Life Springs forth in one’s youth and Summer nurtures its productivity
I can still remember the excitement of turning 6 years old. It meant that I would be going to school to learn to read and write. I didn’t care much for being 13 though, because I felt awkward and out of my depth but at 16 felt like I had arrived. Then from 26 years to 36 years I was my happiest because I really had grown up and was an autonomous being. I was working, married and later had two children. I had purpose.
The harvest of Autumn years
Turning 57 last year didn’t have the same thrill. Ever since my mother died in October 2019 it felt like the hammer had fallen hard upon me. Over the previous years I had watched her dwindle away slowly, shifting from a vibrant creative being, to tired worn out body laboring to stay alive. It saddened me to watch her go through this wasting away; she was no longer independent and autonomous. I was her only child so I eventually I was given power of attorney and I felt the responsibility as an honor and as a heavy burden.
Since she died I have become so much more aware of this path she took and now I face the aging path myself. Some people refer to this stage as the senior years. We are all on this path. It feels so thrilling to grow up but it can feel very daunting as we face the fact that we have grown up, matured, and are now slowly becoming seniors, shifting toward the end our journeys. I have always seen it as the cycle of life but there is little comfort in this knowledge if one just resigns oneself to a meager life. When I asked my husband if he ever thinks of growing old his answer was: “Only with reluctance.”
What changed my view?
Reluctance is exactly what I felt at the beginning of last year. I was not happy about growing old. My view was negative. As I was sitting in my doctor’s office I looked up on his wall and I saw a painting that just about changed my life or the direction of my life; it was not the content but what I learned about the artist that I found profound. I knew the doctor did sculpture and so I asked him if he had painted it and he said: “No that was done by a patient of mine who is in her 90’s; she still travels, paints and writes.” And in that moment I thought “Wow, I want to be like that lady when am old.” And so last year was the year I decided to make some lifestyle changes and lost 14kg amongst other things; I also changed my mind set about growing old.
After I had seen the doctor I went home and researched “older women’s lives” on the internet. I wanted to see the women who were thriving, not just surviving in a meager way. I read about women in the 50’s, 60’s and even 80’s becoming models, writers, going back to college and changing careers, becoming active, running changing lives and moving continents. It was most inspiring. Instead of giving up or shutting down I decided to make things happen. Another thing I did was start regular exercise. I decided I wanted to be agile, supple and energetic for as long as possible. My “train” of thoughts was heading in the wrong direction and so I made changes to my life. Today I can lift objects 3 times the weight that I could before I started exercising. I can feel I am much stronger. Needless to say I feel much more confident in my body.
It is important to plan for your retirement (or becoming a senior) but I don’t just mean financially. It is important to save for the future. Hopefully we can, although some people never get to stop working, out of necessity, or because they want to work – it’s what gives them meaning. For me, retirement is not just about stopping a career, it is about change: changing life situations and change in ones body. It is about winding down and it is inevitable. It might even mean stopping certain habits, or pastimes and abilities. It could very well be about starting new things that might be challenging but uplifting. Sometimes this changing process includes a slower paced life or children have left home, or your house is too big and it is too much for you to look after. There are so many ways in which ones life changes as one moves into the autumn years. If we plan we can reap the rewards.
The autumn years are like a train journey: as one gets older the tracks shift direction. It is a good thing. I have grown wiser and calmer. I know what I want and my boundaries are firmer. I have learnt to communicate clearly and kindly. In order to live a thriving life without reluctance I need to plan for the future: apart from finances, health is important too. I got cancer in my late 40’s. No one could have predicted it. We will have to face many unforeseen circumstances, even if we do plan. We won’t be exempt, but I believe planning for a thriving life is the aim, and then the rest is up to Grace.
What do you want from life as you grow old?
In the following list consider the possibilities of gains and losses:
- Friends, family, pets,
- hobbies, skills, charities, careers,
- sharing wisdom,
- travel, smaller home, responsibilities,
- health care, more time, less energy, sagging skin, wasting muscles,
- reading to one another, sharing interests, bird watching,
- gardening, walking, sailing, crafts, creativity, cooking, baking,
- the list is endless.
It is up to us to decide how we are going to live.
It doesn’t mean that I am unaware of the losses: we will lose loved ones, partners and friends; loss of dignity; loss of autonomy and independence: loss of mobility, handling your own finance or even feeding yourself or your ability to walk. The loss and letting go continues until finally it is time to pass on. Normally by then one is ready to pass on but between 58 years old and the time I die (whenever that is) there is much to be done and much life to be enjoyed no matter where I am or where I live.
Have you given growing into your senior years any thought? Does the prospect scare you? Or do you see yourself thriving and living with Grace? These are the thoughts I have been mulling over recently.
Take care, till next time.