Reflections on Getting Older

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summerI used to have this fantasy that the summer months should be a time of fun, relaxation, and not thinking about anything too serious. I suppose I could work on maintaining that illusion, but the passage of time and life events often prevent that from happening. For one thing, my birthday is smack in the middle of the summer. Since my birthdays are often a time for reflection (as they are for many people) I am sometimes prone to having some sober thoughts even in July and August.

As always, I struggle with how much to say about what is happening in my life. I don’t want to write about stuff that will be a downer, but I need to face reality and writing it down is usually a positive thing for me to do. So, here it is. What is on my mind right now is getting older. Maybe my words will not only help me get through a somewhat sad feeling, but also help those of you who have had similar experiences and feelings.

I have shared with you already that this past winter was hard for me. The first thing was the loss of two wonderful people of my generation whom I loved deeply. Their illnesses and deaths were dizzily abrupt – too swift and unsettling to process and deal with at the time. I am working all of that through now. Of course, there is nothing really to work through except to allow the accumulated sadness to enter into my spirit and find a place to settle quietly where it doesn’t agitate my consciousness every day. In a way, this sadness feels good. I am acknowledging it, even welcoming it as a delayed, but necessary passage. I know it will dissipate gradually over a long time. I also know it will never quite go away and that is OK because it is one of the ways for me to remember the people I lost.

The second thing that happened was that I had some health issues. None of these problems were life-threatening or even chronic. I am extremely grateful for that. Yet, I had a spate of episodes in rapid succession that each caused me a lot of pain and which left me incapacitated for what fortunately turned out to be relatively short periods. I am mostly better now, but I’m still having some residual aches from time to time. Just as that sadness of loss will never disappear and continue to be a reminder, maybe it is reasonable to have an ache now and then. It offers a different set of reminders. One, it tells me that I am vulnerable (I have mentioned this before) and that I can no longer be smug about how healthy I am. Basically, I am well and strong, but I have had a tendency to put my healthiness out there without being sensitive enough to people who may not be as fit as I have had the luck to be.

In addition, these health issues have confronted me very bluntly by saying that I am getting older, something that I have wanted to ignore. Intellectually, I know I am getting older. After all, that is what I write about. But I hadn’t allowed that reality to slip into my psyche. It has been easy to disregard the fact that I am marching in quicker and quicker time towards being among the “older” old. I still have a number of years to go before I will become one of the “oldest” old. But, now more than ever before, I can see that ahead of me.

For the first time, I am wondering how I am going to handle the future. This is clearly because of the losses and my own slight decline in health. Of course, I will still keep doing what I am doing now – keeping my mind and body active, being with and loving my family and friends, and working for the good of my community. I can’t think of anything else to do. I don’t think that doing these things will keep me young – that would be a delusionary fabrication. I realize that it is more important – actually essential that I think of these things as a way to keep me vibrant and productive even as I get to be older and older.

I will continue to age and I worry about the potential for losing more people I care about. I don’t want to contemplate having more health and well-being problems. Yet, both of these are things over which I have almost no control. So, I guess my job going forward is to do what I am doing in these current circumstances: experience a multiplicity of events both unhappy and happy, acknowledge them, bring them into my being, incorporate them into my array of experiences, learn from them, and keep going. I must expect to have a lot of good things in my life and revel in them. But, more unhappiness is also likely and I am being prepared each day by the passage of time.

Comments

  1. Still the Lucky Few

    August 2, 2016

    I do believe that we are being prepared gradually for becoming older, and especially for the very real possibility that we will lose people we love as we do. I think that happens so that we won’t be entirely shocked. I am leaving in a week for a family reunion, where I will see a very dear sister I have not seen for three years. I am bracing myself for this, since I am sure I will see changes, since she has been ill.And I’m aware of my own escalating experience of aging—soon I too will enter a stage I call the ‘old,old’. Like you I try to stay active and healthy, but I’m more conscious now of this stage approaching fast.

  2. TWYLA DELL

    August 2, 2016

    Hi, Marian, You have a lovely website that is tasteful, elegant, giving and realistic. I like that you don’t drift into “God talk,” but just stay with the reality of what we know. Happy birthday, by the way! Mine is on voting day. My first election was for John F. Kennedy on my birthday. I felt guilty for years afterward that I had helped to elect him to his awful demise. Anyway, yes, we are getting “older.” I refuse to call myself old yet. However, I’ve had several medical events of late that point me to that realization. I changed from Blue Cross Blue Shield insurance after my mastectomy in ’14 at the urging of a well-meaning friend. Getting on Medicare has been a nightmare. I have a bipap machine for which I received supplies from BCBS every three months like clockwork, but since letting the gov’t take over, I have not been able to convince them to replace my mask and hose. I have called repeatedly, gotten two calls from the Philippines. I have spelled out “h-o-s-e,” “m-a-s-k.” Way too complicated for the gov’t. So two weeks ago I came down with viral pneumonia. I can’t prove I got it from the old mask and hose, but I was plenty sick. Finally, in an all-but-missing voice I called and asked again and received the supplies the next day from a warehouse a couple of miles away..

