You think life is one way, but then realize its not. In fact, its different than you imagined. This happened to me recently when I had lunch with my mother who’s in her 80’s. That’s when I saw I have this whole aging thing wrong and maybe even backwards. Here’s what I discovered…
You never stop growing. Never. Unless you choose to.
“Ready for Ireland?” I asked, as we ate our hamburgers. My Mom has always wanted to see the Emerald Isle, home to her ancestors, and this year we’re going.
I could tell by her face she’s anxious. Flying overseas is not something she does everyday (who does?) but like everything my Mom has faced recently, she put on a brave face.
“I’m ready,” she said. “I can’t let fear stop me.”
I look at her and can’t help but be proud. My mother’s embarking on a new chapter in life. She’s travelling, trying new things and meeting new people.
But this has come at a cost. She was widowed this year. That was really hard. In fact, the last three years were tough as she fed, clothed and took care of my ailing father who had Parkinson’s disease.
But a silver lining came with adversity. My mother grew strong. She gained resourcefulness and resilience never tested until her late 70’s and early 80’s.
My parent’s marriage was a loving partnership. Most major decisions she and my father made together.
And now for the first time, my mother’s on the front lines of her life. She’s calling the shots. She’s navigating alone.
It’s been difficult without the wise council of her husband and best friend of 60 years. But she’s forging on and with each day, gaining a hard-won independence.
And that fascinates me. When we’re younger we think we’re done at a certain age – done changing, learning, striving, growing. Our job is to sit around and wait for life to grind to a halt.
But I see now that’s wrong. What I never realized is how some of our most intense growth spurts happen later in life.
For the first time, Mom lives alone. Recently she bought her first new car, a sporty gray Honda. Before that, she purchased a bigger, more comfortable bed.
They seem like little things, but to her they were big steps toward a new way of looking at life… and herself.
I can’t help but compare her generation to the young women I know today who lead such different lives. They have freedom to explore who they are – career-wise, relationships and sexually – without the pressure of early marriage and motherhood.
This was unheard of in earlier generations.
It fascinates me to see my mother and her friends (most of them widowed) engineer and create their own lives, many for the first time.
And I’ve learned something else…it’s not all knitting and bridge.
One lady in her 80’s is living with her boyfriend. A friend of my mother’s was recently pulled over by a cop for speeding… she’s in her 90’s. These women explore. They see movies, plays and concerts. They bolster each other up during the tough times. They drink martinis. They laugh. They have fun.
The high priestess of fearless aging has always been my grandmother, Nana. When alive, I couldn’t help compare Nana to a bumblebee who doesn’t know its not supposed to fly… but flies anyway.
Nana didn’t know in her late 80’s she’s not supposed to date, tell off-color jokes and go to rowdy cocktail parties. But she did.
And it’s not all women. Plenty of men reinvent themselves. I know one former hard-driving surgeon who now swears by hot yoga. Another retired pilot has found his passion in poetry.
For most of us, aging is not an easy slide into home plate. It’s hard. And of course, health factors into everything. But it’s different than what I imagined.
As someone about to turn 60, my mother’s journey inspires me. My view of later years keeps expanding, thanks to her.
And okay, life doesn’t really begin at 80. Obviously you have more years behind than ahead. But life doesn’t have to end at 80 either.
And in some cases, like with my mother… you’re just beginning.
What are your thoughts on aging? I’d love to hear. Thank you for reading and if you like, please share. Thanks!