Yes, You Can Count on More than Losses as You Age

If I know anything for sure, as I become older, it’s that somewhere along the way, I will need to come to terms with the accumulation of my years, and the losses that come with it.

It must be the departure of summer that has nudged this part of me—the place where I’m acutely aware of the passage of time.

It’s another summer of living, and I’m grateful for that, of being able to savor each sunny day, of living fully into autumn, and then experiencing all of it again through my memories.

Growing older means we’ve lived longer and aged a little more. It means we’ve been given the chance to gain more perspective, maturity and wisdom. These qualities are exactly what we need to support us emotionally and mentally as we experience the changes that inevitably happen to us.

How good are we at this?

These qualities are not guaranteed. Many of us don’t find this part of growing older easy. Yes, we may realize on some level that our senses are not as sharp as they used to be. Failing eyesight and reduced hearing are hard to ignore. But it’s a little easier to shrug off the fact that we can’t walk as far as we used to, or that it takes us so much longer to do some simple tasks and chores.

So we don’t pay attention to these changes—we unconsciously struggle against them. I’ve watched friends and family members maintain that they will never slow down. They hold themselves to a standard of activity they achieved years ago—still jogging and playing tennis when their knees can no longer take the strain, still caring for large houses they refuse to sell, still holding dinner parties for as many people as they can cram into their dining rooms. And most jarring of all, still driving when their eyesight and reflexes have drastically changed.

Our culture encourages this. Some older people go to extremes to prove that they can still skydive, still go white water rafting. A trip in a hot air balloon will guarantee you, if you are 80 years old or more, an article in a national paper, or at the very least a mention on Twitter. I’m not suggesting for a minute that you should forgo new adventures as you age, and dwell instead on the fact that your hair has turned white, or that your memory is failing, or that you seem to accomplish less and less every day. And I’m certainly not saying that you should go through the litany of things you can’t do anymore, and make yourself feel depressed or sad.

It takes strength, not weakness, to ‘let go’

But I am saying that it’s healthy to experience a gradual ‘letting go’. It’s realistic and sane to acknowledge the reality of aging for what it is—to start using that cane, if you need it to steady your gait, to prepare your home for decreased mobility, or to even consider giving up your car. To do otherwise would be to leave yourself open to depression, dangerous activity, and unreal expectations for yourself.

If this looks to you like giving up, or caving in, I assure you, it’s not. Instead, it’s the beginning of something new—a new search for things you can do, things you might have tried to do in the past, but didn’t take seriously, things you haven’t even thought of doing, but now have time to try.

This may be the perfect time to rejuvenate a passion you had in the past. It may be the right activity to transport you through the coming years of possible loss of hearing, sight, or physical strength. Finding something you can do, something that your capabilities will allow you to endure, no matter what your health, should be the new and realistic object of your search.

This is how you know that you are wiser

If there’s a message in this anywhere, it would be that slowing down and taking stock can be beneficial. It is a conscious choice, and it leads to a greater appreciation for life and a greater level of happiness.

As you grow older, you will have become wiser, coming to terms with your losses and limitations, and realizing that the measure of your years is more than what you can do.

Joan Chittister, a guru of aging, says this in The Gift of Years:

“There is an important part of the aging process that lies in simply getting accustomed to being older. Part of being a vigorous older person demands, first of all, that we learn to accept it for what it is, a new and wonderful—but different—stage of life.”

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36 Responses to Yes, You Can Count on More than Losses as You Age

  1. betts says:

    This resonated with me as I’m in a similar place. It’s very comfortable. Making those safety(of body and mind) adjustments isn’t a loss; it’s dealing with a new, different reality. From what you say, and say very well, I gather you’ve read William Bridges’ “Transitions?” Basically, to view not building upon what you have, as we are taught, but to begin with the ending of the familiar, acknowledge it and go thru a transition period, from which you find a beginning to something else.

    In a nutshell, your piece is appreciated and your writing is clear and thorough. Thank you.

    • Still the Lucky Few says:

      Thanks, Betts! No, I haven’t read Bridges’ book, but it sounds interesting, and I’ll look for it. All good books begin with a unique and creative idea, and I believe it may be true for this one!

