How Trump Will Get Anything He Wants From Congress
INTERESTING STUFF – 14 January 2017

The Long, Slow Winding Down of Old Age

Lately, I have made a few choices to do something or not do something because – well, it seems to be connected to my time dwindling down. Or, at least, that's the reason I “think” I am doing and (mostly) no longer doing some things.

That idea has some background in my life. Let me tell you about my great Aunt Edith who was born in 1895.

She left her home in Chicago at age 15 to join a traveling dance troupe.

Edith1911dancer250

A few years later, the troupe left her behind in Portland, Oregon, when she was laid up with pneumonia so she found a job in an office, eventually becoming the manager.

Those of you who live in the Portland area might like to know that in 1923, my great aunt Edith was queen of the Rose Festival. In those days, they were not chosen from high schools but more or less appointed from suggestions made to the Rosarian organization.

Here she is with her “court” from a book, Portland Rose Festival, written by George R. Miller.

QueenEdthandhercourt1023

Until she retired at age 70 in 1965, Aunt Edith worked all her life in various corporate executive positions at a time in history when hardly any women worked out of the home. Here she is at age 68:

Edithage68

In addition, she cared for her ageing and sick parents when they could no longer rely on themselves and she raised her sister's son, my father, from age 10, among other family obligations she took on as need presented itself – and there was plenty. It was always something in my family and Aunt Edith handled it all.

She was my favorite relative.

By the time she retired, I was long gone from Portland, in New York City then, and every week we spent an hour or so on the telephone together discussing cooking, books, the news, politics, telling each other funny stories and we also regularly wrote letters – remember those?

She included her recipes (she called them receipts) in those missives along with New Yorker cartoons and sometimes entire articles clipped from newspapers and magazines.

She knew everything that was going on in the world and had an opinion on all of it in addition to being funny, especially, in her later years, about the minor physical irritations of growing old. She was just great.

By the mid- to late-1970s, the letters still arrived mostly on schedule but they were shorter and there were fewer enclosures. In our phone calls, she didn't have as much to say about world affairs and increasingly repeated the same stories from her childhood in Chicago that I had heard many times.

(Thank god for telephones without video in those days: you could make faces to help yourself get through the one hundredth telling of the story about Fluffy the cat without the speaker knowing how impatient you were being.)

I don't mean to suggest that these changes were sudden. Aunt Edith's disengagement was noticeable in the beginning and it increased only gradually over a decade or more. At one point she said that she had given up reading books because her eyes tired so easily now and she lamented the fact that most of her friends were dead, even many who were younger than she.

When she made a joke about not being able to stand up after scrubbing the kitchen floor on her hands and knees (“Hello, Aunt Edith,” I said. “There is the newfangled thing called a mop with a long handle.”), my brother, who lived in Portland, arranged for a regular house cleaner.

Over time it felt to me as if, perhaps, interest in her own world and in the world at large was diminishing because they were becoming fuzzier, less clear - metaphorically, not physically - and she paid less and less attention.

Her time to leave was coming nearer and she did that in 1984, at age 89 after what was to my eyes, decade long period of preparation, an unwinding if you will, and a letting go of her attachment to the world.

Ever since then, I have believed that if Aunt Edith's “preparation” is not how it happens for everyone who doesn't die suddenly or unexpectedly, it happens to some, maybe quite a lot and without making a big deal of it, I've watched for those signs in myself.

In just the past year or so, there have a few small but, I think, telling changes. Examples:

The 2016 presidential campaign notwithstanding, I watch much less cable news which is to say political news since that is about 90 percent of what those channels cover. I'm slightly embarrassed to admit that it has taken me this long to become tired of the repetition (which was around long before Trump) and know that if anything important happens, it will be hard to miss.

Similarly, I have unsubscribed from a large number of news and commentary email newsletters. Again, it is the repetition that has made them irrelevant. Aside from a handful of commentators and columnists I respect and look forward to reading, I don't feel I need to keep up in as much detail as I did during the 40 years that it was my job to know what was going on in every area of news, politics and culture and have continued in the decade since retiring.

