I think often of what it means to age gracefully. Of the hundreds of elders I have met, I am most awed by those who make aging well seem so easy. One of my role models is Janice. Janice puts herself together every day. Her outfit is matched and her hair is coiffed. She is the quintessential lady. She doesn’t have an unkind word for anyone. She is upbeat and forward-thinking. She is sharp as a tack and attentive and engaging in conversation. This month she turns 105 years old.
I am certain that everyone who has met Janice is impressed by how well she has aged. Someday, I will count myself blessed if I have a fraction as much grace as she does. That is unlikely, however, given that I am just not a naturally graceful person. I am too coarse, too clumsy, too flawed to even pretend I can live up to this example, and I don’t see this getting better with age.
So, if I can’t be graceful, I think about what other characteristics I admire. I like to think I could be the next Maggie Kuhn, the founder of the Gray Panthers, who fought against an unfair mandatory retirement system. I would feel so proud to empower my fellow elders. But, it seems
so disingenuous and even self-interested to fight against the eldercare system that I have perpetrated during my career. Further, I may be a leader, but I am not a fighter. And so, I cannot truly envision myself an aging warrior.
Maybe I will be a Grandma Moses, who became a prolific painter in her late 70s and who used her creativity to stay productive and relevant. But, unless I am suddenly given talents heretofore unseen, I do not see this future for me either.
So, I am left to imagine what I will be like when I am older. I will never be the quiet, wise woman who people turn to for guidance. I am neither quiet nor wise. It would be great if I could be the class clown that brings levity to aging, but I am just not funny. I pray I will not be so self-absorbed that I let my aches and pains rule my interactions. I will consider myself lucky if I can remain useful to the world and helpful to those around me on their own journey through old age.
But, inevitably, there is as much variation in how we age as there are humans on this planet. We will all eventually find our way. We definitely need more good role models for aging so that the next generation will have its share of graceful, wise and wonderful elders to emulate.
Marianne Delorey, Ph.D. is the executive director of Colony Retirement Homes. She can be reached at 508-755-0444 or firstname.lastname@example.org and www.colonyretirementhomes.com. Archives of articles from previous issues can be read at www.fiftyplusadvocate.com.