  2. Love the Joan Chittister quote. These are different times and as you say, so eloquently, it takes strength to let go. I’d add to that, and it takes wisdom to know when to let go. Thought provoking piece. Thank you.

    • Still the Lucky Few says:

      I love to hear from you, Stephanie, and value your comments! Yes, strength and wisdom should just pile up as we age, but that’s not always so! LOL

  3. Virginia says:

    Wow, I must be very sane and wise. . .

  4. Well said! We are so on the same page. My Friday random reflection over on the Voyage ~ “Aging is that extraordinary process where you become the person you always should have been.” (David Bowie) Thanks for a post that digs a bit deeper! ~ Lynn

    • Still the Lucky Few says:

      Thanks for bringing your blog to my attention, Lynn! I’ll be sure to view it today! I love David’s observation.

  5. Yes, doing the best we can with what we have left. 😀

  6. Lynne Spreen says:

    This topic is freighted, similar to “are you a sell-out if you have work done?” People can feel strongly on both sides. Maybe defiance is admirable, but it can cross the line into pointless. Like wrecking your knees to continue running, or the other examples you point out.

    My mother, 92, is not defiant. She’s proud and energetic in spite of chronic pain, but when I come over I vacuum or dust or take out trash, and she graciously lets me. She asked me to find her a set of handrails for around her toilet, and she wears her LifeAlert religiously. If she’s going over to a friend’s in the evening, she lets me know in advance, because this is rare, and if we call and she doesn’t answer (she always forgets to turn on her cellphone), we would worry. She is showing us how to age well, with pride, dignity, and graciousness.

    My dad would never have given one inch, and had he lived, he would have killed Mom in his defiance. She was already struggling, caring for him, because he refused to accept the accumulating years. Now that she is alone, we’re so blessed that Mom moved 4 blocks from us instead of maintaining her high desert outpost 90 minutes away. It’s so easy to include her in family things, and help her as needed. Over and over again, I thank Mom for allowing us to help her, for not making it harder or scarier by fighting us.

    Gloria Steinem famously said, “To be defiant about age may be better than despair – it’s energizing – but it is not progress. Actually, after fifty, aging can become an exciting new period; it is another country.” Here’s to the courage to find the new country.

    • Still the Lucky Few says:

      I was delighted to read about your mother—what an enlightened woman! There’s no point in having false pride about aging, is there? Fighting getting old seems to have gained strength with the aging of baby boomers, I think. It’s kind of a ‘new’thing. When my mother’s generation was aging, older women were so tired (don’t forget they had way more children!) that they were relieved to catch a rest!

  7. We all have losses but fortunately, some of us have new life being brought into the family. Grandchildren and possibly great-grandchildren. As long as I keep all my marbles I’m fine. I feel bad for those of us that lose ourselves. I am 74 and proud to still be a part of life.
    I love this post, thank you for sharing. ☺☺

    • Still the Lucky Few says:

      I’m proud and happy to still be taking active part in a social life, family life, and my online community. I love it all (…and never want it to end!) Thank you for reading and commenting!

  8. Joe Wasylyk says:

    Question- Could it be possible to finally ‘Let Go’ but not until you run across the Finish Line? Will Boomers take the high road of pursuing health & wellness, being creative, taking risks and focusing on their own interests through lifelong learning OR will they pursue some undesirable traits and practices such as smoking pot, excessive drinking, displaying their risk taking at casinos, bingo halls and horse racing tracks; and practicing lifelong learning by sitting in shopping center food courts reminiscing about the good old days, and proclaiming how great thou art? This might be an over simplification however; there must be some truth to it because I see similar situations regularly in my own location.

    • Still the Lucky Few says:

      Well, it takes all sorts, Joe! I think Boomers are well represented in both camps (and others in between)! Thanks, yours is an important observation.

  9. joared says:

    I couldn’t agree more. Recognizing our limitations all through life is important and continues to be as we become older. The older we become the more limitations that evolve bringing adaptations and compensations to the forefront of our lives if we want to maximize the pleasure of the years is my perspective.

    • Still the Lucky Few says:

      One way to ‘maximize the pleasure of our years’ is to ensure that we stay as healthy and injury-free as possible. Recognizing our limitations fits into this perfectly. Of course, we have to allow room for creativity and adventure in our lives as well!

