Aging Gracefully...What Does That Mean?
Aging Gracefully...What does that mean? Is it just a term used to make us feel better about the taboo that we are all getting older?
Is It a Euphemism?
Aging gracefully is often used as a euphemism for "looking old, but still holding on" or "showing signs of aging, but still moving forward with life."
In this way, the term feels almost negative. But is that the only interpretation we can attach to this term? Perhaps aging gracefully doesn't have to refer specifically to age or appearance, but rather the attitude people have as they go through the various stages of life.
Today I am 46. 46 is not so bad. In fact, I love it. To me 40 was the age at which I though that I would finally feel like a successful adult. And I did.
I often wonder when did we go from looking forward to being older (remember as a kid saying ‘I’m 5 and a half’ when someone asked your age?) to thinking that getting older was a death sentence.
How many of you have heard someone say a version of ‘I’m so old I’ve got one foot in the grave?’.
Proud To Be 46
I am proud to be 46! And while some of you may wonder why someone who is 46 is talking about aging gracefully – I think I am completely qualified to talk on this subject. I remember myself at 10, 20 & 30. I see the aging process in myself now at 46 (my wrinkles and gray hairs), I saw the changes in my parents and my grandparents.
I am qualified because I have seen aging from the very beginning, at birth, all the way through to the very end, at death. As we age our bodies change, our faces change and our abilities change. These are things we can’t stop. Most of it we have no control over at all.
Some of it really tries our patience. But, because of this, aging must be a matter of acceptance rather than one of denial.
What Does It Mean?
What does ‘gracefully’ mean anyway? Graceful describes movement.
Grace means to give beauty, elegance or charm to; it is the seemingly effortless beauty or charm of movement.
Do you know anyone who moves through life’s every moment with grace? I don’t. Sometimes we have to fight to get what we want. But if we can live more graceful moments and fewer fighting moments it is likely that our time on this earth will be full of kindness.
This is how I want to be remembered. This would make me feel full of grace.
When Does It Start?
So what is the age in which we begin to age gracefully? Is it 40, or 50, or 60? 70? I like to think it is somewhere around 18.
Don’t we have to make good and sound decisions from the time we become an adult in order to shape the rest of our lives? It can’t just happen that you live your whole life with abandon and disregard for the well-being of yourself and others and then one day at the ripe old age of, say 50, decide to live gracefully.
You wouldn’t know how to do it. You wouldn’t know where to start; you wouldn’t know how to be graceful. To age with grace we have to live with grace.
I got married, for the first…and only, time, when I was 36. My husband is seven years younger than me. But our age difference doesn’t come into the equation. Unless he is teasing me and tells me I’m old in order to get a rise out of me. At which point I retort with ‘Well, you’re bald’ (which he is). But in this banter, which I find comical rather than insulting, I have realized that I am not afraid of getting older, of aging. I actually embrace it and feel that it is a victory.
How Do We Get There?
So, how do we get there? How do we get to aging gracefully? There are all these things that people tell other people to do in order to "age gracefully".
Things like exercise on a regular basis, eat lots of fruit and vegetables, don’t smoke, don’t drink alcohol - oh, but be sure to drink lots of water, get enough sleep but not too much sleep, control your blood pressure…blah blah blah, we all know this, these are things that are ingrained in us from day one.
By following this model you may go to the grave well-preserved but you were probably bored as hell getting there. And this model only works if aging gracefully is 100% about appearance and 0% about living.
I don’t think it is. I want the marks of my age to tell my stories and to hold my memories. In the words of Mark Twain “Wrinkles should merely indicate where the smiles have been.”
Aging gracefully is too often based on appearance. That’s why we all use eye cream, face cream, neck cream, décolletage cream, elixirs, tinctures; I could go on and on forever here.
If we didn’t care about our appearance we’d all be smearing butter on our faces rather than expensive lotions. And we would all be a lot richer for it. But it is fine to want to look good…its human nature; if we feel young, why not look young?
It makes us feel more confident and there is nothing wrong with confidence; especially when it comes to aging gracefully. The most attractive accessory a person can have is self-confidence.
