Diana, Age 71
I’m the same person I was at ten only a bit slower of foot and intellect. My mind doesn’t feel seventy, but then it didn’t feel ten. I still have dreams and ambitions, fears and regrets.
I’m still the same person, perhaps experience and past mistakes have given me a little wisdom, but I just feel like me. Not an old lady. Just Me.
I still like to travel, but those long flights are a downer. I’m trading them in for city stays with afternoon rests. I enjoy art and music, reading, gardening and cooking as much as ever, and with the help of cataract surgery and glasses I see quite well. My hearing’s compromised a bit with mild tinnitus and age related hearing loss, but my major hearing problem probably isn’t hearing related at all. I have trouble with comprehension when people talk fast. That’s probably more a brain function. Whatever, it’s my new reality, along with the need to pace my activities since my stamina wanes. I don’t want to define myself in terms of my health, but my health seems intent on intruding on who I am.
My husband and I still handle all our own finances, but now instead of worrying about job loss, we worry about our pension plan being defunded, the effect of future inflation on our income and savings, and which will last longer – our money or us. We’ve written wills and dealt all the other elder care legal issues . And we’re agreed that we’ll never make a major decision without talking it over with both our children. We do all our banking online, and as we age will eventually set up automatic bill pay. Our next big decision is probably deciding when we move into an apartment. So far there’s nothing in our community that we like, so we’re giving ourselves more time.
Of course I have health issues. And far less stamina than I had when younger. So I garden for shorter intervals early in the day since I can no longer take the heat. Twice a week I lift weights at the local YMCA. I do Yoga and ride the exercise bike twice a week and walk for an hour each day. But, nevertheless, I understand that while I’m buying flexibility and strength, I’m not delaying my eventual death. I’m just trying to make this part of my life as enjoyable as possible.
My husband and I have handed over some of our responsibilities to others: we have a handyman, bi-weekly cleaning service, lawn service….the list will only grow longer. I call them all my ‘Easy Button’ and enjoy my free time.
I’m living proof that all grandmotherly-looking women aren’t necessarily patient and gentle, but I do my best to fake it. I come closest to losing my cool when patronized. Please don’t reassure me that I shouldn’t be ‘afraid’ of the buttons on my washing machine and don’t be ‘impressed’ that I use the calendar on my cell phone. I’m old, not helpless. Please don’t remind me that someday I might be.
What’s hardest for me? I miss those I love who are no longer here. I miss the involvement of work and the friends from my past who are no longer part of my life. I’m lonely for those long laughing lunches with other women and summer vacation with my small children. Hardest of all is the sense of helplessness. I’m getting old and frail, I know that I’m not as sharp as I once was, and the economy and my health will do what they do. I never could control the forces that govern my life. I still can’t. So I try to focus on today and accept that the world will spin along without me.
Yet these are among the best years of my life. I have the time to appreciate that I have a good marriage and that my children grew up to be nice people. I can do what interests me and ignore a lot that doesn’t. I can take the time to smile at the checkout girl at the market and thank those who help me. I can glory in the fact that my daughter and daughter-in-law can hold the positions of authority that were denied me (even if I join their grumble at pay inequality). I have time to savor the moment and the knowledge of how fleeting that moment is.
I know that health issues will eventually create stress and my life will be far less smooth, and that for most people their last few years are difficult. But I’ll face that when it comes and make the best of things that I can. For my major job in old age is to prove to my children (and myself) that if one focuses on the quality of a well-lived life it is indeed worth living.
Who am I? Actually I turned 71 on Sunday. I’m a Caucasian Southerner born in New Orleans and living in Knoxville. I taught English composition and worked as a GSUSA director. I have a husband and two adult children, two grandchildren, and a good, if quiet, life.