A musing on aging gratefully

Yesterday I turned 75. Turned 75. That’s like referring to oneself as if you’re a tuna casserole that’s gone off.

I don’t feel a day over 75 – oh, right, I am a day over 75. I don’t think of myself as being old-ish. Okay, okay! Old! Even in middle age – 45 or so – I thought anything over 50 was ancient. The older I get, of course, the older young becomes.

Once, when told she didn’t look 40, Gloria Steinem reportedly said, “This is what 40 looks like.” This is what 75 looks like, wrinkled, a touch pudgy, and grey-haired.

I prefer to think of my hair as snowy, shot through with silver, but what do I know? I’ve never been one to gloss over reality, but I did go through the coloring my hair phase to take a few years off my appearance. Why? God knows. It was a pain in the butt and dried out my already-thin hair unmercifully. Plus – get real – my skin still looked papery and wrinkled.

I like being a grey goddess, a woman of a certain age who isn’t taken with the idea of forever young. I know, I can hear you laughing. A goddess I have never been. Wrinkles and grey hair don’t bother me. Not having something worthwhile to do bothers me. I want to be productive. I want to interact with others, not just my generation, but every generation. I still have lots to learn, and I even have a few things to teach.

Life is about the things you can do; it is not about the things you can’t. I will never be the great American novelist. I have neither the discipline for the talent. That doesn’t keep me from writing. It doesn’t keep me from sending in freelance articles for publication in hopes of being paid. It doesn’t stop the flow of words that demand to be put into a story.

Age does not stop us from wanting approval and feeling sad and rejected when we don’t get it. It must never stop us from loving what we do enough to get it out there and do it. Einstein didn’t stop because he got old; he stopped because he died.

Studies show that people who stay active doing the things they enjoy, live longer and are healthier than those who sit on the sidelines waiting for the next thing to happen, and expecting whatever it is, to be bad.

Life does get harder for many of us as we age, no doubt. Overcoming that isn’t easy, but making the effort is the difference between a life well-lived and one of despondency and loneliness. You don’t have to be the life of the party, just show up and participate. You have something to contribute. We all do. Getting old is not a card any of us should play to get out of living our best life now. Stephen Hawking didn’t and neither should we.

I am grateful for every day I’ve lived, even the ones that brought me to my knees, where I learned to lean on the Great Comforter and on my friends. I count every day a blessing, a gift, something to be opened with joy and anticipation. Seventy-five and counting! Thank you, Lord.

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Book Review

The Undiscovered CountryThe Undiscovered Country
by Mike Nemeth

Take a man who has just gotten out of prison, serving time for a crime he did not commit, and present him with life and death decisions for his ailing mother who arguably has not been getting the best of care. Throw in his estranged brother and sister who have disturbing secrets, and a hospital more interested in protecting its reputation than providing care. What do you have? Randle Marks  determined to preserve his mother’s dignity and save her life – perhaps at the expense of her wellbeing – and determined to find out why his deceased father hated him.

Randle Marks is a man with a lot of baggage.

It doesn’t help that Elaine Marks has kept a lot from him, yet insists she has taken care of everything. Randle doesn’t trust what she says. After all, she’s been having conversations with Jesus, who has let her know He is coming for her. She even knows the day.

At times, Marks comes across as somewhat self-serving in the decisions he makes. Through everything he remains focused on abiding by his mother’s wishes after she passes.

The tension builds as he investigates the hospital, questions the care his mother gets when she is transferred to a rehabilitation center, and discovers all the ways she has been taken advantage of by his siblings and the health care system. And then there are all the things she keeps to herself.

I like the way Nemeth shows Randle navigating the unfamiliar territory of broken family relationships and the undiscovered country of health care in the modern age. He has a lot more going on than his mother’s situation, but I’ll leave that for the reader to discover.

Nemeth is a retired businessman living in suburban Atlanta with his wife, Angie and their rescue dog, Sophie. He said in his Amazon profile, “I’m a football fan and a golfer. Now my job is to write domestic thrillers that are candy-coated medicine for our social ills.” He is the author of Defiled, which introduces readers to Randle Marks, a rebellious scientist who runs afoul of blind Lady Justice.

