We do not wake up one morning to find we have been transformed overnight into our grandmothers. Indeed, the aging process is one steady, continuous process, and though I still feel 25 years old inside, my graying hair, sagging skin and wrinkles testify that this well-traveled body has had quite a long journey.
While my grandiose “bucket list” features much yet to accomplish, this aging process with brittle bones, aching joints and weakening muscles and organs is cramping my style. My efforts to eat wisely, exercise well, drink lots of clean water and sleep eight hours a night (at least semi-regularly) are beneficial, but these tools seem to barely slow the raging aging machine.
The bad news: aging is inevitable; the good news: there is much we can do to age gracefully. Having had the exquisite good fortune to have a delightful mother-in-law and a saintly mother as wise role models, plus good friends to blaze the aging trail ahead of me, I offer a few pointers I have observed from their lives to all those who come behind me.
Positive Attitude: My sweet mother-in-law, best known as GG, infected all those around her with cheer. As a 17-year-old, I was completely overwhelmed by her non-stop puns, poems, flying zingers and corny jokes when I first met her. However, her cheery outlook was contagious, and soon I was a student of her good humor and wit.
As I got to know her better, I learned of her strong work ethic, devotion to family, courage, loyalty and perseverance through life challenges. GG appreciated life after helping support her family when she was a child, raising a daughter while her husband was serving in World War II, and working 24/7 to start and manage a business with her husband in the 1950s and 1960s.
Faith: My mother instilled the awareness that I was here with a purpose and mission, a role to play in the larger scheme of life. I saw my mother and her mother live their faith as they trusted God through my grandfather’s cancer and other major health crises, through marriage and family difficulties and financial challenges. They taught me to communicate with God, to ask for his direction, and to watch for his hand in my life. From the sorrows and challenges I have experienced, I can comfort and encourage others.
When pain or weakness caused my precious 89-year-old mother or dear 99-year-old mother-in-law GG to wonder why they were still here, my faith empowered me to remind them they still had value, purpose and mission.
Acceptance: In my 40s, I was indignant at having to deal with acne and graying hair at the same time; what injustice, I thought. GG taught me that aging happens, so get used to it, and adjust. As GG’s hearing capacity declined in her 90s, even with her hearing aids, her understanding of what others said was sometimes seriously misconstrued. When she finally understood what others were saying, GG would laugh at herself for the outrageous goofiness of what she had thought they said. After communicating by telephone was no longer possible for her, GG’s great-grandson Thompson showed her how to text. I was thrilled to connect with her and to show my friends 98-year-old GG’s emoticon-filled messages.
Friends: Friends are family that we make for ourselves. We women are especially made for community: we need good sister-friends and family with whom we can share the joys and sorrows, thrills and frustrations of life. Listening, being heard, encouraging others and being encouraged are vital aspects of life for us women. Girlfriend time with lots of laughter is one of the best medicines for whatever ails me.
Gratitude: Counting our blessings helps us see our glass is much more half-full than half-empty. Focusing on all I have in my life lessens any anxious thoughts, promotes contentment and gives me peace. Gratitude fosters kindness towards others and gentleness with ourselves. Thankfulness is a great natural facelift.
Self-care: Wearing the many roles we wear as women, we often ignore our own needs to our detriment. Though my mother, Martha Anderson, urged me to “take care of” myself for many years, I didn’t “get” what that could look like for a long time. Who had time? Now I do what I can do in the hope of feeling stronger and being able to do more for others. In my 60s I recognize that lack of self-care is immediately apparent in the mirror, and takes longer, if possible, to reverse.
Growing older is liberating, difficult, painful, joyful, baffling, exhilarating — depending on the moment. Just as I become more comfortable with who I am, I lose parts, break parts, can’t remember where I left parts! Not for sissies, this growing older, but so worthwhile. So, hang in there, you who follow behind me. The best is yet to come.