Susan Peters, ” living a vigorously physical and intellectual life…”
“Not everything that is faced can be changed. But nothing can be changed until it is faced” James Baldwin.
I am in my seventh decade. A former runner, my sprint through life, along with that of other baby boomers, is more mental than physical now. Boomers are living longer, with fewer children to care for us.
A Google search reveals that the average life expectancy of a woman born in 1925, the year my mother was born, was 60.6. She lived to be 96. The life expectancy of a woman born in 1949, the year I was born, is 73.2. So modern science offers us longer life, though not necessarily better-quality lives than the generation before us. A painful conundrum.
I binge-watched Frankie and Grace, the Netflix series starring two of my favorite actors, Jane Fonda and Lillie Tomlin. It offers an intelligent, funny, bittersweet view of the lives of two aging women who learn that their husbands are gay and in love with one another after decades of marriage. While the men’s “coming out” is a central theme, the aspect of the series that resonates with me is the representation of the issues of aging my generation faces. Ageism, joint replacement, dementia, the desire to age in place are all themes we encounter as our bodies betray us.
We often hear the term “age gracefully.” I believe aging gracefully is an oxymoron.Getting older is an increasing state of rigidity. Although a tree’s young, green limb is soft and bendable, a mature branch breaks when bent. It is hard to accept and adapt to our physical and mental changes. Recently my forty-year-old son said,
“The need for security conditions us to resist change, causing suffering, even as the Universe shows us that change is the only thing that is permanent.”
At seventy-two, I am grateful to be living a vigorously physical and intellectual life, aging is the farthest thing from my mind, yet I see and feel the changes coming. It starts with an ache that visits regularly until it becomes permanent. We notice thinning hair and skin that becomes so dry that constant moisturizing is essential for comfort. The intervention products get thicker and smell worse. Personally, the skin on my back is so sensitive that I cut or rip the tags from all my shirts and tees lest they irritate me to the brink of insanity. Sensitive skin is real.
So…how do we face the reality that we will leave the spring of our lives, move into fall and finally face the cold winter? How the hell do you do that gracefully?
As gracefully as possible, passing the baton and accepting our transition from invincible youth to vulnerable elders distributes the reins of accumulated power and leadership. Thus, allowing the next generation’s heroes to move forward, as we accept a role as mentors and knowledge giants. There IS a lot of juice in us still! Planning for others to take the lead is necessary.
[photo credit, Saint Joseph Michigan, view of Lake Michigan from the John and Dede Howard Bridge – taken by Muasa Mwewe (my son)]
Here are my thoughts on preparing for the ungracefulness of aging.
Design your best-case scenario while you have the time. For example, do you desire to live at home with paid support join a retirement community with graduated levels of care? Move in with your family?
Hold the Line. Exercise, eat healthily, and develop a partnership with your doctor.
Access your finances realistically. That includes social security earnings, pension, investment, real estate, and savings.
Evaluate your possessions. If you love an item and want it to live beyond you, give it to people or organizations that will value it. Or be okay with survivors tossing your treasures into a dumpster.
Access your support system. Do you have trusted persons that can share in your care? Have you invested in long-term care insurance that will finance your lifelong care?
Plan your happy ending. Yes, you can Pre Plan your funeral, homegoing, or whatever your tradition is for the resting place of your mortal remains. Write your obituary. Tell your story your way. That way, there are no unintentional omissions.
Put your power of attorney in place. A power of attorney is a person, or persons, that you legally empower to make decisions about your health and finances in the event of your incapacitation. Make it clear who will make those decisions. Confusion can rip a family apart.
Plan for an elderhood that honors you and those who care for you.
Susan D. Peters, aka, Ahnydah (ah-NIE-dah) Rahm, brings a wealth of experience gained as an expatriate living in West Africa. Her memoir Sweet Liberia, Lessons from the Coal Pot, received the Black Excellence Award for Non-Fiction from the African American Alliance of Chicago and the Mate E. Palmer award for Non-Fiction from the Illinois Press Women’s Association. Stolen Rainbow, a short story focused on the post combat recovery of a beautiful marine captain after a devastating combat injury. Broken Dolls, represents Susan’s foray into mystery writing and is the first of a series featuring the flawed Detective Joi Sommers as its heroine. The second Joi Sommers mystery, The Iron Collar is a riveting story with multiple ingenious twists, and Slay the Dragon the third in the series, illuminates the sexual exploitation of children in expected and unexpected ways. Susan’s work is featured in numerous anthologies. Buy her books online and at www.SusanDPeters.com.