A Matter of Life and Death Or...
A Portrait of Elders on the Internet and a Book Giveaway

Adapting to the Changes of Old Age

Cicero

Being about midway into old age now, it seems to me that changes great and small come barreling down the pike lickety-split – that there are many more arriving at a much faster rate than at previous ages of life.

I can't prove that with facts and figures and numbers and charts but it feels about right and I've come to believe it is an important job of elderhood to learn to adapt as we are buffeted front and back, up and down, left and right and around again with each new, often unexpected development.

It's not easy. As you know, my life was upended three months ago with a cancer diagnosis. I'm still trying to find a way to make the large number of restrictions that control my days now as commonplace as, for example, brushing my teeth has always been.

It's frustrating that I'm not there yet. I have other things I'd rather do than try to remember if I took those pills after breakfast or treated my hands with that special lotion.

Although I've fought hard on this blog during its 14 years of existence against the generally accepted perception that there are no positives about growing old, it shouldn't be denied that loss is a part of it – more than most of us would like.

There are the ones to which we adapt with relative ease: eyesight and hearing can be successfully treated now; dental implants, if affordable, are almost miraculous; there are many ways to deal with graying hair and hair loss depending the degree of one's concern.

If you try to track down information on the internet about the changes that come with old age, the only things you will find are about health and debility. To the not yet old - the ones who make the rules and decide who is worthy - old people are defined entirely by failing health. Period.

(Keep that in mind as, in the next two months, Secretary of Health and Human Services, Tom Price, will do his best to dramatically increase what old people pay for Medicare. Cuts to Social Security are being crafted too. Stay tuned for information here about these proposed changes soon.)

But there is much more to growing old than health and although there is crossover among them preliminarily, I have placed these changes into five general categories: Physical, Emotional, Social, Calamitous and Cultural. In old age, all of them take away something we have been accustomed to for a lifetime and, usually, enjoy.

The physical is obvious as our bodies wear out, we slow down and we collect a group of manageable but annoying conditions such as arthritis, diabetes, balance difficulties, even living with cancer, etc.

Emotional issues range from such things as my obstinance about accepting daily changes caused by cancer to sadness from losses as old friends die or move away, and recognition of our own approaching death – among others. These are no small change.

We lose a lot of social engagement when we retire or don't get out and about as easily as we once did or reduced income prevents us from past social pleasures such as theater and travel.

The calamitous, of course, has to do with dire health risks to oneself, a spouse or other people we love. Only a few days ago did I realize that if the chemotherapy is successful and I am pronounced cancer-free at the end of six months, I will still need to be tested every three months for the rest of my life.

Four times a year I will hold my breath waiting for test results to tell me something good or not good. I remember what that feels like from years ago when, a couple of times, I waited a week for answers from breast biopsies.

There are, of course, many other tests of our resilience in old age than these.

Oddly, given the last two paragraphs, it is the cultural category that most aggravates me. In the 20 years I've been studying ageing, the American attitude toward old age has not changed a whit: youth is perfection and old age is a personal failing worthy only of fear and pity.

It comes to each of us, the day when we step over a line in the sand that no one told us was there, the day when the world rejects us, ignores our knowledge and experience, maligns and scorns us.

And no, it doesn't cheer me that the people doing the maligning and scorning will join us soon enough. They have still robbed me of basic dignity - in their eyes if not my own.

Even so, I have found these years of growing old the most engaging, interesting and exciting time of my life. I may not get out and about as much as in youth and adulthood. I have lost interest in keeping up with the latest fads and fashion that I once had fun with. And at last, I have outgrown caring what anyone thinks of me.

But I am more passionate than ever about the two things that most engage me these days: our terrifying politics and what it's really like to get old.

