Updated: Oct 1, 2022
You know those days when you look in the mirror and think, “No, that can’t be right,” and then quickly realize, yep, that’s you? With age, body parts begin southward drifts like anatomical snowbirds and those wrinkles that come out of nowhere can suddenly make your face look like a surface map of Houston freeways. The hair gets grayer, joints you didn’t even know you had start to ache, and nights spent with a good book in your pjs become, at times, preferable to dancing the night away. Weren’t we 30 just a couple of hot minutes ago?
I’m writing this during the week following my 65th birthday. For inspiration, I’m wearing a “Stay Golden” t-shirt from The Golden Girls series and drinking my coffee from a mug that has the lyrics of the Beatles’ When I’m Sixty-Four written on the side. Suddenly, it hit me—I am now one year older than the age Paul McCartney wrote about in his lighthearted addition to the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album.
In case you forgot (it happens at this age):
When I get older losing my hair
Many years from now
Will you still be sending me a Valentine
Birthday greetings bottle of wine
If I'd been out till quarter to three
Would you lock the door
Will you still need me, will you still feed me
When I'm sixty-four
I'd rather receive a birthday card
Who would have thought that receiving a Medicare card would cause a panic of such epic proportion? I tucked that significant little card away in my desk drawer so fast you’d have thought it was laced with poison. There it was, lurking, just waiting for the moment I’d have to retrieve it to update my insurance information at a doctor or pharmacy. Good times.
It’s not that I’m ungrateful for having medical coverage, it’s simply that I’m very aware of the existence of ageism in the US and what that means for us as Baby Boomers in the coming years. Western culture does not exactly foster warm-fuzzies when it comes to getting older. Instead, as we age, we risk becoming nearly “invisible”.
In sharp contrast, Eastern cultures honor their elderly for the wisdom they can impart to the next generation.
Not that any of us are planning to pick up stakes and move to China, but I found it interesting that, there, The Protection and Rights and Interests of Elderly People (aka the Fililal Piety Law) was passed by the National Peoples’ Congress in 2013. It mandates that adult children care for the needs of parents over the age of 60. Not visiting elderly parents regularly can be punishable be either fine or jail time.
In 2004, France passed Article 207 of the Civil Code requiring children to check on aging parents. This, following the disturbing revelations that France 1) had, at the time, the highest pensioner suicide rate in Europe, and 2) many of the 15,000 victims of the 2002 heat wave were the elderly, whose bodies weren’t discovered until weeks later. No one had missed them, no one bothered to request a Safe and Well check.
Japan honors their elderly but because 28% of their population is over 65, a severe strain has been placed on their pension system. Baby diaper sales have been surpassed by the sale of adult diapers.
Korea holds their aging in highest regard, celebrating 60th and 70th birthdays with huge feasts.
While it’s obvious that each culture addresses the issue differently, the vast majority recognize that an aging population requires societal adjustments and, therefore, choose to make positive allowances for their changing demographics.
It would be hard to argue that we are blessed to live in the US, but the fact remains that we reside in a youth-oriented country. Many times, our elderly are considered an obligatory nuisance and are placed in less-than-adequate facilities, left alone with little family interaction. As of 2019, the US had 15,000 nursing homes, two-thirds of which were for profit.
A whopping 27% of adult Americans are estranged from a family member and that astounding statistic includes adult children who have chosen to cut ties with their aging parents. In certain cases of severe physical, psychological, or sexual abuse, that decision may be necessary. In other cases, it’s simply part of a sad, convenient Western trend.
Perhaps we should take a step back and consider the ways of the American Indian. Although there are exceptions, tribal tradition instills the highest regard for Elders. They are considered sacred wisdom-keepers whose job it is to pass down their heritage for future generations.
Each of us are facing a unique set of circumstances. Many boomers are respectfully caring for elderly mothers and fathers, others have already lost one or both parents. Some of us are facing health issues of our own. Those of us with children are navigating the foreign territory of being empty nesters. The fortunate minority among us are retired. But whatever the current situation, it is destined to change as we age.
I am truly blessed. Along with that scary, reality-check Medicare card, I received lots of birthday cards, along with presents, flowers, day-trips with gal-pals, and lunch offers to last me through mid-October. Let each of us hope and pray that there never comes a time in our own lives in which we have to rely on government intervention to ensure that someone out there will look out for our well-being.
