Letting go

It took me well into my seventies to finally, grudgingly, concede that yes: I was aging ..but not elderly.  Not yet.  After all, I could still swim a mile, keep up with the 40 year olds in my Yoga class – most of the time. My mental faculties seemed intact; I maintained a blog – played the piano – was at least as computer-savvy as my kids. My grandchildren were still in primary school – some of them anyway.

People said I looked young for my age.  I felt young.  To reinforce my mindset, movie stars, book authors and TV personalities offered endless advice about how they stayed young and beautiful, and therefore how anyone could.  Media ads inundated us with products guaranteed to make us into super-active, beautiful, deliriously happy retirees. Memory failing?  Arthritis pain?  Chronic fatigue?  Sexual malaise?  Pills for that, lots of them.  Wrinkles? Creams for that. Or surgery.  So what you’re a little “older.”  No worries.  There’s an App for that!

But there were these nagging signs, milestones, I couldn’t ignore. My husband’s failing eyesight now prevented him from driving; we were a one car family for the first time in our 40 year marriage.  Less than  half of my high school classmates were still alive, and many that were, lived with debilitating, often painful and humiliating  disease.   Lately friends had been insisting they had told me something; I just didn’t remember.  It was getting a little harder to walk apace my 40-something friends.  Gravity was making a frontal assault on key parts of my anatomy.  Walking in high heel shoes was high adventure.  Bedtime was getting earlier.  I needed a knee replacement.  

Unacceptable!    Clearly I had missed something: the right foods, supplements,  exercise, meditation technique.  Maybe I should go to a health spa, get some “work” done.  I’d talk to my longtime friend and confidant; we’d figure this out together, like we always did.  “Super-retirement”  or a reasonable facsimile thereof,  was surely possible.  I just needed a strategy.  

 But incredibly, my friend didn’t have a plan. In fact, she seemed not a little exasperated with me.  “Aging,” she told me with a sigh “is a process.   A process  of letting go”.

Not what I wanted to hear.  At. All.

In my gut I knew she was right, but I wasn’t ready to accept it. It was probably true for her, but it didn’t have to be that way for me.  I embarked on a  mission to “fix” the situation, to make my husband’s landing softer, to keep up with the 40 year olds at the gym, to make excuses for my forgetfulness, delay my surgery.   It was pretty ungraceful. It felt like holding my finger in a dike that threatened to crumble any minute. 

I’m not sure what life event eventually penetrated the thickly insulated layers of my denial. Probably it was a series of  little losses. A friend’s hospitalization, needing help with something that used to be routine, the growing number of medications in my pillbox.  It took what it took.  But slowly the stark light of reality broke through.  And surprisingly, it was not the downer I expected. It was a relief.

It took awhile, but these days I smile at the money grubbing commercials promising the fountain of youth in return for hard earned retirement dollars.  The famous personalities attributing the result of their cosmetic “work” to  exercise, good food, or their favorite potion.  Accept the door opened for me by the 30something. Do the exercise and eat the foods that work for me. Hang with my peers.  Admit I forgot – and make  notes. I’m no longer backing into the future.  I’ve found the shoes that fit and can finally move forward.

 Because letting go is not giving up, it’s just moving in a different direction. 

The Road Ends

I wonder if anyone really truly believes this.   So easy to buy into the lie that life is like a racetrack, a seemingly endless series of laps, a delusion
fueled by a culture that worships youth and marginalizes its elders.

 

I remember rolling my eyes when my mother and her friends launched into a  litany of aches, pains and  funeral reviews. I vowed I would never allow my world to shrink so small, become so focused on myself.  I would be involved with life – would have far more important things to think about.

But to my chagrin, I find myself actively participating in these conversations with my friends nowadays. It is, after all, what is happening to us.  One more thing to add to my list of things I vowed I would never do.

What I hadn’t counted on about growing old is that nothing  stays the
same for very long.  Some days are full of hope and good fortune.  I am brimming over with gratitude for my friends, my family, my reasonably good health.  Other days it takes all the strength I can summon to put one foot in front of the other, to stay the course.