This applies too to a lot of reporting and commentary about ageing – I've eliminated about half of what I was reading or, lately, not reading and feeling guilty about it. (There's no more guilt if they don't show up in the inbox.) Ageing news tends to be even more repetitous than political news - if that's possible.

And I'm not proud to say that I've let the frequency of email correspondence with friends decline. It just seems that there is not as much to say as there once was. I get up, I work on the blog, I attend a couple of meetings or lunches each week, I shop, cook, read and sleep. Maybe in my old age my thinking has slowed and I use up all that kind of energy writing TGB. Or not. I don't know. But something has slowed me down.

As much as I find certain technology advances captivating, I have been hesitating for a long time before making new purchases. Most recently (for a year or more) it's the Amazon Echo Dot. I just love it. I read every new report about it and it costs only $49 - that's not a stretch for me. But I still haven't bought one.

There are some other purchases I've put off and may never make because at my age, how much will ever use them seems to be my reason although I can't be certain and it could be, unrelated to usage, that I'm simply in the earliest stages of what we might call, today, great Aunt Edith syndrome.

Not even collectively can a case be made that this list of minor changes represents the early stages of preparing to shuffle off this mortal coil, as they say. But then, maybe they are.

Maybe I am at the very earliest stages of following in Aunt Edith's steps toward the end. I wouldn't mind if that's what I'm doing now because I am going to be big-time pissed off if I die while I'm still interested and curious. I want to feel done with this life when it's time to leave and Aunt Edith's gradual letting go seems to be a good way to make that happen.

I'll update you when/if there's more to say about this.

Comments

Get an Amazon Echo! My 81 year old hubby loves his. Mainly, he plays music, checks stock prices, weather etc. He is having fun trying to find an old time music/singer that Alexa can't find. Alexa is winning, she played Ethel Smith playing the Hammond organ.

On a more serious note... I completely understand your thoughts in today's post. Everyone is entitled to handle life in their own way.

Side note: the "you are only are old as you think you are" and similar nuggets of wisdom are "fake news". Or at least don't apply to me. 🌼

Many people don't have the luxury of being able to "wind down" one's time here on earth. Take advantage of it while your mind is clear and your heart is in the right place.
Express your feelings to others before it's too late. For instance, I have no idea what my parents thoughts were regarding the life they had, their relationship with each other or with me. They just got old and, one day, they died.

Ronni, a techy friend gave me an Amazon Echo Dot for xmas, and I honestly don't have any use for it. I'd be happy to send it to you, otherwise it's going in the donation box! You have my email address from some previous Interesting Stuff submission.

It's funny you should write this at this particular time. This Christmas season just past brought on thoughts that it is time to give up many of the preparations I usually undertake. I don't mean giving them up grudgingly, but with a sense of "been there, done that" and moving on to a simpler way of living and with a sense of moving on. I'm in my early 80s so it's certainly time to do so, but I had such a clear vision of doing so and not minding at all. It came as a relief!

Thank you so much for sharing about the slow, winding down of beloved Aunt Edith (you favor her!) and your own. You have helped me honor my own letting go, releasing, making peace with gradual limitations and disconnecting from repetitiveness. I've been increasingly focusing on what's most interesting, least unpleasant, required and utterly fun and frivolous. Now, I am feeling reassured that there's logic to the process, and that I'm in the best company!

Interesting thoughts. Yes, I too would prefer to die when my interests and curiosities are no longer vibrant. And I can certainly say that I chose not to do certain things that, even though they interested me when I was younger, just dont seem to now. I havent watched TV for 20 years so that maybe doesnt count (I'm now 71). And every morning I used to turn on NPR to listen to what was going on in brief as I ate my breakfast. Now, I seem to have lost the interest. I certainly dont want to hear more political suppositions but then I never did before either. I dont feel as competitive (with myself) as I used to. How many books read this year, how many stories written, how many new art projects explored etc. Really who cares. What I do like to do is walk 2.3 miles 5 days a week, cook homemade meals, read far fewer books than the younger me, but still read. Stare out the sun window at the pond. Contemplate my life and how I ended up here. But I no longer have the drive to make something of it all. Or out of it all. No need to translate it into fiction/memoir/art. Maybe this is just a phase. I hope so. I do have inklings of making a medicinal herb garden this spring. But whether I do it or not......

