There is a certain poignant resignation in an elder’s voice when he/she says, “Getting old is not for sissies.” As an elder myself I can certainly understand why people might feel overwhelmed trying to face into the challenges of our aging, but I actually find the statement a bit offensive. Of course we elders are not “sissies” that can’t stand up for ourselves! Instead of trying to justify the discouragements and loss dismissively, however, what we actually need is a positive acknowledgement that despite all the aches and pains and losses of control associated with aging we are privileged to continue the life journey with all the character and stature that has bought us this far.
Our long lives now provide us the opportunity to confirm that, despite all we have experienced and overcome during our lifetimes, we stand even stronger with our deep wisdom about overcoming hardship and loss and what it means to be able to see life from a wiser and fuller perspective. We can now accept with great grace and courage that these final chapters of our lives will continue to challenge us, but we are prepared to meet the challenge with the resiliency we have built into our lives through these precious preceding years.
Through a series of medical procedures and recoveries this past month I have had the opportunity to try to live out and practice these noble intentions about what it means to face into my aging, especially during hardship and loss of control. I learned how difficult it is to not only face the diminishment of aging itself, but also to become suddenly even more dependent on caregivers and medical support. I also learned there is a grace in being able to release some level of control while also finding the strength to maintain what personal agency and control is still available to me.
This tension between graciously releasing control and also maintaining as much as possible is a fair description of what may be called “the art of aging.” It is above all a creative, adaptive response to the reality of the inevitable life cycle. At my most lucid moments I truly can enjoy how fortunate I have been to have lived so fully, and I can thus also accept with deep gratitude this additional time to season into my demise and eventual death.
And more, I so often realized during this time that my distress and suffering aligned me with the majority of my fellow human beings on this earth. Yes, it is painful to suffer, but suffering is always relative, and how fortunate I am that my suffering is relatively so limited and well supported compared to so many others.
The courage and fortitude in response to our aging calls us to deny any part of being so-called "sissies.” Aging well requires us to accept with grace and gratitude the fulfillment of lives well lived.
P.S. Thanks to you who have reached out to me this past month. To briefly report on my health situation: my right hip replacement surgery went well, and I am a month into successful recovery. The exploratory surgery on my right kidney did find a carcinoma, and I will have the kidney removed early September.