Aging: Another Word For Living

There are real concerns as one ages. There are some solutions for those fears. One does not have to live in a valley of fear and regret.

One Halloween, supermodel Heidi Klum dressed up as an “old lady” for Halloween. High heels and mini skirt were hardly noticeable for the “costume” of varicose veins, wrinkles, liver spots, white hair, and a cane. Klum posed for photos in a rocking chair. One has to wonder–is Klum afraid of growing old?

Such stereotyping of age rests on a misconception, if not a downright lie, that all young people have perfect skin, gleaming hair, have non-stop sex, are bursting with energy, and are never lonely. And the second part of that lie is that aging means useless, ugly, and unhappy—a true Halloween nightmare.

Real fears do not go bump in the night or hide under the bed–these are uncertainties about the future. Those who are in the second half of life know that real fear results from the tension between the will to survive and the awareness of limited time.

  • Loss of independence
  • Boredom
  • Declining health
  • Running out of money
  • Not being able to live at home
  • Death of a spouse or other family member
  • Inability to manage their own activities of daily living
  • Not being able to drive
  • Isolation or loneliness
  • Strangers as caregivers
  • Fear of falling or hurting themselves.

Reorganization of perceptions can help decrease fear. It helps to name the fear and face it.

  • Play detective. If you are unsure of what is frightening you, look for clues. When does it happen? Where? Is it when you are alone or with others?
  • Be creative. Experiment with ways that help you feel safer. Even small gestures like installing grab bars or fixing a loose railing not only make your environment safer but can also give you a sense of control.
  • Change your perception. Use humor, read books, draw pictures of your fears.
  • Clear up false beliefs.
  • Answer the “what-ifs.” The ache in your knees is probably arthritis, but get a thorough physical rather than engaging in fear of cancer.
  • Don’t overreact to nightmares.
  • Look for role models. Talk to survivors of your fears.
  • Learn coping skills. Find a mantra that reassures you. The doors are locked, your pantry is full, the laundry is done. Try breathing exercises. Learn to discern between a true concern that needs to be addressed and a fantasy
  • Avoid media overexposure.
  • Talk about your fears. With peers, professionals, and family. Seek their ideas about solutions.

Aging, just like the rest of life, is a mixture of gains and losses. There are losses associated with every stage of life. Mid-life life years may be consumed with the longing to be free from a job, and retirement may bring grief over the loss of the security and social connection it provided. Throughout life, mourning is an essential human task, freeing up a space in which new qualities and experiences can develop.

Realistically, most people find their energy levels changing as they age and have to learn to pace themselves. But physical and mental vitality are not the same thing. The idea that one’s appetite for life automatically decreases with the passing of the years is simply wrong–it often increases! Most older people say they care far less what other people think of them, live life more fully, and are better able to weather crises.

Florida Scott-Maxwell (playwright and suffragette) wrote at age eight five, “Age puzzles me. I thought it was a quiet time. My 70s were interesting and fairly serene, but my 80s are passionate. I grow more intense as I age. To my own surprise, I burst out with hot conviction … I must calm down. I am far too frail to indulge in moral fervor.”

People can revitalize themselves at any age–they can go on learning and developing until the final breath. When a ninety-year-old British woman was asked why she volunteered, she replied succinctly: “Personal growth.”

Resisting ageism, not age, is part of age-acceptance that embraces the process of growing older, discovering in the process that life can become more exciting and enriching as years pass.

Age isn’t something that happens to us in the second half of our life–it is a lifelong process. We age from the moment we are born. In this sense, ageing is another word for living!


Why Not?

Emma Gatewood (Grandma Gatewood) was a farmer’s wife and the mother of 11 children. Abused by her husband, she reported broken teeth and ribs and beatings so severe that she feared for her life. She ran to the woods for solitude and safety from the attacks. When Gatewood divorced her husband, he threatened to have her institutionalized as insane.

In 1955, when Grandma Gatewood was 67, she told her grown children that she was going for a walk. Used to her excursions, they did not ask where or for how long. She carried an old army blanket, a shower curtain, a rain coat, and a duffel bag. Wearing  canvas shoes, she began her walk.

The next anyone heard, Gatewood had hiked 800 miles of the Appalachian Trail. In September 1955, having survived a rattlesnake strike and two hurricanes, she stood atop Maine’s Mount Katahdin—the end of over 2000 trail miles—becoming the first woman through hiker!

While not every woman has the physical ability to carry out such a feat, the story is clear—women of any age can be active and vital. New adventures await. What is your walk?

(Need more?  Grandma Gatewood’s Walk, or watch for the film Trail Magic)



A Woman’s Place

As I get a little older, my hindsight increases, and I can see life patterns. Some patterns are bothersome—maybe not to the extent of ranting or disrupting fellowship, but words are needed.

One such pattern is the ongoing discussion of women and their roles in the local church. In society and history, feminists sought education, careers, equality, and even independence. At times they disparaged women who sought a career in the home, or those who enjoyed cooking or sewing. Women at home criticized their sisters as reckless, harmful to the family unit, masculine, and emasculating. Instead of women offering salt and light to the world, the negative behaviors encroached on the Church—some denominations leaning too far one way, some leaning too far the other.

A woman’s place is wherever she is ministering with her gifts. Respect for the woman called to minister to infants in a nursery should equal the respect for the one called to mission in teaching. One is not more Biblical than the other. Cover your head, or don’t cover your head. Speak from the pulpit or do not speak from the pulpit. Disagree or agree. But do so with respect and the expectation of learning from  one another–not the gossipy asides, condemnation, or jokes at the expense of others.

The following video might begin some dialogue.

Posted by Alice Longaker