Ah, so that's what I've been doing the last year or so. Only I've called it 'down-sizing'.

I'll be 76 in November and my husband 88 in March and we're both in fairly good health for our ages. We don't go out as much as we used to and I've cleaned out cabinets, closets and drawers of things we rarely or no longer use.

The hours and days seem shorter and I can no longer get things done as quickly as I once did.

Our world is smaller and we're content to watch it go by. It doesn't feel like "our" world anyway, and I've grown tired of running to keep up.

Thanks, Ronni. Always enjoy your posts. Ar

I'm with Linda C.—I think you would love a personal assistant like Echo (Alexis) or Siri (Apple). I have Cortana on my laptop, but admit I haven't really explored it.
Your story about your Aunt Edith was so touching. Her gradual decline reminds me about my mother's descent into Alzheimer's, and eventually death at the age of 94. She gave us all of the warning signs, but we were hesitant to let her go. She died 6 years ago, leaving seven children and many grandchildren. We miss her to this day. Everyone leaves a legacy. I only hope mine will be as illustrious!

Thank you for leading the way in this. At 70, I find I have been taking tiny steps in this direction for years now. I had decided back in my 50's that I wanted to grow old gracefully, not deny it or fight it.

I find I am now going through much of what you describe - my social life is shrinking and I actually find it more of a relief than a problem. I have lots of more time to focus on what is really important to me rather than worry about things like supplying the daily needs of my family. At this point, I am more actively concerned about what is happening around me, just because I now have the luxury of time and emotional energy to care. It no longer really matters to me much what others think of me - or the fact that they don't very often. I am going through a phase of deliciously living for myself and loving it. I no longer care about sentimental objects with emotional attachments and am clearing out everything that does not serve a purpose or bring me personal joy.

You have described me down to the dot. I am 71, and my awareness of winding down is becoming more clear every day. I really didn't think this would happen to me, as I've always been an extrovert, and a caretaker. But I'm no longer willing to put myself out like I used to, although I am still active in social justice issues.

I first became aware of this change in myself when I noticed that having people over for dinner seemed like twice the amount of work as it once was, and half as much fun. My social life went downhill from there.

I still have friends, most of them younger than I am, with children and grandchildren. An inordinate amount of their time goes to childcare and trips with family, and although I have no desire at all to pursue those experiences, I am reminded daily that I am childless, not by choice, but by circumstances, and that is that.

Oh dear.

Another thoughtful piece, Ronnie. Thank you. One small point you made - less lunches and meetings in a week - a friend made a similar comment. I still - at 72-tend to have something scheduled every day. After the New Year, I've decided to rethink in terms of weeks, not days. It's freed up time that has filled up in surprising ways. Unscheduled time begins to feel like a gift.

Not sure how to express the meaningfulness of posts like this one that provide personal growth and adjustments, as needed.

And the reflections and ideas of others here provides a giving, flexible web of understanding, comradeship and sharing which in the end has made aging much easier.

As Bruce mentions, it's worthwhile to write of our personal life, for others to eventually read and for ourselves. Doing that often takes me into myself which I've done in one way or another my entire life, and I still manage to find new purposes and ways to make life interesting and with some challenge.

(And thanks for keeping your donation tag up so I didn't have to remember. It's not much but provides some taxi/Uber/Lyft/mad money.)

Well, someone has to be contrary. Following my 81st birthday, we decided there is a great need to renew our travel visas for another decade. What optimism!

Sometimes it is just good to know the thoughts of others on this time of old-age. I'm glad you spoke to this subject, Ronni.

Yes, I also have been clearing the decks over the past year or so, both of physical possessions and those mental attachments that seemed so important earlier.

While not retreating, at 82 I'm a lot more choosy about what I allow into my own world.

Thanks for writing about the almost inevitable winding down of life. As you point out, different paths for different people. My younger sister died last Sunday. Quite a shock and still sinking in. There is no one way.

