By Sondra Shapiro
It’s been a watershed year for sickness and loss, so in many ways I am happy to say goodbye to 2013.
The year also marked the occasion of my official entrance into old age. Though there is much discussion about what years constitute middle age, at 60, I am no longer a middle-ager by anyone’s calculations.
So, as we usher in 2014, I’m in a pensive mood with regard to mortality. Through the process I have had some aha realizations.
Right on cue, my attitude, body and mind have begun a disturbing metamorphosis. Or perhaps I am just more conscience of the changes these days.
For example, I am prone to overwhelming compulsions to compare notes with anyone within earshot about some health issues. “What medication are you on?” “What is your HDL? Mine is …” “I have chronic pain in my neck. What do you do for your aches and pains?”
I started conversing with strangers in the checkout line at the supermarket, as well as talking out loud to myself. “Why did I just go into the pantry?” “Where are my reading glasses?”
I have become my Aunt Bertha overnight.
When I was young, my friends and I would poke fun at those wacky old aunts who talked about their maladies. Now we are just as inclined to share the most intimate details of our health issues at every opportunity.
Because I’m growing old as a certified member of that generation that has no problem with letting it all hang out — to borrow the title of the 1960s’ Hombres hit single — we will discuss anything and everything in far more detail than our parents ever dreamed of doing. We are Aunt Berthas on steroids.
Though we are walking that well-trodden yellow brick road through our golden years, we boomers are making more noise along the way than the generations before us. There are no lions, tigers or bears to fear. There is no omnipotent wizard waiting for us at the end of the road. Rather, the racket we are making is us trying to avoid the unavoidable big scary at journey’s end.
We’ve taken humor to an art form as a way to cope, making jokes about the infirmities that seem to pop up each morning when we drag our self-abused bodies from bed.
My husband, the athlete, doesn’t understand why his shoulder aches when he finally sits in his chair to read a book after an hour-and-a-half workout and ends up nodding off after five minutes. “Oh,” I answer, playing along with his delusion, “you fell asleep the wrong way.” I’m still trying to figure out how to tell him he is getting too old to run, lift weights, do yard work and golf in one day without suffering physical consequences.
We are so loud about our fear that industries and technologies have taken notice, rolling out high-tech artificial knee joints, cosmetic injectibles and countless other potential profit centers. We are more than willing to dole out our hard-earned dollars toward hollow promises to forestall, or better yet, defeat the effects of aging.
Yet, despite our penchant for anti-aging products and procedures, the only cure for what ails us is the thing we boomers are trying so hard to avoid. And from the increase in sympathy and get well cards I have been mailing lately, the reality has finally set in for me.
So while our lifestyle choices allow us to look and act a lot younger than those who walked the path before us, I’m learning quickly that it is often easier to just grin and bear it. And, more importantly, adapt.
Case in point, I am about to have foot surgery, which will mean no treadmill for months. The treadmill is an important part of my day since it relieves stress and keeps me in shape. So, rather than lamenting — well I did that too — I thought the recuperation would be an opportunity to work on upper body strength. Let’s see if I stick with that.
Lest it sound like I’m disapproving of my generation, the fact is that I embody it. I’m one of the first to run out to Target whenever L’Oreal or Nivea unveils a new collagen-infused, Vitamin C-intensive moisture cream. Each night I ignore my sore joints and mount that treadmill for a fast-paced two-mile walk. Though my once fashion-forward attitude has sadly given way to more comfortable, less style-conscious choices.
I admire and embrace my generation’s energy. Our comfort with speaking our mind. Our energy level. Our strong work ethic. Our quest for knowledge. Our dedication to family. Our inclination to not accept the status quo.
We have a lot going for us. So, I say we should bask a bit in our accomplishments. As we walk that yellow brick path, we shouldn’t be afraid to gather resources along the way that will make those golden years more comfortable.
We should take things a bit more slowly to enjoy the little moments. We should occasionally embrace that rocking chair from Aunt Bertha’s generation. I’ve already begun — My La-Z-Boy swivel rocker is beginning to mold to my shape from all the hours spent with my nose stuck in a book or my mind engrossed in TV.
While we’re busy striving to look our best and to be in top physical shape, we could also have some fun by losing our intense fixation with trying to avoid what is ultimately unavoidable.
Those old aunts had some good ideas, after all. So, if a bit of gray hair peaks through those uncolored roots, don’t fret. It’s nothing a little hair color can’t take care of. There’s always a solution as long as we are alive and kicking.
Live in the moment. This is the most important lesson I learned from a year of losses.
Sondra Shapiro is the executive editor of the Fifty Plus Advocate. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org. And follow her online at www.facebook.com/fiftyplusadvocate, www.twitter.com/shapiro50plus or www.fiftyplusadvocate.com.