On Aging: Way of Life Changing

Hibernating, burrowing, hunkering in - that’s what we’ve been focused on during these liminal weeks between the years. The climate this winter has been more than kind - until yesterday when the first snow and ice of the season rained down upon us, we have been graced with dry sidewalks and more than unusually mild temperatures. Still, it’s felt like a time to be quiet, to gather stores in for lean times ahead. Nature sends us so many messages if we only will listen. From deep within ourselves comes the desire to slow down, be still, restore strength and energy. Life often prevents us from heeding this call,  or we shove it aside in favor of productivity and sociability and the busy-ness that passes for accomplishment.

As I age, I feel this particular call so often. Experience has taught me to pay attention, that I need not feel guilty or ashamed about pulling back, turtling my head inside the warmth and safety of my home and the people I love there. I’ve finally acknowledged this inner wisdom of body and soul, and I am healthier and happier because of it.

As I’ve written, my husband has recently experienced increasing health issues and concerns, some of which have been difficult to diagnose.  “It feels like the minute I turned 61, I started falling apart,” he remarked glumly, referring to a multitude of maladies that seemed to descend shortly after his birthday in October. In truth, most of these issues are the culmination of long-standing conditions that have been working within his body for many years. When we are young, we claim invincibility, believing that we can continue to push and strive and work and our bodies will rally and support those efforts. But as our bodies age and begin to falter, it’s not quite as easy to carry on despite warning signs and signals.

With much time spent in doctor’s offices and diagnostic procedures, we at least have some definitive answers. And while all of these concerns are serious, we are thankful that none of them are immediately life threatening.

What they definitely are, however, is “way-of-life" changing. When things happen that force us to significantly alter our lifestyles, it’s necessary to spend time processing and regrouping. I think that’s what we’ve been doing in these weeks, perhaps without even knowing it. There is a process of grieving when you realize you can no longer do things you once did. For us, it means permanently giving up many of our favorite foods from meals I’ve cooked for almost 40 years. It means eating out only rarely, and being moderate with choices. (No more grabbing a pizza from Jet’s on busy days, no more Sunday lunches of lasagna at Bravo.) It means that for now Jim’s walking is restricted, and we can’t take our walks around the neighborhood together with Magic and Molly. Important parts of our shared life have been disrupted, and there is an adjustment period that includes disbelief, anger, and finally acceptance. 

These quiet weeks have helped us come to terms with new diets and orthopedic devices, with learning to live under mobility and activity restrictions. We find grace where we can, thankful that many of the most important of Jim's activities of daily living (like driving, working, singing with his choir) are not prohibited. We are thankful that both of us count being home together as a favorite activity, and don’t crave a busy lifestyle with lots of activity.

The natural aging process eventually requires everyone to accept some limitations, temporary or permanent. Most often these limitations mean that life as we knew it will change. But we still want to LIVE - balancing the desire for longevity of life with the desire for quality of life is the difficult thing. We go into this New Year with a heightened awareness of this spectrum. We look for new activities we can share, we find strength and comfort in our time together, and dedicated ourselves to making life in general as satisfying as possible in every respect.