I'm 82 but I can't "let go" yet because of my children. I still feel like I have to pick them up when they fall and put band-aids on their scraped knees. The oldest turns 60 next year and the "baby" is thirty six.

Very moving essay Ronni. Thanks so much.

The other night my friend Janis and I watched Bright Lights a new documentary on HBO about Debbie Reynolds and Carrie Fisher. It made Janis very depressed because we watched people getting old and doing less. Janis hates that we're on this long slow decline. It doesn't bother me as much.

I accept the inevitability that I'll be able to do less and less as time passes. I don't like that, but I don't have a choice. But I'm like you Ronni, I'm trying to streamline how I use my time. I'm applying Marie Kondo's tidying up methods for homes to my time.

I have another analogy. There's an old science fiction movie, Destination Moon where the astronauts used too much fuel landing on the Moon. To take off for Earth they must jettison as much mass as possible. That's how I see getting old. To take off every day when I wake up I know I need to ditch a few more desires, ambitions and memories. I have to let go. I also know at 65 I'm just starting the process, and at 75 or 85 I'm not going to be able to carry very much. I expect to get very light before I die.

Wonderful story about your aunt.

I am fairly new to your blog and really enjoying it. I too had an inspiring great aunt.

At 78 I am clearing junk out of my life, because it anchors me to the past and blocks incoming new energies. I see some of my contemporaries getting calcified into habits and routines and opinions. They seem to dry up and die before they die. The very idea of change terrifies them. But we should know by now that change is the only constant. It seems to me that constantly adapting to change keeps me pliable. Life experience has taught me that everything is part of a larger pattern, even though I can't see the whole of it. And creating a minor change here and there, even while I nurture some comforting rituals, helps me prove to myself that I AM still alive and interacting with this reality.

Fascinating Ronni and understandable. I live so far away from family, they are in PA, I'm in TX. Even so we have parted ways ever since mom died. I'm now the evil sister. No matter I took care of those two a lot when I was a teen. I can shuffle off and it wouldn't bother them a bit. So what I'm saying my circle of friends is smaller and family smaller still.

My concentration now is to pay attention to the needs of my dear husband as his memory slips more than mine.

Today's post and comments are a great source of comfort for me...I thought I was the only one finding myself winding down from some pursuits and reorganising my head space. I just love unscheduled time these days and worried about getting lazy, or that something was seriously wrong with me as I watched my energy drain away.

Loved your Aunt Edith's story.

One thing won't change, Ronni: my enthusiasm for your blog.

Thanks for the post, Ronni. Your Aunt Edith had an interesting life for a woman of her time; she certainly sounds like a can-do person--until she decided not to be.

I agree with Arleen that in many ways it's no longer "our" world--it's a strange feeling but I suppose perfectly normal in the overall scheme of things. For example, there are aspects of today's ever-evolving technology that I have chosen not to follow or engage with (my life is NOT on my smartphone screen; I'm not on Snapchat or Instagram; although I use Facebook and Twitter, I'm not a "regular" on either). We've been downsizing for the past 3+ years, especially since we moved to the 55+ community where we live now. I also concur with sflichen on being a lot more choosy about who/what's in my life.

Being an essential introvert, there are people-oriented aspects of ageing (like entertaining, joining every committee that comes along and socializing in general) that I don't need to give up because I never did most of them willingly or well anyway. I'd opine that the winding-down process may be considerably harder for extroverts.

I'm still interested in following what goes on in the world, and would like to stay that way until the end (which I hope is quick!) is very near. I don't like the physical limitations that age brings at all, and I'm not always graceful about giving up things I could do easily a few years ago. I've never been very good at "contemplating my navel" and, while that may change IF I live long enough, I'm not there yet.

I hear you Ronni.
A soon to be 78, I've found myself living this process you describe
for the last few years. So much less to say these days.
Everyone who has been dear in my life, remains so,
but my days of cultivating these connections are over.
They are complete.

It's been an adjustment for my friends
who have known a different me for many years,
who feel they are losing something. Someone.

I haven't been struck dumb, but for whatever reason have become
more non-verbal. not non-caring.
I just no longer have much to say, which is surprising to us all.