It may not surprise some of you that I've been reading Cicero again, his Cato Maior de Senectute or On Old Age written in 44BC. There is much to learn from Cicero but two things come through strongly about my time of life:

To focus on what I have and can do rather than what I don’t have or can’t do

That age is no barrier to remaining engaged with life: intellectually, physically, socially

There are good reasons mankind has been reading this treatise for more than 2,000 years. Cicero advises us that wisdom is to accept the limitations of old age and look for opportunities to work around them:

”Nature has but a single path and you travel it only once,” writes Cicero. “Each stage of life has its own appropriate qualities - weakness in childhood, boldness in youth, seriousness in middle age, and maturity in old age. These are fruits that must be harvested in due season.”

By the way, Cicero is also the man who said, “A room without books is like a body without a soul.”

[EDITORIAL NOTE: This has been rolling around in my mind for several days and easily could have been 20 pages longer. I've spared you that and feel confident that you will add and subtract from it as you see fit.]


Comments

Excellent compilation of the changes we experience as we grow older. I have been complaining about how time seems so much shorter, a week whizzes by, where did the summer go, etc. I wonder if this speeding up as time passes means that if we were to live long enough (with medicine, nutrition etc) we might just become time travelers. Or what?

As a man, what i find most disturbing about old age is that I am no longer found attractive by those sweet young girls I see every day, while my penchant for a well-turned-ankle has not wavered one bit.

Dear Ronni I would gladly read your 20 pages! Please go ahead.
Thank you

Dear Ronni,

I too would gladly read your 20 pages! Just this one piece made my day. I've been struggling with a diffuse sadness about the state of the country and my stage of life the last few days and feel your message was meant for me. I need a dose of your writing everyday.
Thank you!

I rarely comment, but I read much of your musings and news and get a lot out of it.

I want to point something out, not to call you on it, but because it's a little mission of mine. I believe we ALL care what people think of us on some level, and that's OK and NORMAL. It's whether we let others' opinions define us that is key.

To wit, your contradiction here... "They have still robbed me of basic dignity - in their eyes if not my own. " coupled with later saying, "And at last, I have outgrown caring what anyone thinks of me."

It seems like that's not totally accurate. And THAT'S OK!!! IT'S HUMAN!!!

yours in humanness!

diane

I, too, rarely comment even though your life touches mine every post I read. At 77, I still try to find some part-time work. I'm a retired college professor and almost everything I read or listen to on some of the fabulous podcast out there stimulates me. I love learning and want so much to be in a classroom with people who want to engage in conversation and growth.

It gets harder every year to be taken seriously by youthful people who hold the keys to the entrance.

Judy

Your post is spot on as usual. Judy Jones hit a chord too. She, I think, like me is still trying to adjust to the idea that we eldery are no longer viewed as useful. I think it ties to appearance - looking old equates to knowing nothing. Just wait until those doing the judging reach the same stage! At least that gives me a chuckle.

I am so happy that I have found this blog. So much of what your write is so relevant to myself . The one thing that really struck home today was your comment “we step over a line in the sand that no one told us was there, the day when the world rejects us…etc”. I have become so aware of this from your writings. I am very active with groups protesting our politics. While this has engaged me deeply there have been times when I notice that I feel overlook, some slight forms of rejection by some individuals. As I had a very successful professional career where I was highly respected, I found this disconcerting. Today, you brought it home what it is…it is not the groups or many of the individuals but a portion who are younger and I suspect unaware of their attitudes as I was. Thank you for helping me to understand the rejection and putting it in perspective. It helps me stay focused on the positives and ignore the rest.

>> Four times a year I will hold my breath waiting
> for test results to tell me something good or not good.

In online cancer support groups that I have participated in, the average age of the participants has been around forty five. A frighteningly large number of people in cancer support groups are young and middle-aged. One of the most frequent issues discussed in these groups is how to deal with the portmanteau they have coined, "scanxiety." There is a multitude of non-elderly who live in fear of the next scan.

