Want to Age Gracefully? Think Carefully
Managing life as you age can lead to contentment
The three things that adults age 55+ need to face are: 1) death is inevitable, 2) decline is (somewhat) preventable and 3) aging is generally manageable.
These three things are not exactly the inverse of the good, the bad and the ugly. Two are rather good and one is just, well, normal and best simply accepted.
"Young" people could loosely be defined as those who can't really imagine dying and certainly do not think about it very often. But by that definition, there may be people of "advanced" age who could be considered young...and perhaps this kind of avoidance thinking actually aids longevity.
When you creep closer to your 60s, 70s, 80s and possibly beyond, however, these three things start becoming more prominent in your mind.
As a 70-plus year-old, my world is still quite full. I am in good health but the reminders about how long — and how well — I will live going forward are omnipresent.
For one thing, I live in Cambria, Calif., a town predominantly occupied by people over 50. (Frankly, most seem older than that and when I was in my 50s, I certainly did not think of myself as old). My wife and I have been here 15 years and most of our friends — some of whom we'd hoped would be younger than us — are mostly older. Go figure.
No Time to Be Invisible
We made a conscious decision to move here to start a somewhat retirement-oriented business, a bed and breakfast. We knew it might be our last venture/job and also that it appealed to many like us; those transitioning from full-time work or, of course, just getting away from the working world for a short period.
We are near the world-famous Hearst Castle. A few people end up moving here because the community is rather special and regularly gets publicized for its various small-town charms.
Consequently, we see at the breakfast table, and in the course of our interactions with "townies," some people in every stage of managing aging, decline and sometimes impending death. We're only 35 miles from a college town and if we want to see really young people, we can. To most of them, I think we are pretty invisible and that's just reality at our ages.
But I don't do invisible very well. Just a few years ago, I landed on the front page of the county newspaper for my water-saving efforts and I still write on a variety of different subjects for various media nationwide. I'm certainly thankful I'm still "relevant."
And, silly me, I recently started working on a retirement consulting business that I'm quickly learning I'm almost too busy for, with grandchildren, the B&B, travel and the presidency of the local couples’ dance club to fit into my schedule.
3 Things to Face About Aging
1. No one denies death is in all our futures. Everyone has their time on the earth and hopefully they make the best of it. I don't believe in any afterlife, but I do believe our atoms and molecules should be allowed to disperse naturally in the air, water or atmosphere — and possibly infuse future life.
That's one reason why a "green" burial appeals to me, although donating one's body to science or cremation and the scattering of ashes seems acceptable as an option. And one thing I know for sure: if you don't inform your loved ones about how you wish this to be handled, they will probably pursue the easiest route.
2. You know in your heart of hearts whether you have taken care of yourself over the years. If so, you have extended your years due to good health habits. I have, although the candy I consumed as a kid might come back to haunt me; it sure has affected my teeth. (I recently visited my dentist who revealed that even he made this mistake.)
You also know what is bad for you and here are some reminders: eating too much meat, driving too fast, smoking, lack of exercise, pollution where you live, undue stress, poverty and rarely seeing a doctor.
3. As far as managing aging, I don't really know if we started soon enough, but I think so. We moved to Cambria and bought a home with rental potential. We avoided the downsides of the housing crash and paid off our mortgage. We socked away some savings and have held onto some stocks I inherited. We joined a tennis club to stay fit. As far as community activism is concerned, we fought a nursing home planned along our lot line; in retrospect, that was rather selfish, as we used to say to ourselves that if we became disabled we could just move around the corner. (The home didn't happen.) Yet 70 percent of us will need nursing care.
We have thought about downscaling, but the house we have poured so much love and work into (and which is paid for) would be hard to give up. We travel, often in groups, and just bought an EV (hybrid) that gets 75 mpg overall, so our overland travel costs are affordable. It will probably be the last car we ever own and has to be a good one!
Aging Gracefully Should Be Possible
As my wife quite often says, "No one is promised tomorrow." Her parents and brother didn't even make it to 70, and she's 69. I think her perspective is unnecessarily a bit morose, but in all things, she's a realist. She and I have a great life and anticipate at least a dozen or more years (I hope) to do the things we love to do together.
I hope you have it pretty well figured out as well, understanding that the future remains unknown and surprises are always around the corner. Aging gracefully should be possible for most. But only if you think it through, carefully.