Two Excellent Stories of Youth and Elders Together
Being Terminally Ill

A TGB READER STORY: What's the State of Your Mind?

By Jean Shriver

When does a person cross the line from graceful aging into the land that’s labeled old? It all depends. On what? On your genetics, on your eating and exercise habits and maybe on your luck.

In our seventies my husband and I took a bike trip to southern Tuscany and as we pedaled away, the word “old” never crossed my mind. We zipped along quiet roads, ate lunches in picturesque hill towns and slept in inns that had once been aristocratic homes. It was a blast.

But you know what they say, ”seventy is the new sixty”. Right? And then do you remember the next line, ”but 80 is still 80?” Which has turned out to be true in our case.

For instance, I went 80 years without breaking a bone and then in the span of three years broke my shoulder and then my pelvis in two places. I recovered well but running to get the phone is no longer an option. Now I walk sedately to answer its insistent ring no matter how long it takes.

What other changes have crept into my lifestyle? I write down things that are too important to forget. I ask a younger person for help when I want to thread a needle so I can sew on a button. I wear hearing aids. I get help in carrying heavy boxes I used to tote without concern and I am increasingly hesitant to drive the freeways.

But I count it as a plus that I am still upright and still driving. My husband, who has spinal stenosis, is now in a wheelchair.

And as my body moves more stiffly, I work hard to keep my mind agile. I read the newspaper daily and force myself to explore areas where I am not comfortable like science and philosophy. I read some mysteries for fun but I try to sandwich them between meatier fare like The Written World, about how stories have influenced history across the ages.

Last night I read how the Maya developed a writing system totally independent of those of Europe and Asia which reminded me how we once climbed Mayan pyramids in Mexico. Before falling asleep I often revisit good times in Europe, Turkey and Nepal when we could travel anywhere we wanted.v vFriends, old and new, are an inspiration. Through church and through writing groups I am able to exchange ideas with people of different ages who have different viewpoints than my own. This, I find stimulating.

At this stage in life, we often lose people who are important to us and need to make an effort to stay in touch with others lest we become isolated. My husband and I are lucky to have family nearby which gives us contact with several generations.

Last week, a woman I knew in high school invited me to New York to meet with several others we both knew in college. Suddenly I am examining my wardrobe with a critical eye, checking out theater offerings in Manhattan and feeling extremely sprightly.

Though the four of us are all 85, we burble like girls as we call and write about our upcoming trip. We have ambitious plans for museum visits, evenings out and walks in Central Park.

Hey, maybe age is just a state of mind after all.

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[EDITORIAL NOTE: This feature, TGB Readers' Stories, appears every Tuesday. Anyone age 50 and older is welcome to submit a story. You can do that by clicking the “Contact” link at the top of every TGB page or at the Guidelines/Submissions page.

Please be sure to read and follow the guidelines before submitting a story. It will save me a lot of time.
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Comments

Age itself is simply a metric with little if any intrinsic meaning. That we use it to define ourselves is on us. I have some physical limitations from one cause or another, but very few are due to age itself. More often, age is an excuse that I use for not trying so hard anymore, for giving up.

I can identify with what you have said, Jean. I have defined the time when I broke my hip (in my early 80's) as the time when I felt old. From there It has been pretty much a downhill slide.

In my mid 70's I took another trip to Europe visiting friends and 5 countries. Then I sold my home, bought another and moved with minimal help. I never thought of myself as old. Sure, I had slowed down and got tired sooner, but old? Nah!

Although some age at different times of live due to genetics and better health care, we still age. Try as we might to keep going, and I still do, the body ages and we can't deny the years. And as it ages we have to adjust and accept reality.

When will I learn to proofread before hitting 'send'? That should have been " time of LIFE" and not live.

A wonderful reminder to make every day count. Thanks for sharing.

Thanks for your words and thoughts. I so understand about how your trip to N.Y. has you feeling "extremely sprightly." Our interests and interesting friends do that for us. Have a wonderful trip! Enjoy the museums, the theatre, with friends!

Now that is attitude! And a reminder to do things while we can!! Thanks for a great blog.

Thank you Jean. I love "seventy is the new sixty but 80 is still 80." So true.
I am struck by your frequent use of "we" and "my husband and I." How sweet those words! How fortunate you are to still have him with you! The loss of a spouse - especially one with whom we have shared so many of life's special moments - has been, for me, the greatest of the losses of old age. I find nothing to compare to it, even extreme disability and the prospect of one's own imminent death. And yet New York is a balm to Whatever may ail you. . Museums, theaters, and old friends are great, of course. But simply to walk the streets, sit in the parks, take in all of life being lived around you is the real gift of the city. Enjoy every moment of your time here. And if you pass another old lady doing the same , give her a smile. She could be me. Ann

As a New Yorker, thank you for being so enthusiastic about our city, Jean. Having something fun to look forward to, and sharing it with congenial others, is the best human experience I can think of. At any age. Enjoy!

