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.”
I just started reading How We Age by Dr. Marc Agronin, and that’s an excerpt. 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 resigned 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! 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 two 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.
One of the difficulties we face as we age is letting go 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 have my blazers and dress pants. They fit well and look nice and I might have to dress up someday, right? It’s the last vestige of my ID, hanging in the guest-room closet. But now that I’m not Ms. Corporate, I can 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 More magazine this month, 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.
I can’t link to the article due to copyright considerations but it’s at your grocery store now. I felt invigorated after I read it, and I wish that for you.
(Apologies and best wishes to those seniors who lost their retirement dreams in the Great Recession. I hope and pray that things get better for you very soon.)