Aging Gracefully
How Do Our Aging Parents Make it Look so EASY?

Aging gracefully has not been an easy matter for me. One of my worst fears- after stage fright- is the notion of living out my old age and dying

  • alone,

  • penniless and

  • homeless.

My first encounter with the notion of being old was in my 30’s when I was advised and was thinking about drawing up a last will and testament. I was paralyzed by the prospect of declaring my wishes for my disposition on my death bed and how I would be disposed.
  • I just could not think about whether to donate my organs or donate my body to a medical school, or to have “minimal measures” or “do not resuscitate” orders.

  • Then I could not decide where or how to have my body finally dealt with. I was unable to complete this part of the document and I could not articulate why not.
    So, I realized early that I was not going to be aging gracefully.

I remember being surprised when I received an invitation to join AARP when I was approaching 50. I had no warning it was coming- and no warning that I was becoming a senior.

On the contrary, I was feeling in the prime of my life. And being a senior was one of the LAST things on my mind. I was disoriented by it and confused. At the time those of my acquaintances who were younger than I had not gone through this yet. I suppose anyone I knew who was older and had received this package already was as surprised and perhaps embarrassed to get it- confirming their age and the passage of time and their mortality.

As I approached the age of 65, I started to ponder what seemed to be several weighty issues for me.

  • Firstly, there seemed to be something momentous about turning 65 for me: traditional age of retirement, officially “old”, some transition in life to the next stage. As I asked some older acquaintances what was the most significant age in this regard. No one else said it was 65 for themselves. One said 60, another said 70, and another said “my next one- I’ll be 80 and I don’t think I am going to make it”- he has, by the way.

  • Secondly, there was retirement. I like very much the work I am doing. It is part-time and I am able to continue for several more years if I want to continue. But even thinking about the possibility was disarming for me. I asked a few acquaintances again about their experiences with retirement. To a person they said that retirement was the best thing they did and they are so happy now.

    However, EVERYONE said that they retired under duress- even at 65: that things were deteriorating at work, they administration had changed and nothing was the same anymore, they were finding it too difficult to keep up with the advances in their field and the younger staff, they were starting to have too many disagreements at work.

    I spoke with NO ONE who felt satisfied that their retirement was timed just right and was a wonderful experience for them. This aging gracefully business was for the birds.

  • Thirdly, I started receiving a lot of mail concerning this transition- from the government and from private insurance companies. I needed to learn all about taking pensions, medicare and social security. I knew I needed to make some serious decisions here that would affect me for the “rest of my life”. What about the different parts of Medicare? Should I start taking social security or wait? How much longer should I continue working? What about retirement? What if I make a wrong decision here?

I wish I could have had the benefit of the experience of my parents and in-laws with these and similar events in their lives. But at the time I had no interest- and they were struggling on their own I imagine. Now it is too late to go back. As I am becoming aware of my aging, I am also
dealing with aging parents of my own.

I admire how they have reached the level of comfort and tolerance with their aging that they have; and so also with my friends. I hope I am able to be aging gracefully like they are.

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