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Monday, 15 November 2010

Aging Gracefully

By Mary B Summerlin who keeps a photostream at Flickr

Can it be done, I wonder? With my ageing, I find that being graceful about it, is one of the most difficult things.

First comes my acknowledging some loss – breathing is difficult, walking is difficult and on and on. Then accepting the loss myself and then acknowledging it to others and asking others to help me or make allowances for me. I hate asking for help to do simple things like take something to the office which is only a short distance away. It makes me feel inadequate, dumb and stupid. And that makes it hard for me to ask nicely and/or say thank you nicely.

But I know that if I do take it to the office, it will take me ten minutes to get over it – sit down to relieve my back and hips, breathe in gulps to get enough air - and then I’ll be fine again. So I try to remember to ask nicely.

I think my mother aged gracefully, at least most of the time. I do remember a time or two when she laid a guilt trip on me. Something like, “Oh go on to the lake with the others, I’ll just stay here by myself while you all have fun.” But by and large, she asked politely and thanked graciously. And all with a smile on her face.

I remember once back in the early eighties when my Aunt Lois and her friend Rubye came for a visit. It was in the fall and one beautiful day we went riding to enjoy the countryside. We came to a big field that was planted with pumpkins at one end and corn further down.

We stopped by the side of the road to admire the beauty of it. Aunt Lois said, “I feel like I could just get out of the car and run across that field.” I thought to myself why is she saying that; she knows she can’t and hasn’t been able to run in a long time.

Aunt Lois was in her seventies. I am now in my seventies and now I understand Aunt Lois. I know I can’t run across that field but I feel like I can. I think the young person that I was is still the person that is inside me.

But the body is a stranger to me. It no longer functions as it always did. Perhaps that’s one reason I’m having difficulty – I was used to being able to physically do whatever whenever I wanted. That’s not so any more and I’m having to deal with it.

That’s what I think aging is - having losses and accepting them gracefully.

You know what it is, it’s CHANGE! Yes, it’s reared its ugly head again. It always gave me fits. Just as soon as I think I’ve got everything under control and a pattern worked out, something happens and I have to change! Change my way of thinking, being, look at a new point of view, and/or review other possibilities.

So I go kicking and screaming and fighting – I don’t want to change. But I have to, I do, and I’m glad. But it wasn’t or isn’t easy. I do believe that every change brings more wisdom and a greater understanding of self and others, so I’m always glad when it’s done. I just don’t want to do it again.

AND here it is, I have to do it again.

So, I’ll keep practicing (there’s no way to wiggle out of it) and maybe even feel better in this role of being the old lady, letting others help and gracefully enjoying it all.

[INVITATION: All elders, 50 and older, are welcome to submit stories for this blog. They can be fiction, non-fiction, poetry, memoir, etc. Instructions for submitting are here.]

Posted by Ronni Bennett at 05:30 AM | Permalink | Email this post


Mary, this story means to much to me as I head on down that hill myself. Thank you for being strong and smart and interested and brave. It means so much to someone who is just a few years behind you.

I can identify with all you say, Mary. It doesn't get better, but we have no choice but to adapt as each part of our body succumbs to the aging process.

You have described it so well and your attitude is 'right on.'

Mary - This a.m. I woke up, did my 20-minute yoga routine of 'sun salutations', 'downward facing dogs', etc., ate my oatmeal, walked briskly the half-mile to the Salem depot, boarded the train for Boston, booted up my laptop, opened up "elder storytelling', and read, "Aging Gracefully". Suddenly I was aware of an issue in my lower back, a touch of stiffness in my right leg, and a bit of a crick in my 73-year-old neck. I'm not sure I like this awareness thing!

Nicely written! - Sandy

Mary, these two sentences are priceless: "I think the young person that I was is still the person that is inside me. But the body is a stranger to me."

Your story has good thoughts for each of us to embrace.

Mary, it is indeed a difficult thing to accept our new physical limitations. Thanks for putting it out there so poignantly. And thank goodness there are still wonderful things we CAN do, and passions to follow.

I am not yet "there" in terms of age, but already little meddlesome tweaks forecast my arrival upon "there".

Mostly, the physical reminders and complaints just piss me off and send me temporarily into the "I'll eat better and exercise more" fantasy land.

Recently, my hubby and I struck out on a 4 mile round trip hike in the bend. Pretty easy trail, but between the heat and the large-bouldered gully we had to navigate, I almost didn't make it back to the car before blisters and heat stroke made made me a steam table entre at the buzzard buffet.

Cowtown Pattie Pie Ala Mode.

Really scared me and it hit me between the eyes how out of shape I am, and that I ain't 25 no mo'.

Like I said - it pissed me off! I'm still mad at myself.

"Having losses and accepting them gracefully."

That's the secret!

That not only helps you, it helps everyone around you.

Had middling to poor health since my teens, so being 67 is like more of the same, piled on top. Not even really different: I had miserable arthritis in my left shoulder at 18. Developed problems in many joints during the ensuing years, plus depression. After the shocking diagnosis of Eosinophilic Gastroenteritis in my 50s, followed by the diagnosis of Langerhans Cell Histiocytosis ("Good news" said the dr. "It isn't cancer"} 2 yrs later, I am almost nonchalant about the development of Diabetes Type 2 last yr. You learn to reel with the punches.
I now feel sorry for my mother-in-law, who enjoyed perfect health until her 80s-90s and now feels as if her world has collapsed; her early good health gave her no warning. Relatively minor neurological and other physical ailments (minor in my personal experience) have suddenly challenged her comfort, which she cannot understand or accept. More seriously, her mind is now ravaged by dementia. Every day she calls us to ask where she is. She has lived there for 12 years. She wants to go home. Where she lived with her parents. They died years and years ago and she is 95 years old. Old age is no picnic for anyone. Keep strong and compassionate.

Thank you all for your comments. They make my journey easier.

Nicely done, Mary.
We all have nothing but the future left, no matter our ages.

Recently I have been focusing on seeds and plants, as they are fun to watch grow. We all drag around a long tail (tale also) of the past. A lot of seniors focus entirely on those memories, not realizing that there are things new and fun to still look into. Soooo, what kind of plant are you, or would you LIKE to be? I have had funny responses, a bloomin idiot, clinging vine, snapdragon, bamboo, etc.

You can actually plant one and watch it grow, and someone said, what if it dies?
Well then just plant another!!

Posted by Joanne Zimmermann

Joanne - Your comments remind me of a project I've been working with for some time - exploring the idea of weeds. Many of them are just as beautiful as flowers but have not received care, attention, proper dirt, and/or sun/shade . They are survivors. I think I'll post one of my stories or poems on that subject.

Despite diabetes, fibromyalgia, and plenty of arthritis, I participate in a water aerobics class three times a week with many people even older than I. Get stretching and moving, girl!

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