My rating: Thumbs up

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A musing

Sharon Vander MeerThoughts on aging

I am old but it pisses me offmakes my blood boilgrinds on me… is a rude awakening when people treat me like I’m old. Even worse, I recall treating old people the same – or worse – when I was young. The following is a short list of comments I would prefer people keep to themselves.

Isn’t she sweet. Puleeze. Some of the crotchiest people I know are old and they have every right to be crotchety. Nothing works the way it used to. Sometimes peeing is the priority and there is NO BATHROOM IN SIGHT! Your kids rarely call. You spend way too much time wondering how time got away from you. The bucket list sprung a leak a long time ago and all your dreams drained away. You would be crotchety, too.

She sure is feisty. What the hell does that mean and why is is applied more often to old women than anyone else? People with a few miles on them have learned the value of persistence, hard work, dedication, and self-denial. There’s nothing “feisty” about that. It’s plain common sense.

Let me get that for you. Yes, it is nice for people to lend a helping hand, but sometimes it makes older folks feel helpless and hopeless. Age-related changes become more evident when you can’t bend over and pick up something you’ve dropped, or the door to the post office is too heavy for you to open on your own. You appreciate the courtesy of kind gestures, but it irritates you as well because someone decides you can’t do it for yourself. Go figure.

Is that appropriate attire for a woman your age? Oh, it’s never said that way outright, but subtly raised eyebrows or a snicker behind the hand conveys volumes without a word being said. I’m delighted the fashion of the ’50s that put women in house dresses with no thought to style has come and gone. Women no longer must fit a mold. I don’t care if leggings are only meant for young skinny women; I’ll wear them anyway. Life is too short to let anyone dictate one’s style.

You don’t look your age. Gloria Steinem famously said to the person who told her she didn’t look 40, “This is what 40 looks like.” This is what aging looks like. Telling someone they don’t look their age when they clearly do, is an insult. Mom used to say, “I’ve earned every wrinkle and gray hair.” So have I. Life is good, even joyful most of the time. I don’t know what tomorrow will bring. No one does. I do know I will be about the business of living fully and with anticipation. I believe that no matter what age you are, you can have hope for new adventures, even when the adventure is a trip to Charlie’s for a cup of Starbucks.

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The purpose of purpose

In a recent study, researchers at University College London found that, for people over the age of 65, a sense of purpose and overall well-being meant that they were 30 percent less likely to die over a period of eight and a half years. This study followed over 9,000 English people and found that, at the end of the eight and half year period, only 9 percent of people in the highest category of well-being had died, compared with 29 percent of those at the lowest level of well-being. Those who reported the highest level of fulfillment lived, on average, two years longer. From a Psychology Today blog article. Read more…

Golden YearsWhat is your purpose? Do you have one? It’s important for everyone to have a reason to get up in the morning. It’s important for businesses and organizations to have a purpose, one that goes beyond making money. As you get older, purpose is crucial to well-being and having a healthy lifestyle, even when you may struggle with physical challenges. You don’t have to jump out of a plane to make life interesting.

So, what is purpose? Purpose is that thing you dedicate yourself to that shapes who you are. That’s not the Webster definition, but that is the essence of what it means to have purpose. When you have no purpose, ­ no goal – life becomes dull and meaningless. Not having purpose can rob you of joy.

Your purpose may be as simple as sending notes of encouragement to people in your family or social group, or as grand as creating art or building a business, or being in a profession that by its definition is one that serves others.

My purpose is to write something every day, and most of the time, I do. When my husband and I went through recent bouts of health issues, I scarcely wrote at all and the result was a descent into negativity and gloom. When I went back to writing, my spirits lifted and my outlook improved dramatically. How often have you heard about retirees who after they no longer have their jobs – their purpose – they go into decline, to the point of giving up on living.

Those who do best are those who continue to contribute in some way to society and to the lives of those around them. Sitting in a chair waiting to “get better” or get back what you once had, is not the answer. Getting up to the degree you are able and getting with it – whatever “it” is for you – will make a difference for you and those around you.

Stuck for something to do after you’ve done it all? Here are some suggestions to give you food for thought.