I've never had a social life aside from work, and being an extreme introvert, enjoy my solitude and escape from deadlines, alarm clocks, etc. My family treats me as always, so no changes there. After all, they are aging too. Actually, I worry that my son refuses to recognize that I'm getting older and fear he'll be emotionally unprepared to deal with my inevitable end, however it comes. I have not felt any discrimination because of my age and appreciate any rec0gniton and respect I'm given because of it.

As for politicians messing with Medicare, or healthcare in general, I can only say they are insensitive and inhumane. Winning political points by bartering human lives is about as immoral as anything I can imagine.

> the world rejects us, ignores our knowledge
> and experience, maligns and scorns us."

I think that is a bit of an exaggeration. A bit. Especially "scorns." There is variability in the way younger people treat and react to elders depending on how elders present themselves to the young. Granted, Bernie Sanders is not a typical elder, but he is certainly not scorned by the young. In fact, in the last election, he was a hero to the young.

There *is* a huge, regrettable bias against the elderly in employment. On that, I totally agree.

Also if, as you like to point out, old age is a time when elders no longer worry about what people think of them, why is this a major problem (apart from employment and institutional settings where an old person may be talked to like a child etc.)?

What an appropriate time for your post today, between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur,
a time of deep reflection on our lives.

I wish you a year of good health and the continuation of writing and inspiring us to do good with the time we have.

a) YGG!!

b) No one can take away another's dignity. And dignity is not lost through the reaction to pain. I'm not even sure I think one can misbehave in a way that destroys innate dignity, but that's open to argument. Certainly no one else can take away one's dignity.

Ronni, Thanks for being there with the right thing to say. After a stroke, I struggle to walk or use my right hand, I have a pacemaker, and the other day, I had a fistula put in for dialysis (kidney failure). But I'm writing and publishing, maybe not to a large segment of the population - YET. I'm on my fourth novel and maybe the joy is just sitting down and writing. I also have a fuller social life than in years - with all ages. So being old has its compensations. I"ve had a successful career and two middle-aged kids who love me. What more could I ask for? Oh yes, an ex who's crazy about me. I think Old Age is what you make it. I agree that pancreatic cancer is not a good sickness to have but if you can beat it, bully for you. If you can't. bully for you for trying. You're up against it but you're trying and sharing. That's what counts. As for those young things, well, they will get old too.

Old age is a mixed blessing. As our bodies wear out we have to compensate for the loss that nature imposes. We can either "rage, rage" against the new conditions that is imposed on us or we can adjust and deal with it.

The older we get the more our life is restricted and that's one of the hard parts. To no longer have the excitement of a trip, or to be able to go out into the world and hear a concert is disappointing, but it does no good to fight what is.

The adjustment for me is having the time to read all of the good books that I could never make time for in the past. Or, as some gifted writers like Penelope, we can write that great American novel that has been rattling around in our heads for years. If reading is not your forte, find something that will engage you and give it a try.

Like you, Ronni, I am very interested in politics. I swore that my blood pressure would not be able to cope with the frustration and anger it engenders now and decided to stop reading the news. That lasted about two days and I was unable to ignore what is going on.

True, with a very limited mobility and shortage of funds I am unable to participate actively beyond writing and calling my representatives, but as long as I can do that I feel I am able to help in a small way.

I do think it's vital to find something that excites you, whether it's learning a new language, painting a portrait, photography, or any other thing and go for it. To stay engaged in the world is necessary instead of just waiting for the slow march to death.

I do think it's vital to find something that excites you, whether it's learning a new language, painting a portrait, photography, or any other thing and go for it. To stay engaged in the world is necessary instead of just waiting for the slow march to death.

I do like Darlene's words above, perhaps because I agree wholeheartedly. Anyhow, Darlene, you said it best.

We don't have much time left in this world, so why not spend it in the way that is most enriching/satisfying to us.

Learn something or teach something, or of course, read something!

As usual, a fine post, Ronni.

Thank you for the quotes of Cicero; today I needed to read these and I will put them somewhere to read every day, as I walk along this "single path".
Thank you for this blog.