I am aware I am living a life tinted by change,
with 'packing' going on behind the scenes.
A process not of my doing so much, as more of my allowing.
I've come to trust it. It took a while.
Slowly, naturally, I've become more an observer than a doer in my life.

The ebb and flow of all things me.

At this point, I've never been more full,
though my life has never 'read' more empty.
I've never felt more connected to THE all,
yet felt so disconnected from IT all.

Change yes, but there is a lot to be said for this 'here' of here. :)


Thanks for the story of your aunt. She sounds like you in many respects. I think she would be proud of what you are doing.

I too am standing on the sidelines of life these days, and very happy to be doing so. My health is not good and my energy is limited, but my mind is active and I am enjoying this less active life a great deal.

In a few months we will be moving, for the first time in 40 years. My goal is to move with no more than half of my possessions. And I have recently thought it should be a smaller amount than that. Now if I just can find the energy for packing.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading your article and can relate to many aspects of it. I'm also reminded of how my father's physical world diminished with his interests. He used to work in his big shed at the back of his very large yard, then he created a smaller shed halfway down the yard. The next step was moving his tools into the enclosed back verandah before he eventually gave up making and repairing things. He died at 98 but I think his ending of life was very similar to your aunt's, a gradual discarding of irrelevances.

Once I learned my math tables in grade school repetition became my nemesis. Doing most anything more than twice grinds my gears for some reason. As a result I've lived in five states in more than twenty five locations and have had more employers than I recall. I'm able to make bread and oatmeal the same every time but all other meals (I'm the family cook) are a surprise that for the most part we enjoy. I am ready to sell the house, buy an RV and take a trip around our soon to be not great country. At 65 life has been fun, but I'm hoping to be at the expiration date soon.

Your Aunt Edith was an extraordinary woman! I wished I had an Aunt Edith. I was wondering if there were women she emulated in her detachment from the outside world? Was there conversation about this among women her age? I did not have a grandmother. Sometimes, I think about the many elderly women I saw when I was growing up, out and about, or at my first job as a teenaged salesclerk in a department store. The world then seemed to be filled with elderly women.

A timely post.

My life has pretty much lost meaning/purpose since retirement last year. Empty nest syndrome plus widow does not a happy life make. I often think how different life would have been if my husband were here. Yes, we'd have fought - but there would have been a chance to get to know each other again. I'm told not to look back, but forward, but its not easy.

I'm downsizing and have found that I yearn for simplicity and less possessions, as in my childhood. However, difficult to let go of possessions, particularly after a lifetime of having to be thrifty. This decluttering is the most difficult job I've ever done (if someone had told me this years ago, I'd have laughed).

I find myself much slower in doing the same tasks. This still confounds me, and I think I can do better surely - but, no amount of resting increases my energy levels.

At 65 I think I'm ready for death. My 97 years old dad is alive, although mentally he left a few years back. He still looks after himself and I am amazed at that. I am also scared that I may live longer than I'd like, but too scared to do something about it. I know I need to push myself out of my comfort zone, if only to be a role model for ageing for my adult kids, but its very difficult.

Re Alexa and Siri, they have their uses. But do I really want to be dumbed down that much - to me, its like Spellcheck: sometimes causes more confusion than it helps.

I look forward to your posts and the comments - reading both are my highlights of the day.

What a beautiful woman!

In his book, Billy Crystal mentioned his uncle who, in his 70s, started to dispose of things he felt he didn't need any longer. He was down to a plate and fork (according to Billy Crystal) and lived to be 107. We just don't know, do we?

Well, I understand your sentiment. But I don't think getting bored with cable news is a sign of aging. I think it's a sign of intelligence. Btw, I knew you were descended from royalty!

What a beautiful post. How lucky for you to have known someone like your Aunt Edith!

The comments, too, have been wonderful, and I'm happy to learn about 'Destination Moon', to ponder the difference between 'THE all' and 'IT all', and to be reminded about the donation tag (!)