• Take classes: Check out the activities and events section of your local newspaper. Are there classes offered you might be interested in? The senior group Our Healthy Circle at Alta Vista Regional Hospital here in Las Vegas, offers a wealth of opportunities. Check out the classes and become an active participant in their dinners, travel events and other activities.

• Visit a nursing home: If you have the gift of song or art or anything else creative, check with a nursing home in your area to see if they would welcome you to give a class or provide entertainment for the residents. Or they may need other volunteer help you are well suited to provide.

• Check with your church: Most churches have volunteer programs to provide meals for the ill or visitation to the home bound or those in hospital. What skills do you have that would be helpful? In our church we provide prayer shawls for people undergoing trying times. We always need more shawls. Want to volunteer to make one? Perhaps your church has a similar program. Check it out. See how you can help.

Write your memoir• Write that memoir: What a gift for your family. Your history is something only you can tell. Even if you have orally told your stories time and again, much will be lost to misinterpretation or plain old forgetfulness. With the advent of self-publishing (www.createspace.com as an example), you can write it, upload it, and – once you’ve approved the proof – you can affordably order as few or as many as you like. (A little sales pitch here. If you need help with formatting and uploading, I’m available. 🙂 ).

• Learn how to use a computer: It will open a whole new world of information for you. Caution, don’t let it become the only social interaction you have. Face-to-face is better than Facebook any day.

• Write a recipe book: You can publish it in paperback for your family, or do it digitally. Either way this is a gift that will keep on giving, which is really what having a life purpose is all about. Reaching out and making a difference.

A recent study followed nearly 1,500 older people for 10 years. It found that those who had a large network of friends were about 22 percent less likely to die during the 10 years. www.webmd.com.

• Maintain friendships: There is a tendency among elders to isolate themselves. It becomes a challenge to get out if you are on a walker or have other disabilities. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t make the effort. According to one study, elders who remain socially active are happier and healthier. Unable to drive? Check resources in your community. You might be surprised what is available at low or no cost to get you to activities and events.

• Get a part time job: If you have time on your hands and don’t know what to do, consider working part time. Older employees are valued for their work ethic and reliability. Don’t believe for a second your age puts you out of the running, especially for part time work.

These are a few suggestions; I’m sure you have plenty of your own. Your purpose today may not be your purpose tomorrow. That’s okay. The point is to have a reason to arise in the morning and do something during that day that will put a smile on your face at night. Benefits? Countless, the most significant being that you are opening the gift of life each day and making the most of it.
Photos: www.clipart.com

Attitude and aging gratefully

Life After a FallLife has sort of been on hold for my husband and me since early May when his femur broke and he had to have surgery. The surgery went well and thanks to great care at Alta Vista Regional Hospital and Vida Encantada, he came home from rehab a week earlier than anticipated. For the first two weeks, we scooted along quite well… until I got a sacral fracture (result of osteoporosis and overdoing it gardening), that really sent us topsy turvy. Since then we’ve both been on walkers and confined to the house, or so we believed because neither of us was confident enough to get behind the wheel.

The experience has given us a whole new appreciation for the ability to drive. We have relied on – and thank you very much nephew Seth and great-nephew Carter, Tom Trigg and Mary Schipper, and Karyl Lyne – as well as Lydia Palomino, who worked us into her busy schedule – for getting us to and from appointments and the store (and sometimes Charlie’s!).

We are on the mend, but I want to especially thank my long-time friend Kathy Allen, whose phone call this week helped me see how much of our isolation came as much from self-inflicted and unfounded fears as it did from our actual afflictions. She didn’t tell me that, but my whining about my plight – which resonated long after the conversation was over, did. If I’ve learned anything from this experience, it is that as you age, fear sneaks in where you least expect it.

Fear of falling is a real thing, especially as you get older. Fear of falling in older folks is greater than that related to robbery, financial stress, or health problems, according to an article on the Anxiety and Depression Association of America website. Click here to read the full article.

Julie Loebach Wetherell, PhD, an Associate Professor in the Department of Psychiatry, University of California, San Diego, writes that about ten percent of older adults report excessive fear, and at least three percent avoid leaving their homes or yards. That may not seem like much, but when you consider that the aging population is the fastest growing demographic globally and that by 2050, two billion adults older than sixty-five will be living on this planet, the percentages become more significant.