Thank you! Some days everything I read or hear about is depressing - your piece is uplifting. I'm glad to be reminded that age is indeed a state of mind.

Thank you, Jean, for your written words.

At 75 and never went far enough due east to New York (always turned west from California), but consider it the pinnacle of culture for the USA. So, something to do, to look forward to, at 80!

I can certainly identify with "80 is the new 80"! Until I hit 80 I was chugging along pretty much as I always had (I worked until I was 78). But I'll soon be 82 and now? Not so much! Major kudos to all in their mid-80s+ who continue to burn up the track, so to speak. Unfortunately, that's no longer something I'm able to do. I guess I didn't anticipate that "old" would happen so DEFINITELY, but it has. I continue to be as active as possible, but physical pain comes with some unwelcome limitations no matter what one's state of mind may be.

I, too, am one of the lucky ones in that I still have my husband of 40+ years. He'll soon be 89 and neither of us is doing back flips, but at least we're still more or less upright.

I can sympathise with you about going so long without breaking any bones and then, whammo.
I had a similar experience, although I’m not 80 yet. I went 72 years, 11 months and 364 days without a single broken bone and then I broke my neck.
Sitting here with this neck brace on makes me feel old, but that will pass (I hope).

Although I am saddened that my aged body won't let me do the things I did when I was 17, I am bolstered by the desire that I still want to do them.

Can be interesting how our body ages compared to our minds. I find the latter remains the more youthful — at least so far. How or when they each change seems increasingly unpredictable as I become older -- a matter to which I generally have had little reason to give much thought, but that, too, is changing. I do know occasions of pain and discomfort can be very wearing on body and mind and seem to occur with more frequency — whether major issues or niggling little matters that never seemed to appear before. Enjoying precious moments, all the days I may, is the gift I give myself and would wish for others.

I have friends in what they call the 80's club. All very active and busy. I can see them slowing but they are way out in front of me. I attribute their long activity to good genetics and health care as needed.

Although my limits are substantial it is always rejuvenating to have the prospect of a fun adventure to plan. A concert or dinner, a trip.

Your trip with friends to NYC is the perfect youth serum. Enjoy!

What an uplifting post! Thank you. I'm with the 80 is old crowd! At 81, I do so admire you who can be out and about after 7pm! Not so for me......but lunches are big in my life with a large variety of friends, neighbors, both "young" & old.
And as some have said, after 56 years of life, I miss my husband so very much.. The last 7 yrs of our life together, I became the "caregiver" to his demon, dementia. But it wasn't so hard physically as I look back.

He was the great love of my life & from start to the beginning of the dementia it was darn near perfect. Love at first sight, engaged in 3 weeks & went well for many wonderful yrs. So now I live with my memories, often very lonely with 3 wonderful adult children who unfortunately don't live nearby. All 3 have done well in their lives & he would have been so proud. Dee:):)

Thank you so much for this essay. I'm 77 but live in a retirement community with folks mostly older, up to 97. Such differences! But we all are so glad we have memories to look back on.

I read about the joys of the 70s with tears (of self pity) in my eyes. Although I retired early with a golden handshake, the stress of dealing with a new dean I called the “she-devil” during my last years of a previously happy career in university administration had taken its toll. I spent most of my post-retirement 60s in hospital with one surgery after another for stress-related cardiac and intestinal problems. By the time I reached 70 I was ready to just sit it out, thinking I would die soon anyway. To my surprise, I reached my 80s—83 now—and then I finally knew what old age really was. So my motto now is keep on keeping on. If I can’t walk very well, I can still read and write. Time Goes By has made this part of my journey immeasurably more pleasant, so I’m thankful for that.

I read about the joys of the 70s with tears (of self pity) in my eyes. Although I retired early with a golden handshake, the stress of dealing with a new dean I called the “she-devil” during my last years of a previously happy career in university administration had taken its toll. I spent most of my post-retirement 60s in hospital with one surgery after another for stress-related cardiac and intestinal problems. By the time I reached 70 I was ready to just sit it out, thinking I would die soon anyway. To my surprise, I reached my 80s—83 now—and then I finally knew what old age really was. So my motto now is keep on keeping on. If I can’t walk very well, I can still read and write. Time Goes By has made this part of my journey immeasurably more pleasant, so I’m thankful for that.

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