Aging is inevitable, our approach to it is not. We all hope to live and die with dignity and embody the idea of growing old with grace. Circumstances can make this difficult but we always have a choice in how to view and interpret these circumstances.
I watched my mother age prematurely as she spent five years constantly caring for my profoundly disabled sister, Margaret. Exhausted from the process she agreed to place my sister in hospital for a week so she could get some rest. After only three days there Margaret died, probably because the nurses could not offer the tender and sensitive care only a mother can provide.
My mother was in her early thirties but I saw her lose her teeth and go grey haired with sadness, guilt and grief. My father drowned his sorrows in alcohol, and although they eventually moved on with their lives they always carried a certain world weary sadness with them.
My dad died of a heart attack when he was just fifty-two, and my mom followed him five years later, again from a heart attack at age fifty two.
Their deaths, devastating to me at the time, became strong motivations for me to choose differently when faced with tragedy. My now thirty year career as a Unity minister began as a conscious choice to see life and consciousness differently. My mother and father were good, decent people, but they never had the opportunity to grow old with grace.
But life unfolds, moves endlessly on, and reveals new lessons and inspirations. Two people in my family have shown me how to handle the senior years successfully.
My mother-in-law, Emily Patrick, mother of my late wife, Davis, died last summer aged ninety-five. She was in robust health until a year before she passed. A community theatre actress for much of her life she continued to act and direct plays into her nineties. When I asked her the secret to aging she told me, ‘Stay curious. Exercise your brain in whatever way works for you.’ In her case, I’m sure it was learning and mastering lines. She followed current events too, and kept up with a wide variety of new and old friends.
My father-in-law, Frank, the father of my wife, Wendy, is eighty-eight. A figure skater when young he has maintained his athleticism throughout his life. A long time private pilot he took up sailing in his seventies and still plays a full round of golf. When I asked him the secret of aging he said, “Stay active. Get up out of your chair and do something, anything. Don’t stay put.” Good advice to all would be couch potatoes!
So, what have I learned from relatives, and my own experiences in regard to aging? That it is, indeed, a choice. Circumstance does not define us. Stay curious and active so as to maintain your brain and body functions, and no matter what the ailment, and both Emily and Frank have had a few, you can indeed grow old with grace.