to do, do, do. I still find it odd that as my days dwindle down, I more frequently say, “I’ll get to it tomorrow.”
“I still don’t understand that but it sure feels good and for a bonus, I suspect it helps keep my blood pressure in check.
“There is time now, finally, to be. Time to follow my interests and instincts, to investigate those avenues – internal and external – I was too busy for in the past. Or not. I get to choose and the freedom I’ve arrived at to do so thrills me.
“Whatever the rest of the world thinks about being old, from my vantage point of 72, it is unexpectedly better and more exciting than I ever guessed it could be.”
Lynne again: Are you surprised to find yourself happy at an age when we expected to be bummed out?