What does “Aging Gracefully” Mean Anyway?

I just came back from spending the weekend with a girlfriend in a nearby town.  (Yes, we still call ourselves “girlfriends” after more than three decades of adult friendship.) When we have a girls’ weekend, we talk constantly, eat out, critique every movie, TV show, book and nutrition plan we’ve heard of, and inevitably, the subject turns to how it feels to be this age. 

Becoming a grandmother isn’t what made me realize I’m aging.  It started when my last parent passed.  That’s when I first listened to whispers of my own mortality.  Every morning, one of the whispers says, “Better get moving.  Get to doing.”

Occasionally I don’t feel all that graceful when I wake up and parts of me don’t work as well as they used to.  (Knees, I’m talking to you.)  At first I’m ticked off, but by the end of the day I ask myself, what did you expect?  Things aren’t brand new anymore.

I learned nothing from my upbringing about aging gracefully.  My mother’s only advice about the passing years was to encourage the use of more moisturizer so boys will like you.  She considered all men potential boyfriends and in her teens she married a man who, through some combination of mercy and grace, turned into a grown-up husband who behaved like her sweetheart all the days of their lives.  He raised his wife along with us kids while she clung tenaciously to the role of teenager, even in the face of some gritty realities.

When I got my first mailer from AARP, I jumped right into their arms.  There I was coasting along in the vague category of ‘somewhere past her mid-forties” and as long as my grown daughter wasn’t around, nobody knew for sure.  Then came that AARP card and full disclosure set in.  It felt like a kind of freedom.

I asked my mother once on a particularly significant birthday, did she feel any different?  She said what we’ve all heard a million times, that she still felt 18 inside.

I’ve had several significant birthdays of my own since I asked her that, and now I know what she meant.  And she was also right about the moisturizer.  Much more of it is required.

Most days I don’t care whether taking good care of my skin (I still do it) makes anyone like me better, because another surprise benefit of getting older is that it doesn’t matter as much what somebody else thinks.  I wish my mother had allowed herself that perk.

During this latest girlfriend weekend, we agreed that aging doesn’t feel like a cause for despair, but instead it feels like a gift, something we get to do if we’re lucky. Aging gratefully is something I wish my mother had understood.  

Ó By Anita Garner 2009  

Long Term Care

I keep living as if the glass is half full.  Always the optimist, I cling to the belief that I’ll enjoy good health for a long time, and when that changes, I hope to continue this delightful relationship with my family while maintaining my independence.  I’d rather annoy them with my independence than by being a financial drain.  Oh, that’s right.  That’s what we all want.  But it’s likely that one day we’ll need help.   

Stay with me here,  because I still believe this is an optimistic topic.  Planning how not to be a burden should be a positive.  Key word: Planning.  Something I haven’t done yet.   Until now, I carried around all these images that could work, might work. The old fashioned place where everybody knows your name and will miss you if one day you don’t show up.  Neighbors who keep track of each other.  Maybe a charming community center a half block away where seniors drop in to visit and chat and eat delicious food.  Options we’ve seen on television – such as the Golden Girls – living vital lives in a big home with room enough for each of their large personalities.  

Images – that’s what they are.  I don’t personally have knowledge of an ideal model for aging.  I do have a couple of wise and/or fortunate girlfriends (yes we still call ourselves girlfriends no matter our age) who have financial planners who’ve helped them take care of the future.  But those girlfriends had resources years ago.  Back when I divorced, I didn’t have enough resources to interest any financial planner in keeping an appointment with me.  Now the future is here and it’s time to get something together that will keep me from losing whatever I’ve accumulated, should I face a debilitating illness.

I have one child who is now raising a child.  I don’t want to have anything but a positive impact on them, and when I’m gone, I hope their memories are good ones.  Surely there’s a way to achieve  – quickly – some  kind of balance between my inevitable aging and my daughter’s inevitable worry about me. 

Because as a nation we still worship youth, we continue to postpone the prospect that we will actually be old someday, and so we postpone learning about options.  In this country we’re pretty much on our own in terms of health care.  After all the years of working and paying taxes, and all the years of campaign promises, and all the years of voting, and  all the turnover in elected officials who promise remedies, I don’t see any progress.  Our country’s health care system is an embarrassment.  It demonstrates an ignorance or downright lack of concern about this part of life that millions of us have entered.  It’s shocking to be a rich nation and still so poor in terms of dealing with the needs of an aging population.  I’m ashamed of us.

So I’m off on a search for an insurance policy that will help pay for future needs, which aren’t covered by anything I already pay for.  I’ll also have to factor new premiums into my budget.  I’ll start with AARP and see what they have to offer.  AARP is my new community center.

Ó  By Anita Garner