The Art of Aging Gracefully
By Cindy Coker
This past June, I reached a milestone birthday. I am officially a senior citizen. That first number changed to a 6 and I entered a new decade. Oddly enough, I don’t feel 60 and I don’t think (and have been told) that I don’t “look” 60. Which, of course, begs the question, “what does 60 look and feel like?” I was in a meeting recently and two of the women were commiserating about turning 50. I responded that I had 10 years on both of them and didn’t want to hear it. The response was, I’d never have known that. I relayed this story to my mother with the comment, imagine how young I’d look if I actually got sleep??
I remember when I was a kid, 60 seemed a lot older. I think people acted older 40 years ago. So much has changed that those of us who are now considered “senior citizens” have options that our grandparents didn’t have. Social media didn’t exist. Fashion seemed to dictate that we “dress” our age and it was often more conservative than most of us would even consider today. Women, especially, were expected to act differently as they aged.
What I have learned in my 60 years (and I know many of you reading this will have more practice at everything than I have) is that aging is mandatory, growing old isn’t. I had an amazing role model for this, my grandmother. At 75 she retired from working in a sewing plant because she got tired of having to ask for time off to travel. From her I learned a few valuable things about aging gracefully. So with full credit to Granny, here goes.
- Laughing is good for you. Too many times we forget to laugh. I can remember family gatherings where my grandmother, mother and the aunts would sit around and laugh until there were tears. Not gentle giggles, but belly laughs. It could be about things that were going on in our lives, things we kids had done, something their spouse had done or just remembering something from their childhood. Without a medical background, my grandmother knew that laughing was good for you physically and mentally. “A merry heart does good like a medicine.” Take time to find joy in each day. And sometimes, the best the laugh is the one you have at yourself.
- Count your blessings. My grandmother was one who would take time to visit the “old” folks in a nursing home – many of whom where younger than she. She always said if you look around you will find someone in worse shape than you that can use your help. And she’d help. It stuck with her children and her grandchildren. Look around you, there is someone who needs you to give them a hand. She wrote letters, sent cards and did little things so that others knew they were not forgotten
- Stay active. My grandmother always said there was nothing prettier than someone waiting on themselves. She expected you to do things around the house, in the yard, at the church. If there was work to be done, she would be doing it and you better be up too. She also did things like sprain her ankle in her 60s (which doesn’t seem so old these days) racing her granddaughter while the extended family was on a camping trip. She rode her bicycle. Worked in her garden. No organized exercise routine. She didn’t need it. She made quilts, crocheted (and tried to teach some of us), canned vegetables, any number of things to keep her hands and mind active. She was sharp as a tack right up to her last breath.
- Love with your whole heart. She was widowed in her mid-40s, the same as I was. She had three teenagers still at home. She never married again, but she poured her boundless love into her family. We all knew, no matter what we did, she loved us. Sometimes that meant we were on the receiving end of a good lecture, because she believed that loving someone meant holding them to a standard, not giving them everything they wanted.
- You have to believe in somethin. My grandmother was a woman of strong faith. She had a deep, personal relationship with God and she wasn’t afraid to tell you about it. Her faith defined her and gave her the strength to get through some really tough times.
So what have I learned? Laugh, count your blessings, stay active, love and have faith. So, when I’m 83, I can face it with as much joy as she did. And my nieces, nephews and honorary grands will want to age like I did. – gracefully.