    I also kicked up my sciatic nerve by carrying three large microwaves in and out of the house for various reasons. My 92-year-old husband can no longer carry anything because he’s blind and has balance problems, so I do all the heavy lifting. So now, I have a young dog who wants to walk the neighborhood and I can only go three or four blocks before my back is too painful to move. I apologize to the dog. I should have an old dog to fit my old body!

    My two-word mantra for myself is 1) relevant and 2) significant. I feel if I’m doing something in these areas I am not just waiting for “the bus” to come by. in that vein I am working on producing a children’s story to launch in the spring, “The Great jelly Bean War.” It is a sustainability story. I have hired an illustrator to bring it to life and that has been an interesting and invigorating learning curve. I have also decided to publish my dissertation and am adding a couple of chapters to it which require local interviews and research, These two projects more than fill my requirement for rationalizing my use of natural resources while filling up a place in suburbia.

    None of my close friends have passed yet, but my 60th high school reunion is August 7th in California, and I am not going. I spent Mother’s Day in the Denver airport from 9:30 a.m. til I finally and mercifully was lifted off to Burbank at 8:00 p.m. i spent an hour and a half standing in line only to miss the flight by about 20 minutes. Two weeks later we missed our grandson’s high school graduation in Austin, TX, because of a malfunction on that plane. We could not get another connection that could get us there even the next day. So I’m done flying. They want to see me, they can come to see me. Flying is for the youngER. Thankfully, the grandkids have all flown in for a visit.

    We spend our days in good spirits and good humor and reasonably good health. What should we expect at this age? Carl at 92 is in better shape than I because of my recent challenges, but he depends entirely on me to translate the daily mess into a workable path. Meanwhile I am staving off getting hearing aids and have given up trying to get stronger glasses. I use a magnifying glass and the strongest light I can buy. I am.not a bit afraid of dying, but i am afraid of what lies between “older” and “exiting.” May it be sudden and painless.

    I had a “Nana camp” for two 9-year-old girls, a granddaughter and her friend, this summer and decided we would paint. I had easels set up in the basement, paints, canvasses. It was fun. I remembered my mother painting when I was in my teens and I pulled out a painting of hers that has been in hiding since the ’50s. It was quite good. Then I found a couple of my own equally as old. So they are suddenly seeing the light of day and bringing back a flood of memories and talents I had never developed. I may just pick up a brush and like a cicada every few decades let my painting voice be heard!

    Thanks for your voice. We need it. Blessings to you as one of the generals in this aging army. TD

  3. Donna Soodalter-Toman

    August 2, 2016

    Frankly, getting older scares the shit out of me. I can’t do the things I really want to do like hiking and surfing and skating and dancing for endless periods of time. I hate the pains and the inability to answer, quickly, the questions on jeopardy! I dread steps and ice and getting out of soft chairs! On the other hand, I will take living over dying anyday!! I am so fortunate in my friends and family but don’t want anyone to have to care for me. Thinking as positively as possible but some days …..

    • Marian Knapp

      August 3, 2016

      Donna, I also can’t do some of the things that I used to be able to do and I hate it. But, like you, I keep going – that is really the only choice. Marian

  4. Sheila (Hollander) Rand

    August 3, 2016

    Hi Marian,
    I’m not as eloquent as you are,, but I have a different philosophy about aging. First of all, I’m a fatalist. I’ve had many surgeries, the last was a major spine surgery during which I lost so much blood and blood pressure that I was put into a medically induced coma for 4 days.. Not pleasant for me but worse for my kids and husband to see. I also have a brain aneurism which is being watched. So while I don’t know when my exit is, I choose to not worry about it and try to enjoy every day to the fullest. I volunteer at a retirement community when I can, and I’m very excited to volunteer on the Hillary Clinton campaign. My husband, Marv, will be 80 this month and has peripheral neuropathy which causes great pain in legs and feet, walks with a cane or walker but is happy it’s no worse. So my advice to you, the Doctor (PH.D.), is to just accept what you don’t have control over and enjoy every day with those you love and enjoy spending time. I also find that smiling and laughing a lot makes other people happy which gives me happiness, but it also has given me many wrinkles. Oh well, can’t have everything!!

    I admire all that you have accomplished and look forward to each of your posts on aging.

    Love, Sheila

    • Marian Knapp

      August 3, 2016

      Sheila, I am so sorry about all of the difficulties. I admire tremendously your attitude and perseverance. I usually have a very positive attitude about my own aging as well but this year was particularly difficult with back to back issues that left me drained. But I am back in my usual routines and moving forward with gusto. Marian

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About Marian

Marian Leah Knapp, Ph.D., wants to start a new conversation about “aging with intent.” Much of what is written about elders is from the point of view of physicians, psychiatrists, gerontologists, and adult children. In her roles as author, columnist, speaker and elder activist, Marian is reporting from the front lines.
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