I published my first blog post 13 years ago yesterday. At age 50, I felt myself poised on “the second half of my century on earth,” and was itching for a way to explore that particular position with writing. Little did I know what would come of that blog - Becca’s Byline, it was called. It led to thousands of words written in the work of making sense of Life In General (and my own in particular.) It led to a deeper exploration of my creative thinking. It led to new confidence in my abilities, and to the eventual publication of two books of collected essays.
But most importantly, it led to a network of connections, many of which are still viable today, even though I’ve never met some of these people in real life (IRL). As an introvert, an only child, a solitary somewhat melancholy soul, connection with others - both like minded and contrary - is vital to my mental health. In a recent interview on NPR, Mary Pipher, author of a new book about aging entitled Women Rowing North, said that as women enter old age their friends are their mental health insurance policy. I believe that statement with my whole heart, and I’m blessed to have a robust and multifaceted “policy” in my circle of amazing friends.
Which is why, at age 63 (as of yesterday) I’m recommitting to writing here at, even though many people say blogging as a platform is dead. I still think its a marvelous way of connecting with people - less public than social media and therefore less noisy and hectic. Blogs seem like a quieter, safer neighborhood in which to gather, more like inviting a select group into your living room than standing on a street corner shouting at one another. My plan is to open this door for you every other Sunday and I hope you’ll stop by, have some coffee or a glass of wine, and connect with me on the page about life in all its glory.
As I’ve moved forward into my 60’s, I’ve started thinking about life in terms of trimesters. If you’ve been pregnant and given birth you’re familiar with the concept. Science divides the typical nine-month pregnancy into three section of three months each. The first trimester brings an onslaught of symptoms as your body adjusts to all the hormones of rapidly dividing embryonic cells - fatigue, morning sickness, emotional lability. The second three months brings a calmer period, your condition becomes obvious to others but not overly so and you enjoy feeling the baby moving inside you. During the third as you prepare to give birth, you become heavy with the weight of this new life. You move slowly and ponderously through the days, everything is harder, and you desperately want that baby out into the world so you can get on with the business of raising her.
It seems like we can divide our entire lifespan into a similar set of trimesters. Our years from birth to age 30, from 30-60, and then - as people live longer and longer - from 60-90. Those first 30 years are a whirlwind of growth and learning and doing, not only physical growth and maturation, but mental and emotional as well with schooling, and work and establishing families. From 30-60 we can settle in, raise our families and send them out into the world, complete our first careers and hone the passions that will enrich our later lives when working is over. From 60-90 we begin to slow down somewhat, our bodies don’t recover as quickly from trauma, we relinquish some of our great expectations and go easier on ourselves. Perhaps we worry less about making an impression on the world and more about making ourselves happy. As someone once said, “I have everything I want in life. But I know what to want.”
So at age 63, I’m here at the beginning of this third trimester. I think a lot about getting older - maybe I think about it too much because I’ve been in close proximity to so many loved ones during this period of their lives, and right now have a number of dear friends who are passing the mid-point of it. Always wanting to be prepared, I read and study and ponder what old age could mean for me in my particular situation.
On the plus side, I’m relatively healthy and strong, I’m completely independent with my activities of daily living (ADL’s), I’m happily married. I have activities that interest me, friends who sustain me.
On the negative side, I have only one child (a son) who lives over 1000 miles away. I have no siblings, nor does my husband. In fact, we have no family members in close proximity, so our support network is slim should one of us fall seriously ill.
A couple of weeks ago I brought home a book called The Art of Dying Well, A Practical Guide to a Good End of Life. Author Katy Butler divides this third trimester into seven stages whose characteristics she clearly describes through a checklist at the beginning of each chapter. For example, Chapter One, Resilience, is defined this way:
You blew out all the candles on your 50th or 60th birthday cake
Aches, pains and health problems are annoying but not limiting. You pay your own bills, make your own medical decisions, and generally enjoy life.
You wonder why they make numbers on credit cards so small and fuzzy.
Your hair is thinning in familiar places and sprouting in strange ones.
You misplace keys - and names. You’re not crazy about technology updates.
A late night blows a hole in the next day. Sometimes you’re in bed by nine. You’ve discovered naps.
Getting in shape takes longer, and the results are less impressive. You injure more easily and recover more slowly.
Some of your friends have died.
You sometimes sense that your time on earth is limited and precious.
I can tick off all these boxes, and I suspect many of you who read this will nod your head in agreement. But I sighed a little bit in relief, knowing that I was at least still in this phase of Resilience, which means, as Butler says, "you are in young old age” and thus you “still have the physical capacity to reverse substantial health problems.” And since I don’t really have any substantial health problems (at least not today - none of us know what tomorrow will bring!) I read on into the chapter feeling a little bit smug.
But as I continued reading, I learned this is no to time slouch. It’s a time to build my reserves of strength with good eating and staying active physically and mentally, and add to my reserves of relationships - not only social ones, but professional ones with medical personnel I can trust to be my ally, to understand what’s important to me in terms of living life for quality and not just quantity. It’s time to know my medical rights and take all the necessary steps to preserve them. It’s time to make sure my family know my wishes about end of life care and are willing to be advocates for me. It’s time to cultivate gratitude, peace of mind, and learn to be comfortable with simply being rather than doing.
Full disclosure: The biggest challenge to my overall health and well being is not physical but mental. Anxiety, fear, uncertainty eat away at me. They rob me of enjoyment, appetite, sleep. Worry is an endless loop in my brain. I worry about everything from my immediate family to immigrant children. From the balance in my checkbook to the growing national debt. From a hurtful comment made in anger to the tirades of white supremacists. Worry beads are my Rosary, and I finger them constantly.
None of us are free from worry and anxiety, especially as we age. This has not been a good year for us. It started off on a horrible note, and continues to be filled with one disruption after another. Most of them are not earth shattering, none of them so far have been life threatening. I have friends who are in earth shattering and life threatening situations, and they are high on my list of worries. But every day seems to add more beads to my strand of concerns.
This is Me at 63.
My favorite poet, Mary Oliver, whose poetry exudes simplicity of thought and feeling, could have written this just for me.
I worried a lot. Will the garden grow, will the rivers
flow in the right direction, will the earth turn
as it was taught, and if not how shall
I correct it?
Was I right, was I wrong, will I be forgiven,
can I do better?
Will I ever be able to sing, even the sparrows
can do it and I a, well,
Is my eyesight fading or am I just imagining it,
am I going to get rheumatism,
Finally I saw that worrying had come to nothing.
And gave it up. And took my old body
and went out into the morning,
Writing is one of the ways I go out into the morning and sing. Connecting with others through words and feelings shared is a way to put worry in its place for a while.
I hope you’ll come with me and sing along.
So tell me, if you’re in the third trimester of life, what’s your biggest challenge going forward? What’s your greatest relief?