  10. I’ve not “lost” anything – rather I have “gained” – And that started to happen when health issues dealt me a blow that was very hard to take when I was in my late 40s!

    The only way around the issues was to adapt to “self-management” because there wasn’t a lot of mainstream medical help and I wasn’t keen on the alternative world.

    I “lost” a lot at the time, there were things I still wanted to do BUT they couldn’t be done – I loved going dancing and late night clubs and still get up the next morning feeling I could do it again that night (often did) …

    At one point in about 2004, life sort of changed but I had lost the desire for nighclubbing… instead I got a bit fitter, lost a huge amount of weight and got out into the day time world a bit more

    Over the years I gained many things within that self-management – and I continue to gain – just differently and within my reach most of the time

  11. Rummuser says:

    I live in a culture, rapidly changing but with still vestiges of respect for the old. I am often consulted and cared for by much younger people and whatever wisdom that I have gained over the years of corporate life and spiritual pursuits are still in demand. I rather enjoy being an elder!

    • Still the Lucky Few says:

      I know that you credit your culture with some of the respect and quality of life you are enjoying, Rummuser. But I have no doubt that you have earned some of that respect by the way you have treated people and lived your life!

  12. Rin Porter says:

    It’s tough to recognize our growing list of limitations as we age. But as you’ve pointed out so well, it doesn’t have to be a time of negativity. We CAN look on the changes as welcome opportunities to stop and smell the roses, while someone younger cuts the grass and cleans the gutters!

    • Still the Lucky Few says:

      It’s great to allow yourself to delegate some of the grittier chores in life to younger people! I love the analogy, Rin!

  13. Cecilia says:

    Your post and thoughts make me think of being in the moment, always. Thank you for the inspiration.

    • Still the Lucky Few says:

      Being in the moment takes the stress out of regretting the past and fearing the future. It’s a state of mind that’s elusive, but so worth achieving! Thank you for reminding us to constantly strive to be there!

  14. Absolutely. We have to accept the ‘new normal’, as constantly striving to do what we did with ease 30 years ago will only make us depressed. As it says in ‘Desiderata’… ‘Take kindly to the counsel of the years, gracefully surrendering the things of youth.’ It makes sense, doesn’t it?

  15. Clive says:

    Wise words, Diane. I’m only 64 and there is much I still want to do with my life. Health has restricted me for a couple of years, but I want to do things once I can – the experience of these past two years has shown me that I need to keep my expectations realistic. We should be honest with ourselves, in all ways.

    • Still the Lucky Few says:

      It’s always nice to hear from you, Clive! Yo are, indeed, only a youngster (do people still use that term?) so you have many years to get it right! But on a serious note, we need to be realistic and truthful with ourselves.

  16. Big John says:

    Wise words indeed. Need I say more ?

    • Still the Lucky Few says:

      Thanks, John. I’m always trying to balance the bad things about getting older with the good. It works sometimes!

  17. Aunt Beulah says:

    I am doing better at acceptance in part because of my thoughts, realizations and willingness to let go and find new; but also in part because of a groin pull experienced when I over-exercised my aging body. Pain is a great teacher. Now if only I could convince my husband he needs to hire someone to climb on the roof and winterize our swamp cooler. I think I’ll ask him to read this post! As usual, Diane, you clearly and skillfully discussed a topic of great interest to me.

    • Still the Lucky Few says:

      The body talks…that’s for sure! I’m glad you listened, but as you say, you had no choice! Older people eventually learn to pay attention to their limitations, but some of us need a few extra reminders! My weakness is my lower back, which goes into spasm if I spend too many hours at the computer. Hope your husband is careful on that roof!

  18. tammy j says:

    this is a wonderful and sensible and upbeat post Diane!
    words that needed to be said. thank you for the wisdom of it.
    there is something about America’s worship of the youth culture that can be downright dangerous if we don’t ‘grow’ past it! and just slow down a bit.
    my brother still expects himself to do all the things he has always done. he’s 68. and very active. I wonder sometimes if he can continue full out. he swears that exercise is the key to health. not just the gym kind but just activity of all kinds. it makes me tired. LOL!

    • Still the Lucky Few says:

      Your brother is right about the value of being really active, and as he points out, not just in the gym! I believe there are studies that prove this. But it’s also important to have the ‘sense’ to slow down when we need to! LOL

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