“Most people who fear falling avoid some physical activities. This fear is a better predictor of decreased physical activity than age, perceived health, number of prescription medications, gender, or history of falls,” Wetherell writes. She notes that fear of falling and less physical activity lead to disability, including decreased capacity to perform daily living activities such as bathing and shopping.

Paradoxically, the fear of falling increases the risk of falls. It also increases the risk of having to enter a health care facility and the loss of independence. Those who had excessive fear but no falls over a two-year period increased their risk of entering a nursing home five-fold relative to those with low fear. Of older adults in one scientific study, fifty-six percent with high levels of fear fell again within the following year, while only thirty-seven percent of those without fear did. – Julie Loebach Wetherell

I confess that fear of falling and making my back injury worse has contributed to our isolation, which, by the way, also leads to feeling discouraged, even depressed. These are not characteristics in my essential make up. Quite the contrary. I always think life will get better, every obstacle can be overcome, and bloom where your planted. I’ve scarcely written a word in the last six weeks that wasn’t related to my daily prayer journal and devotional journal. I dropped out of Pasateimpo Art Academy, simply because I had neither the energy nor the time (or physical ability), to conduct the writing classes I had signed up to do.

I realized after my whine-fest with Kathy, the problem wasn’t my circumstances; the problem was my attitude, which was being shaped by my fears.

No more. Time to get back to normal. Ordinary caution makes sense; hiding behind anxiety does not.

Onward and upward.

We met Kathy and Fred for coffee at Charlie’s today. I drove.

Photo: Life after a fall.


I am old, but that’s okay

Amaryllis in Bloom

Every once in a while I catch my reflection in a store window and am puzzled by the stranger looking back at me. Yes, I do look at my reflection every day when I’m putting on makeup, but that’s different, that’s a feature by feature application that doesn’t require looking at the whole picture, the big picture you might say.

It’s those unexpected sightings of myself when I stop and think, “Who is that old woman?” And then the rude awakening, “Oh, right, that’s me, the girl who used to weigh 97 pounds soaking wet (yeah, that’s been a while ago), and the one with – at varying times – dish-water blonde hair, black hair, blonde hair, red hair, and now nearly entirely white hair.

Being old doesn’t bother me, maySharon Vander Meerbe because I’m blessed with good health and don’t have to deal with the issues of a failing body and wandering mind, at least not right now. I’m happy to get up in the morning and look out into the patio to find an amaryllis in full bloom that’s been around for at least 50 years, its blossoms as brilliant and showy as if sprung new from the ground for the first time. It blooms twice a year without fail, with two to three spikes bearing three or four brilliant blossoms. Oh, that as I age I continue to blossom in my own way. I hope by the end of every day I have done something that made someone smile or laugh or think.

And then there are my friends. I don’t have many, by the way, only a few. Yes, I know many people, and I treasure those relationships, but a friend is someone who will listen to you blather on and pretend what you say matters. A friend is someone who will ask you the right questions without trying to give you her version of the right answers. A friend is someone who has known you for a long time and still likes you. A friend is someone who doesn’t judge you or the choices you make. A friend is someone who knows you want an honest answer to the question, “Do these pants make me look fat?” So, yeah, the only way you have old friends is if you are getting old too.

Life in general is as happy as we each want it to be. Make a conscious choice every day to be happy. If life has taught me anything it is to be forgiving, not only of others, but of oneself as well. Carrying around the baggage of discontent can plumb wear a person out. Taking on the stress dealt out by life is a time and energy waster. Guilting over past mistakes is to allow other people or circumstances to control your life, and why would you want to do that? Try to right the wrongs you can, and trust in the Lord for the rest. I learned the hard way that I can’t make other people happy no matter how hard I try, but I can make me happy, and by doing so hopefully have a positive impact. Life Lesson 101 – Count your blessings, they far outnumber your disappointments.

So, yes, I’m old, but that’s okay. I do count my blessings, and being able to write these words and share them is one of them. Aging is more than a physical process. It is to a degree mental. I agree with columnist Doug Larson who wrote, “The aging process has you firmly in its grasp if you never get the urge to throw a snowball.” I can’t wait for the next snowfall. I’m ready to make my pitch.