Tips for Aging Gracefully
But what else besides looking our best makes us confident? Success? Wisdom? Intelligence? Being self-reliant? Have you ever asked yourself what it is that makes you confident? What will make you age gracefully?
I have asked myself these things and, for what it’s worth, here are my tips for aging gracefully…..
Accept the change that is aging; it is inevitable
Prepare for life with a sense of humor- there’s going to be a lot of weird stuff happening to our bodies as we age that if we don’t laugh about we will cry about.
Make sound decisions now and ask for forgiveness for those not so sensible decisions made in the past
Be authentic; accept and be proud of yourself. Remember the most attractive quality one can have is self confidence
Do things that make you happy, be selfish sometimes. My selfish happy time consists of listening to music and having dance parties in my kitchen. Of course it drives my husband crazy because he can’t hear Gold Rush on the TV but oh well; once in a while I need to do something to make me happy. And I figure he can DVR it.
Choose your attitude- I learned this at a past job and I still think of this every morning. Only I have the ability to make my day great. Only I have the ability to change my bad day into a good day by choosing to have a positive attitude over a negative attitude. I figure I’ve got to face my day anyway so I may as well do it to be the best me I can be.
Have a core purpose- what is your fundamental reason for being? What is engraved in your heart and your mind? I want to touch and improve lives. I want to make people feel good and special.
Forgive yourself and others- I can’t even express how this simple statement has saved me a whole lot of unnecessary stress. I’m sure you have all heard that forgiveness doesn't mean that you deny the other person's responsibility for hurting you, and it doesn't minimize or justify the wrong. Forgiveness is the intentional and voluntary process by which a victim undergoes a change in feelings and attitude regarding an offense, the victim lets go of their own negative emotions. And we all know how detrimental negativity can be. Being able to forgive allows us to heal. When I think of this I always think of my sister. We get into some crazy fights, even at this stage in our lives. And we both think we are blameless. And we are both stubborn. So, as you can imagine, blamelessness and stubbornness are a recipe for disaster when it comes to relationships. But when I learned to forgive her, and when she learned to forgive me- it was not as though we had to give in to one another but it did allow us to put aside our self-righteousness in order to heal our relationship. The relief this act of forgiveness provides is like having the weight of the world lifted from your shoulders.
Give love and receive love- It sounds easy, right? I was always able to give love but to receive it made me feel selfish and insecure in my ability to defend and protect myself. I needed it but I didn’t think that I needed it. My husband recognized that I needed it and it was always a conflict between us. I finally chose to listen to him. Otherwise these conflicts were going to get the best of us. So I went to therapy and I finally realized I was missing something; there was an empty place in me. I used this therapy to learn how to receive and accept love. It took a while but now that I know how to receive love I feel stronger than ever, I now truly feel unbreakable.
Aging gracefully is not just a term meant for old people. Aging, whether you loathe it or love it, has been happening to you since the day you were born. What I have learned in my personal process of aging is that it is less important what people see when they look at me but rather how they feel when they are around me. Maya Angelou said it the best…She said “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel”.
I want to leave you with a quick and fun story involving an aging woman I knew.
About two years ago we had this young (probably around 30 years old), very cute postal delivery man named Scott. The female residents always made sure they were waiting in the lobby for the “mail” to arrive every day at 3pm.
During one of Scott’s daily mail deliveries he was chatting with the residents about the particular type of shoe he wears for his job since he has to do so much walking. As you can imagine, comfortable shoes are of the upmost importance to the elderly.
Listening to this conversation, one of our residents, 86 year old Lynn, leaned over and seriously as could be, whispered in my ear “he can leave those shoes under my bed any day’. You see, as we age we do not have to be doing so with one foot in the grave.
The goal is to live while we are living; be full of joy, laughter, and forgiveness. The goal is to love and be loved and to make a difference to someone.
Thank you for taking the time to listen to me and may you all enjoy aging on this day. We should not fear growing older. We are among the lucky ones.
This post was written by Leigh Stocker, Director of Marketing for Summercrest Senior Living in Newport, New Hampshire.
You can reach Leigh at 603-863-8181 or firstname.lastname@example.org