Mostly I agree with your view of aging in our society -- what you describe here as a consequence of your life's experiences and observations. Even with aging, each of us will have had our own unique life events influencing a perspective with some differing aspects from what you've expressed here -- that does not lessen the fact that many of us oldsters can identify with your overall view.

Thank heavens we can not all be lumped into one group with each of us indistinguishable from another .... and yet we have commonalities in our older years as well as some stereotypical views which large segments of our society apply to us. We benefit all if we can dispel them of false assumptions.

The categories you've chosen to examine seem all encompassing. I suppose spiritual might warrant being a sub-grouping under emotional though the whole person for me as an adult has always embraced a mind, body, spirit concept -- long before prominence in our media -- the synergy of each, especially the spiritual is of special significance for me as I have matured into old age.

Time really does seem to flit by faster with each passing year despite the fact my life now is much less hectic than those younger years. Maybe we are being readied to transition into a different dimension as with shadow people which I recently noted in a post that Stephen Hawkins had written about. I give little thought to the unknown hereafter as my energies are absorbed by the here and now.

Government and politics are a very prominent focus for me, too, often intruding uninvited into my daily life, even if I might prefer otherwise. They cannot be ignored since officials actions, or lack thereof, directly impact my life, those I love, plus their future, and all of us oldsters.

Our souls, encrusted with the detritus of the years, are ever shining, new. And like some of the other readers, I may suffer moments of indignity, but my dignity and self worth are somehow deep and abidingly within. I sometimes chuckle, wondering what younger people think about me dancing alone, free form. Perhaps, while I am feeling something close to sacred ecstasy, they are thinking, "ugh, look at that old woman making a fool of herself." That's fine, I'd rather be a joyful fool for a few moments, than the one judging. The same holds true in other circumstances.
That being said, after a few rough days I am happy to hear your take, and also Cicero's. Today I felt that I must sit and consciously consider the good of my life now. Write it in my journal, which has become more visual than written over the years.

Ronnie, I notice that the red bar at the top of your blog is minus your pictures! How come?

What I enjoyed most about your blog today was the mention of Cicero's
comments about aging. I must read the two books (essays?) to which you alluded.

I must admit that older age requires that one has to deal with a bucket of issues that are mostly attributed to the elderly. It sure isn't fun!!!

With best wishes, Estelle R.

I haven't commented in forever and ever... BUT - will be making copies of this one and sharing them. Just had a long conversation with some friends that I've learned it's okay to get older. In fact, it's a great experience!
And I also would read all 20 pages!
Thank you.
Colleen in New Hampshire

Estelle...

I've check the banner, nothing wrong or missing and you don't say whether you are talking about the email or the webpage. Often there are such minor glitches on webpage When that happens just reload the page and if it's still not right, wait a few minutes to try again.

Ronni -
Don't do 20 pages - one of the good things about your blog is it is succinct and easy to read. I like you give us references so we can go deeper if we want.

I'm getting really pissed at this administration and their war on the retired and aging. It is not just the cuts that hurt but it will likely create a bunch of complicated choices for us to make. Especially if we end up with vouchers and have to do a bunch of research to figure out the best choices for insurance. Making decisions as we age gets difficult as it is without now adding the pain of figuring out the correct medical coverage. So it's not just the specter of added cost but added complexity as well. Oh and let's have massive tax cuts as well so we can really underfund these programs.

Dear Ronni et al,

In the midst of reading today's thoughtful column, my brain plays one of its tricks on my attempts at dignity and creates the phrase "My favorite blob!" re Time Goes By.... What is it with the buffoonery of the aging brain?


Thank you, as always, for your wise and brave observations about your own life. I think of your column as a lighthouse.....with a side of humor.

Ann

Ronnie, I just went back to the banner and lo and behold, the pictures were there! Must have taken a while to load. I just could not imagine why you would suddenly leave out your pictures. Thank you for addressing what I thought was an issue.

Again, all good wishes to you----Estelle R.

