But Nobody Told Me!


Telling my adult children about aging feels important to me.  My mother was 84 when she died. She never talked about what it felt like to grow old – the good, the bad and the ugly – so here I am at 67 with no road map, and much of what I have encountered has been unexpected.   Here is some of what I have learned so far:

The Challenges

1. I have learned that growing old gracefully is a lofty (and for me unattainable) ideal. How can I possibly embrace the aging process with grace when the image in the mirror stares back at me mercilessly, as it taunts me with its drastically thinning hair, ubiquitous age spots, and face that is rapidly migrating south. If I’m supposed to embrace my aging appearance, I’m failing abysmally.

2. I have learned that short-term memory is … well … short! and, as we age, fades into oblivion. In the (probably futile) hope of warding off dementia, I engage in sundry forms of brain exercise, but it doesn’t seem to make a dent in my memory difficulties. Thoughts and ideas that enter my mind often disappear in mili-seconds, lost forever unless I am somehow able to quickly scribble them down. And if – during a conversation – I have to politely wait my turn to speak, I forget what I wanted to say – and then get stuck trying desperately to remember.

3. I have learned that the greeting ‘How are you?’ takes on a whole new meaning for seniors. Just when we begin our long-awaited retirement, medical issues lie in wait, ready to pounce and take centre stage. That’s when ‘how are you’ (pronounced “How ARE you?) evolves into an invitation to a pity party. Take it from me: as a person with Parkinson’s disease, I have been to that party!

4. I have learned that as seniors, issues relating to our eventual demise begin to seep into our reality. We begin to consider life’s possibilities and inevitabilities, and mull over advance directives, funeral planning, Wills and such. I have prepared and organized all the necessary documents – an accomplishment which my grieving family will appreciate when the time comes. It will also give them cause to smile as they recognize my obsessive-compulsive behaviours.

5. I have learned that my love of action and excitement has been replaced by a need for peace an quiet. But try finding a restaurant without a cacophony of voices clamouring to be heard above the blaring music. Or a clothing store that doesn’t blast loud music all day long. Fortunately there are such stores – these are the ones that offer pricey clothing for overweight, frumpish and noise-phobic seniors like me!

6. I have learned not to waste time and energy on regrets. Whatever bad choices or mistakes I made over the course of my life were important lessons from which I acquired wisdom that comes with age.

7. I have learned that ageism is alive and well. All too-often health professionals dismiss our medical complaints as an inevitable part of aging, and we are not seen as competent individuals with goals and desires. I want to wave my hand in the air, point to myself and shout “Hellooo! There’s someone in here!” Or attach a kind of resume of my life to my medical history. But either of these scenarios would – paradoxically – confirm the very image I’d hope to dispel.

8. I have learned that being offered the senior’s discount is both a blessing (the price is right) and a curse. It usually occurs when the sales person glances up at me and instantly concludes that I am a senior. Now – is this a compliment or an insult?

9. I have learned that eating too much junk food is a mortal sin! I grew up in a home fully stocked at all times with mouth-watering candy, chocolates, cookies, cakes, soft drinks, bread, ice cream … you name it, it was there for the taking. It is a tough addiction (let’s call a spade a space) to conquer, so I find myself shopping in plus size clothing stores, and cringing when bombarded with media warnings about the health hazards.

10. I have learned that in the absence of regular exercise, the act of bending down to fasten my shoelaces constitutes my exercise for the day. Though I swore blind that I would never be a couch potato like my mother, I acknowledge with shame that I am in fact following in her lazy footsteps, and promise myself every day that I’ll start tomorrow!

But its not all doom and gloom: The Wonders of Being a Senior

1. I have learned that being a grandparent is the ultimate joy. We get to enjoy all the special moments that we missed as busy parents. We can spoil our grandchildren rotten – and send them home when we’ve had enough. We treasure special moments such as finding a little one cuddled between us the morning after a sleepover. And nothing compares with their squeal of delight when we come to play. The joys of grand-parenting are huge – and endless.

2. I have learned that an empty nest is a tidy nest! No more dirty dishes all over the house … no more loud music coming from the bedrooms. no more mysterious disappearances of food left in the fridge … and no more shortage of hot water in the shower. I thought this day would never come!

3. I have learned that I no longer need to dress to impress. Comfort is paramount and I have the luxury of living each day in jeans, tee-shirts and sneakers.

4. I have learned that as a retiree I can do what I like, when I like, how I like – and IF I like! I can be busy – or do nothing all day. I have time on my hands to pursue whatever turns me on (which can be a double-edged sword since my children know this – and guess who gets the calls to step in when help is needed?)


5. I have learned not to sweat the small stuff. As seniors we know full well that we are increasingly vulnerable to illness, and this thought is never far away, especially when we hear about our contemporaries suffering illness or loss. Squabbles and personal differences seem like an awful waste of the precious and unknowable time we have available.

6. I have learned that a lifetime of experience has given me the confidence to be more assertive when I need to be and I can stand up for myself with conviction. I’m done with shoving things under the rug to avoid conflict.

7. I have learned to make peace with who I am. I know what I want and don’t want, and I know what is important to me. I am far less concerned with how others view me.

8. I have learned that the trials and tribulations I have experienced have strengthened me so that I am more resilient, and more confident that I can cope with whatever obstacles I encounter.

9. I have learned that medical science has made it possible for us to live longer, even when genetics is against us. Medicine has advanced such that even with a serious illness it has become possible for us to survive years more than would have been the two or three decades earlier. A retiree of 65 could possibly live for another 30 years or more – my mother-in-law being a case in point as we are poised to celebrate her 100th birthday in June.

And at the risk of embarrassing my children, I will add one more thing I’ve learned about the wonders of aging:

10. I have learned that senior sex is alive and well …

I can just hear my children groaning in unison: “Eeeeuuu Mother!!”


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