Monday Author: Susanne Skinner
“You have to embrace getting older” ~ Meryl Streep
Sixty is not the new forty. Sixty is two thirds of your life and when I arrived at this milestone, I confronted my own mortality. My age did not come as a surprise; but aging itself did. I never paid much attention to getting older because you can’t stop that train, but how I age is suddenly important. I want to get this right.
Aging is inevitable, but I don’t want to become old the way some people do. I want to remain curious and involved, entering each day with a sense of adventure and discovery. I want my mind to remain open to new experiences.
Getting older is the reality; however, I would like to go in to the last act of my life gracefully, with a sense of humor and the investment of time well spent.
Age is a Thief in the Night
I am caregiver for two people whose minds and bodies have eroded their ability to participate fully in life. One is ninety-eight, the other is only fifty-six. One is living well past the age most people reach when they depart this world, and one will die before she has the chance to age beyond her fifties.
Living into your nineties is an honorable milestone but passing years exact a toll; slowly taking away everything you started with. Hair and teeth are gone, mobility is managed with a cane or wheel chair, and the mind fades into childlike regression.
Child-like regression struck my sister when she was only fifty in the form of early onset Alzheimer’s, aggressively robbing her memories and shrinking her cognitive world. Both have made me acutely aware of the normal and unexpected changes aging brings.
Age is Just a Number
Measuring our lives by the number of years we’ve lived is one way to look at aging; but we should look inside as well as outside in the aging process. Aging with a bad attitude will etch itself on your body and your personality.
It’s true that aging brings hardships, but resilience, wisdom and perspective make us survivors, allowing us to enjoy our lives as we age. Getting older means you have come through the physical and mental challenges of each year—and that is something to celebrate!
People who age gracefully do so because they don’t focus on aging. They don’t lament what is no longer possible but accept what is inevitable as a benefit to actively participating in each phase of their lives. Living longer is the best reward.
Aging gracefully is not easy. Society is obsessed with pointing out negative aspects of growing older, especially to women. We live in a youth-oriented culture. By creating stereotypes that focus on youth and looks we give in to someone else’s standard of age and beauty.
Age does not guarantee a mature perspective, common sense or accomplishment. It is just a number. What we do with that number shapes us, affirms us, and guides us into each passing year with dignity and grace.
Attitude is Everything in Aging Gracefully
Ellen Langer, professor of psychology at Harvard University, studies the ways people’s attitudes toward aging affect their mental and physical health. She writes, “Despite what people say, few want to give up all the experience and growth they’ve accumulated over the years.”
I’m with her. I would not trade my current age to be young again. The journey through the various stages of my life and its experiences is an asset, not a liability. I have spent most of my years nurturing and caring for others. Aging brings each of us to a point in life where others will care for us. In between the two is the invitation to live life fully.
We are aging differently than our parents and grandparents. Retirement does not mean a rocking chair, nor does it mean we identify ourselves by a number. Many people still buy into this narrow definition of growing older, denying or preventing the chance for goals and dreams beyond a certain age because they are “too old.”
Men and women take better care of themselves today; getting actively involved in improving their physical and psychological health as they age. By continuing to pursue things that are important we focus on what is in front of us, not what is in the rear-view mirror.
Attitude is the primary secret to aging gracefully. Aging does not mean we become marginalized or reduced in stature. On the contrary, it is the perfect time to become a role model for younger women; showing them what aging gracefully looks like.
Live Life Boldly
Aging is a fact of life that is easier to embrace if you love yourself and your life. Keep your mind and your body active, stay engaged with the world, and build a life of purpose. Practice generosity.
Live boldly. Ask for what you want, and do not remain quiet when you have something to say. Don’t get stuck in regret or dwell on mistakes. Honor yourself by walking into each new day with attitude and confidence. End each day with gratitude.
Sixty may not be the new forty, but eighty can be the new sixty.