I admit, though, to being a bit sad that some are already feeling ready to depart this life at, what seems to me, the relatively young age of 65 or 70. I had my one child, with whom I am very close, late in life, and while I realize that this likely means I won't be around to see or have a long relationship with grandchildren, should there ever be any, I hope that I'll want to stick around for my daughter as long as possible, especially since our extended family of mostly introverts is quite small.

As usual, Ronni, so much food for thought from you and the TGB readers.

your aunt was a grand-dame in every sense.
But what you are experiencing is simple Time Management.

My parents, at ages 91 and 96, finally moved into assisted living last year after my mom became too physically weak to cook. (But not to order the cook around!) She still watched TV news and a couple political shows as well as MN Vikings football until she got to the point where she fell asleep every time she sat down. (She died a few months after the move.) My dad has a Bloomberg program on his computer and follows the markets most of the day, continuing to ponder an occasional investment. He has stopped reading books because he falls asleep when he does that.

I live across the country from my parents so I only saw them once or twice a year but each time I visited I was impressed by how they simply continued living, planting flowers in the fall for the next spring, reading the grocery sale papers for the best bargains, planning to be here every day. Their lives had become constricted by physical ailments but intellectually they were as active as ever.

At age 65, I find I want my life to slow down. I want more space to do the things I love and to be involved in other people's lives. It's a different season of life and I'm glad it's not like the earlier ones.

Ah, more food for mind and soul, intelligent truth speaking about a topic which interests us all deeply. Thank you.

In my forties I had a dream in which I was living in an extremely sparse, Japanese type room. As I sat in stillness in the center of this space, I felt complete, whole, home. And knew that it was my old age.

To others my life looks slower, less eventful. Whereas I feel a drawing closer to essence.

Lovely, Salinda.

I'm 75 and have had 6 concussions. Yesterday I had a very busy day running around, delivering soup to someone post-surgery, taking an old suitcase to be used by foster children, etc etc. I was supposed to go to a talk on civic activism in the evening. An hour before leaving, or when I would have left, my right arm got tingly.

Then I reached for a phone which was a PHOTO of a phone in a book I was reading on tips for dealing with low vision. I laughed when I realized what I'd done. Silly me, I said. Two minutes later I reached for the same frigging phone! So I went to bed instead of driving to town for the talk.

Seems my brain has an idea about slowing down in spite of my super woman complex.

I have lived alone for 11 years, I do not think I would be happy living with anyone I was married almost 40 years to much trouble living with anyone maybe not always agree n maybe they would get sick my late husband died of cancer watched him die was not good or maybe I would get sick n that would not be good at almost 76 n I do not especially like to cook so I would need one that cooks n cleans up after himself do not want to fight over money or my daughters or his kids just wouldn't work like someone for company but none that I really like or that likes me like a keeper hard to do at 76 people are set in there ways at this age!

The women in your family have been remarkable, Ronni, and I include you in that group. Winding down is one thing, giving up is another. I know giving up is tempting when you feel powerless, which is me at the moment. But you have resources to make a difference in the next four years and I hope you will gear up to use them. Your readers are rooting for you.

And, btw, ignoring cable news is a sign of encroaching wisdom. More people should try it.


I call it "unraveling", as in unraveling a favorite old sweater so I can use the yarn to create something new.

Thank you Ronni, and all here... Such a gift of Wisdom. Love Salinda's words and will read them again. And, I too, was sad for those 'younger' women of 65 who had lost meaning/purpose in life. I was in that place a few years ago and eventually I needed to find/create new Purpose. I've been fortunate to do that, and while I, too, continue that letting go work - I do feel a sense of purpose. But I've also learned we ARE all unique and our paths are not the same, none of us knows when we'll be Complete.

I do want to mention, though, that in today's U.S. we are needed, if for nothing else, to act as mentors to younger adults as they do the work of resisting the trump government, and the work of recovering this country when it comes. I don't know how that will look, am still exploring.

I saw this post on Friday and I was moved to respond. I had just finished my own post (that wasn't scheduled to be posted until today) and I felt like it was a message that you and some of your readers may need to hear. So, I left your post open in my browser until today so that I could share my own post with you. The post is titled You Need to See How Inspiring this 98-Year-Old Woman Is! and I think it could be very inspiring..

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