Someone posed the question: “What does aging gracefully mean to you?” I wonder if the time to think about this sort of thing is before it’s staring you in the face. However, here are my thoughts.
When I first considered this question, I immediately had several thoughts: One cannot age gracefully if one has not lived gracefully all along. Nothing magic happens when the odometer rolls past those round numbers: 60, 70, 80…100. If you haven’t learned certain lessons along the way, won’t your golden years lack a certain luster? So, then, what does living gracefully mean?
I raised the question with a dear friend recently. Phyllis and I have known each other since we were young teenagers, and she has been an inspiration to me for many years. Not only that, but she cracks me up like no one else can. So when we had covered the usual 500 topics we talk about when we get together for our long walks, I asked her: what does aging gracefully mean to you?
We can’t help thinking ahead now that we’ve passed 60. What will the next act look like—and what would we like it to look like? I loved what she came up with, and it gave us even more to talk about as we hiked along the hilly trail at Inspiration Point.
It’s easy to focus on the superficial—like makeup, hair and clothing styles—when we look at aging gracefully, but the real key has to do with these four things:
1) Keeping an open heart
2) Setting and maintaining healthy boundaries
3) Learning to embrace transition
4) Being grateful for what you have and what still works
We asked ourselves: Are we living this way now? After all, we observed, we’ll never be this young again! Time to start thinking about how we’ll make the many transitions yet to come.
I can cite a real-life example of someone who managed to pull off this aging gracefully thing with panache: my husband’s Aunt Bette. For Bette’s 80thbirthday, my husband and I flew to San Diego to take her to lunch. Bette loved going out to lunch. When we arrived at her home at the appointed hour, she greeted us with big hugs. Her going-to-lunch-at-80 outfit? A black turtleneck sweater, chunky but tasteful gold jewelry, heels, and…black leather pants. She looked fantastic.
When Bette turned 89, she threw herself a huge birthday party. I wasn’t able to attend, but I saw the pictures. Her hair was a soft shade of silver, chin length and with a slight wave in front. Her nails were a deep red, as was her lipstick. Her skin glowed. She wore a killer black off-the-shoulder dress and danced the night away.
At age 86, Bette moved to a new town to be closer to her niece, and in the last three years of her life, she made hundreds of new friends and became active in local organizations. She loved it when everybody in town called her “Aunt Bette.” When Bette felt that her driving days were over (on her own), she arranged for transportation when she needed it. On those occasions when she didn’t feel well, she scaled back on her activities and took a break. She entertained at every opportunity, never showed up at a meeting without bringing homemade brownies, went out dancing, and had a regular dinner companion who kept her company. I understand they had plans to go on a cruise together.
I guess where I’m going with this is that Bette took good care of herself and made sure to stay involved and engaged until the very end. In fact, she was getting dressed up to go out on New Year’s Eve when she suffered a severe stroke.
She did it all: kept an open heart, set healthy boundaries, embraced transitions, and expressed gratitude for the people around her and her ability to do all the things she did—a graceful way to live, and a reminder that there need not be an age limit regarding black leather pants.