It would be wonderful if we could sail across those inevitably rocky waters with the support of a culture that realizes that they’re next. If the Millennials/Gen X, Y, Z following behind us are extremely lucky, they, too, will soon walk in our orthopedic shoes.
"Falling" into the next season of our lives
Autumn is upon us and it’s, by far, my favorite season. As the leaves change color and cover the earth, gently making way for winter, it becomes the perfect time to slow down and reflect. Cool evening breezes signal it’s time for cozy blankets, old movies, and a trip to the storage building to retrieve fall decorations. Soon, mums and pumpkins will be added to the exterior’s scarecrows, and anyone entering our door will be greeted by the scents of apple cider, cloves, and cinnamon. It’s the time of year that ushers in the holiday season and I see no reason to delay the festivities.
I guess the sobering fact is that we are in the fall of our lives. It’s a beautiful time, really. I feel more “together” than I did in my younger years, probably because God has granted enough years to sort things out. Probably like you, I know what (and who) I like, what I will (and won’t) tolerate and how (and with whom) I’ll spend my hours. I’ve come to accept the fact that striving for any kind of perfection is pointless. A few basic tweaks allow life to become much more relaxed and enjoyable.
I’ve still got a lot of memories to make. I’ve got places to go and people to see. And even though I know “winter is coming,” it’s not here today. And fall is a lovely time to be alive.
Paul McCartney's miscalculation
I could be handy, mending a fuse
When your lights have gone
You can knit a sweater by the fireside
Sunday mornings go for a ride
Doing the garden, digging the weeds
Who could ask for more
Will you still need me, will you still feed me
When I'm 64
American Songwriter reports that, during an interview, Sir Paul said the age of 64 mentioned in his song was chosen randomly. Later, the number became personally significant. The legendary singer turned 64 in 2006, the year he received his 64th Grammy nomination.
However, he was quoted as saying, if he had to do it over again, knowing what he knows now about aging, the title would be “When I’m 94.”
McCartney was 24 at the time he and John Lennon wrote the lyrics.
When Lennon was interviewed (1970) by Rolling Stones’ founder and editor Jan Wenner, she asked what he thought he and Yoko would be doing when they were 64. He replied he had no specific plans, but hoped they’d be living somewhere on the Irish coast, looking through a bizarre scrapbook of their lives. As we know, John’s life was cut short at the age of only 40.
Yes, as boomers we may not be chronologically young anymore, but 64-ish is not nearly as old it used to be. People are living longer, healthier lives. I feel much younger than my Medicare card (or my early morning mirror) indicates. I still love all-things-fashion, fun experiences, learning a new skill, movies, travel, writing, reading, and spending quality time with friends and family. While it may require a bit more exercise, vitamins, and maintenance trips to the doctor to stay healthy, it’s worth the extra effort.
As we give it our best shot to live our best “fall” lives, it pays to do so with gratitude. There are scores of “John Lennons” who are not given the opportunity to make it to 94, 80 or even 64. Each day is a gift.
Let's hope that as the years pass, our children and grandchildren won't need legislative intervention to force them to make sure we're ok. No one wants to feel like an obligation.
For now, you can find me “doing the garden, digging the weeds,” but I haven’t resorted to knitting a sweater by the fireside yet. I still give my hubby Valentines, birthday greetings, and bottles of wine. (That said, I might consider locking the door if he stayed out till a quarter to three, regardless of his age!) He reciprocates. And yes, he knows exactly how to mend a mean fuse.
Don’t be afraid to claim your age. While I was secretly dreading it, nothing drastic happened on my Big Day of turning 65. The earth didn’t shatter, the sun still rose beautifully, and I was remembered by so many people who I’m blessed to have in my life. The day was spent with Lanny, and it was memorable in all the right ways.
As for those facial life-lines that keep appearing, I agree with author Amy Neftzger’s beauty advice. She says, “I’m pretty sure that chocolate keeps wrinkles away because I’ve never seen a 10-year-old with a Hershey bar and crows’ feet.”
Don't forget to be kind. Turning into a cranky old lady or a grumpy old man isn't going to do us any favors.
Age is just a number. Wrinkles don’t matter. But in case they do, I gotta run… There’s a Hershey bar out here somewhere with my name on it.
Until next time, bloom where you're planted!
All photos were either my own work, or used with permission through license/subscription, 123RF.
Links for factual reference available upon request.