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.