Ronni, I would read 20 pages.

On my 75th birthday I felt like someone lifted a dark veil from my head, opened a window to let a fresh breeze in and I swear I heard laughter. I never thought I would live to be 75. I celebrate each day by doing something completely silly.

One thing that stands out in the comments about handling life (at any age) is “ do what excites you”...not anyone else.
And don’t judge.

EST book I ever read about aging is “Old Age” by Helen M Luke. She was a Jungian and her approach is literary, the premise being that one must let go of the ways of the powerful middle years in order to realize the possibilities for the internal work old age invites. I highly recommend giving this a read.

That should read “Best” book...

Today is not a day that I can speak positively about old age, having just spent the last 8 hours at Urgent Care with my spouse. Very fortunately (at least we hope so), all kinds of tests revealed nothing seriously amiss--like a stroke, which is what we feared initially. We are, of course, extremely thankful. Worst part of the day in retrospect? No coffee(!) and no food until all the tests were complete.

I've made no secret that I'm not a fan of old age--too many losses of ability, "personhood" and dignity that are not outweighed--at least not for me, not yet--by what many view as the gains of ageing. If I'm going to discover all those hidden positives, I'd better start pretty soon; at 80, I don't have forever! Ha!! As I've said many times, "It is what it is."

Ronni ~ I have not been around the blogosphere for nearly a year, but am stepping back in and your post was one of the first I read after so long. And what a post. I am sorry about your cancer diagnosis and wish it gone in all further tests.

I was among a group of bloggers who met at your place, what.....7 or so years ago? I was fortunate to actually meet you and if I come upon any extra money let's go to the theatre!

So sorry you are dealing with cancer and I hope you will get better! Praying you have good friends and family by your side. Wishing you a lovely week!

I am certainly not a fan of getting older. Crossing over the line in the sand was perfect for me, Ronni. And I would love to read 20 more pages from you.

I certainly was not prepared for this time of my life. I missed the chapter of
101 class on aging.

Ronni, I am so happy I recently found your blog.

P.S I certainly enjoyed your interview with your ex husband.

M

One early morning at a popular gas bar slash coffee shop in St. Pete, Florida..

The song "Despacito" was playing inside and outside.

No other customers.

A catchy beat song.

I went inside, poured my coffee and started line dancing.

A young dude walked in, took one look at me, paused and smiled.

Like Darlene said, find something you like to do, or an issue you care about and get busy.

A few weeks ago in London, a group of seniors wearing yellow vests were pulling a wagon along the sidewalk.

It was around dinner time.

I asked one of them what they were doing. Turns out they are a huge volunteer group, working in different parts of the city.

They search for homeless people and serve them hot drinks and food.

The food is all donated by restaurants.

Class act.


1) To hell with an apple a day ... a Ronni post makes my day!

2) Will read a post, re-read a post, the 20 or more pages ... whatever you churn out - and will be VERY grateful for it. Over and over again.

3) Added value: the excellent contributions by so many of your readers. WHAT a community you have created.

4) Ageing is a job ... but as long as it's better than the alternative, I'm all for it.

I have 76 years under my belt and I'm happy when another Birthday gives me another year to love life -- even the not-so-good times, and the really painful times which are inevitable. I've been on a personal crusade to change the way we talk about ageing....I like to say "I am growing older, not old". That small tweak feels more open ended, and the truth is we are all growing older from the moment we're born. The other important word there is "growing", because I am still definitely doing that as I continue to learn and read and expand my universe. I have a sense of wonder about life, just as when I was a little kid, so that makes life sweeter for me. The fact that I can feel everything is exquisite to me and gives me the gift of empathy and compassion because I no longer project judgement onto others. All of this has come to me as a result of years of inner work and a longing to connect with life with emotional intimacy -- people, nature, the elements, the body, the mind, and the spirit. I came here to love, and that's enough.

I'm going to copy your way of conversing about ageing. Thank you!

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