Getting Old is Hard Work

When we are young we are given our preconceptions—being a kid is fun, being an adult is having the freedom to pursue and manage our lives, and growing old gives you wisdom and peace. This is a marketing approach given by parents, teachers and, I suppose, ourselves.

We need and want to look forward to something so we encase it in golden threads; the threads are spun to offer us a glow of wonderfulness to work toward or to reflect upon.

This is a very efficient system, which is used quite effectively. As children—birth to two, we have fun. We don’t know we are having fun, it is something we learn about when we are older and see the pictures and hear people telling us how much fun we had and how much joy we brought to everyone. By the time we are two however, we DO acquire responsibility—don’t hit siblings, don’t mess our pants, don’t throw our food etc. Oops here it comes.

Yes, there is always that big R word throughout our lives

This epistle, and that is all it is—a tome directed at my children and grandchildren to explain myself, will reflect on the second phase mentioned above “adulthood” often. Looking at the span of life however logically: as a small child you do not have the skills to record or explain your opinions; as an adult you do not have the time nor the insight (you are too busy gathering the experience that will lead to insight). Entering old age, however, one has more time and finally that freedom we were supposed to have during our median adulthood.

It is the circumstance of available time and the need to share my thoughts that place me before the computer to write this epistle. You see old age has many faces and paths. There are incredible role models for how to “mature” gracefully and beautifully. What I mean here is that we are occasionally given a Birdseye view of productive notables such as Henry Kissinger or former President George H.W. Bush. We see them as contented contributors to society—still engaged.

Alternatively, we see old retired people in our own families. We can even observe, particularly in my case, those who have will and stamina and those who have become “medical groupies”. Don’t get me wrong; we all have to march to the beat of bodies that are becoming inefficient. We all must be proactive in taking our lipitor, diabetes drugs, etc. That is our RESPONSIBILITY—there’s that word again. There are those my age, however, whose lives revolve around their medical history. They fill their lives and our ears with endless tales of this operation or that medicine. They thrive upon sad or glorious medical escapades.

As I approach my 67th birthday, I currently fall into the strong will and stamina category. I suppose I had better capture this phase quickly for one of the realities of old age is that you can never be sure when you will be “overcome by events” and find yourself a “medical groupie”. Without a doubt retirement is the worse thing that can happen to an old person. Imagine having to spend an entire day focusing on each little pain and its possible implications. Between the ages of 30 and 60 pains have cause and effect—worked too hard at the gym, etc. After 60, despite their possibly also having a cause and effect, they have wider and more sinister implications. “Am I getting fibermyalgia, like Arlene?” “Is this indigestion or is my heart beginning to fail, like Ethel’s?” “I wonder if I should write this down and talk to the doctor about it?” After retirement, these thoughts are not simply quick mind flashes; they become focus points for the entire day. Better, much better, to have other things to fill a day. For those, and I am one of them, who continue to work and pretend—out of perceived fear or real fear of being sent to retirement, to be younger than we are, another set of requirements opens.

The pretense takes on a life of its own.



Where is Our Community?


By Clare Dinnocenti

Aging gracefully in a society that no longer attends each other.

I remember a time in Royersford, Pennsylvania when my mother was ill. Each of the ladies in the neighborhood took turns feeding us–seven children plus my dad. In our little community that was the normal flow of life. Of course, I also remember my own mother going down the block with dinner and fruit on many occasions.

So what happened? What happened to civility and community? There is still some of each in Royersford, Pennsylvania, but it is the residue of my parent’s generation who participate in it. Actually, at least three of my siblings continue to enjoy this noble environment. They continued as contributors in that paradigm and now reap the benefits. It may have cost them a bit of their privacy, but they are more than compensated in the beautiful way that people care for and about each other.

Those of us who moved from Royersford and took up careers in cities traded our small town gifts for higher paychecks, higher education and what we believed to be sophistication and culture. We succeeded in enjoying a different kind of fulfillment in our lives. When we are under 40, the idea of community is not of significant interest.

In 1987, Scott Peck wrote a book about creating community called The Different Drum. I had a wonderful reaction to that book and smugly thought, “Royersford was such a community”. Still, in 1988, lack of community in society was not very important to me or my peers. Now, however, as we watch our parents aging and, correspondingly, prepare for our own, that community life looks very “sweet”.

In my quest for understanding, I have paid more attention to people over 70 during the past year. The idea of aging has become significant. There are many more questions than answers, many more problems than solutions and far too much misunderstanding. Books such as Another Country by Mary Pipher, Ph.D (recently reviewed by Oprah) explain the conditions and problems. This particular book offers insight for those who seek to understand and–understanding is paramount.

Ms. Pipher sees the loss of community as detrimental to both our aging population and its caregivers. She also focuses on the impact of our rapidly changing lifestyles–generations are distancing each other in more ways than miles. She strongly suggests counseling for families dealing with the responsibility of caring for parents and grandparents.

My “higher” work of the past 20 years (teaching self-esteem), has encouraged me to explore the reasons why some older people become “elderly” (less productive and more needy) and others become “elders” (continued productivity and more independent). Although my research is limited (interviewing relatives, acquaintances and occasional visits to senior homes), one quality is pivotal–attitude.

It is apparent that the self-acceptance we develop throughout our lives determines our ability to cope with change. Over the years in our lectures and workshops, self-acceptance and self-understanding became the most sought after gifts. It appears that creating these gifts in our lives, at any age, will enable us to gracefully and graciously approach our own aging and assist those we love along the same path.

Looking for Self-growth and Self-actualization

Books that have helped me grow.

Your Erroneous Zones by Wayne Dyer, published in 1976. I selected this book at the bookstore because, like many others, I misread the title as Your “Erogenous” Zones and I was looking for a way to invigorate my lagging marriage. Wow, it started my path to incredible understanding. 

The Art of Loving by Erich Fromm, published in 1956. This again was a book selected to seek understanding for saving a marriage. It is a powerful book. It brings awareness and reality to love. It brings clarity to our mythical and romantic notions of love. 

The Secret of Staying in Love; Why am I Afraid to Tell you Who I am? and Unconditional Love by John Powell, published in 1974. OK, you can guess–still trying to save the marriage. This trilogy combines psychology and faith. It is delivered simplistically and therefore it is very effective. 

The Imitation of Christ by Thomas A  Kempis, published originally in Latin. Clearly a religious book but designed to give strength and reinforcement to understanding our own inner beauty. 

Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl, published in Austria in 1946. This book, written by a psychiatrist who also suffered unspeakable horror in the Nazi death camps, explores man’s search for life’s meaning. This is a powerful book. Its power is enhanced by Frankl’s ability to write psychology as prose. 

People of the Lie by Scott Peck, published in 1983. Although everything Peck writes could be listed here, this book had a profound effect on me. It explores how evil corrupts, but, more importantly, it assigns blame to our everyday compunction to maintain artificial status. 

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, published in 1925. Speaking of artificiality, after reading Peck’s People of the Lie, you will experience Fitzgerald’s classic with new understanding. 

Jealousy by Nancy Friday, published in 1985. This book gives clarity to our misunderstanding of the difference between envy and jealousy. 

 Another Country by Mary Pipher, published in 1999. This book explores our aging society and how it is affected by our modern day lack of community. Scott Peck, in 1987, also addressed our need for community in his book, The Different Drum.