If we haven’t learned life lessons along the way, if we don’t have friends and loved ones around us, if we don’t have creative outlets that give us joy, God help us.  Because the older we get, the larger the challenges, the bigger the losses, the less we control.

Living a successful old age is hard work, in my opinion.  I need all the resources I can muster.   But no matter what my situation,  I am in charge of the path I take.  I always have choices.

And in the final analysis, it’s  not that the road ends, it’s where it ends that matters.

 

 

 

 

A Matter of Life and Death

Lately I find myself thinking about death a lot.  Not in a morbid sense, just reflecting on the reality of it.  The necessity of death for the rebirth of spring.  The triumph of spring over the desolation of winter.

I’m not afraid of death, exactly. I’m not eager for it, but it’s harder to “fit in” to the world around me now and I don’t want to outlive my expiration date.   I’m just not finished yet, there is still more to do, more to be.

This surprises me.  By now I expected to  be wise, surefooted and  content to sit placidly with a cat or two, awash in memories of a life well lived.

Guess not.  Maybe in a year or two.

 

Image by joangonzalez from Pixabay

About time.

“Nobody sees a flower – really 

      it is so small it takes time –

      we haven’t time –

      and to see takes time,

      like to have a friend takes time.”

                                                                                          Georgia O’Keefe

Not so long ago, time stretched ahead in an endless ribbon winding out of sight to unlimited possibility and opportunity.  There would always be time.  To do more, have more,  be more.  Or ..to change course.  

But the paths were one-way, constantly bifurcating.  With each decision well reasoned or impetuous, other paths and their tributaries were lost to view.   Still, there was more time, surely.  

Then inevitably, imperceptibly, my  path narrowed and led me here.  Now the path ahead is straighter.  There will be fewer opportunities, fewer choices.  Each moment counts.

 It’s time to take time. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Who’s Yo GrandMama?

Visiting Grandma by Felix Schlesinger

Lately I have  become obsessed with my maternal ancestors.  Not in a genealogical sense – I really don’t care whether I am related to anyone famous or have royal blood,  and the proportion of my DNA originating in Scotland, Italy or England  is of no interest to me. So I won’t be ordering the kit

It’s not the DNA, but the lives of these women that fascinate me.   Since there was no birth control  and children were valued as workers, it was not uncommon for women to have 10 or more surviving children; most lost at least one to sickness. Moreover,  because of the physical demands on their bodies and lack of access to medical care, death in childbirth was common.  Surviving husbands in need of help with their households remarried as quickly as they could, bringing their children with them, creating small communities.   All of this in an environment facing epidemics of Yellow Fever, Tuberculosis, Typhoid Fever without antibiotics, immunizations or dentists.  And don’t forget wars.  One of my grandmothers (3rd great 1775-1824)  lost a father and brother in a Tory raid and grandsons to the Civil War.

Life was tough.  But they rose to the challenge, there was no other choice.

 

 

As I sit here in my air-conditioned living room, typing on my wireless laptop, drinking coffee from Columbia, it is almost impossible to imagine how my great grandmothers began their days.   At my age, if she lived that long, she was likely living with a daughter and her family and if healthy enough, charged with the care of the smallest children and the family mending. Breakfast would have consisted of food raised on their farm or bartered with neighbors, and depending on their economic situation, could have ranged from sausage and eggs to corn mash. There was no  radio, tv, household appliances or indoor plumbing.  Access to books was limited, often to a worn copy of The Bible  and most women never completed high school. Nearest neighbors were miles away and a letter could take a month to arrive.

Last week I had a melt-down over the internet service.  Admittedly, it was stressful, maddening, and ate up most of the day.  But really?  Internet?  This is a  problem my grandmother could only have dreamed about.

My grandmothers were hardly saints, as I well know from family stories.   I’m sure they complained about their hard lives. I could never agree with some of their beliefs, but  they were women of strong convictions and the determination and courage to stand by them.  The more  I learn more about them, the more grateful I am for their examples and humbled by the grace with which they lived their difficult lives.

So the next time I’m tempted to go rogue over some minor discomfort, I plan to stop and consider what my grandmothers’ response might be.

I hope it’s in the genes.