Not long ago, Marian Van Eyk McCain of elderwomanblog alerted me to a story at Huffington Post by 93-year-old Rhoda P. Curtis. She writes about our ageist society and some elders' fear of aging related to shame they feel about their aging selves.
”I think we need to accept ageing as a necessary process, not as a disease. Aging is a process that begins with birth, and does not need to be conflated with infirmity.” [emphasis added]
How right she is and the many comments left on her story mostly uphold her point of view. There was one, however, that reminds me of how often, in the ageism we constantly encounter, that elders are blamed and shamed for their afflictions and conditions.
The commenter first quoted one sentence from Ms. Curtis's story: “It isn't as if the ageing process was something we could control and/or manage.” Then, working overtime against Ms. Curtis's protest against shame:
”Of course you can control and/or manage your ageing process! Don't put garbage in your body, work out, eat natural and lightly, pray/meditate, maintain healthy community, keep learning. You'll still get old, but you'll be strong and vibrant instead of feeble and dull.”
Here we go again. It's your fault if your body fails you.
Perhaps I am particularly sensitive right now to the crap shoot of life having learned, Friday, of an old and dear friend who just underwent surgery for a malignant brain tumor.
His diet is more in line with health guidelines than most people I know. He never skips his physician-prescribed, daily, three-to-four mile walk. He has a close and loving extended family. He's always busy with one project or another. He is only 61.
My answer to the commenter is this: you are wrong; we cannot control and manage aging.
Certainly healthy eating, getting a reasonable amount of exercise, maintaining interests and friendships are good for us. But people who appear to do everything right get smacked with bad, even fatal health news every day.
World class runner Jim Fixx died at 52 of a heart attack. Being trim and active did not protect actor Mary Tyler Moore from diabetes. ABC News anchor Peter Jennings, who had not smoked in 30 years, died of complications from lung cancer.
I have no doubt the commenter I quoted is young enough to still run for the bus, climb flights of stairs and haul home 30 pounds of groceries. But plenty of elders who are otherwise healthy can't do those things anymore and there is no shame in that. It's called getting old. It's okay. The body winds down.
So let us reject those who think they know what's good for everyone else. We all die of something and on that journey, shit happens to some people no matter how hard they work at healthy living.
At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Jackie Harrison: My Naughty Computer