Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Life is precious at every age. It is.

When I turned fifty, I started planning for old age. One thing I knew for sure was that I didn't want to pretend to be younger, then all of a sudden realize I was old. I wanted a gradual process. I wanted to practice being old before I had to take it on.

That was the year I began the time consuming, expensive process of letting my gray hair grow in (I colored my hair all my adult life until then.) The process was labor intensive. Every six weeks I had to go in for highlights, lowlights and toners. There were washes of color, there were deep heat conditioning treatments. I swear I spent more time at the hair salon that year than ever before in my life. It was rather grueling.

When my hair guy cut the last of the color out of my hair, it was a shock. Even his jaw dropped. But I was glad I did it almost immediately. Since then, when I see a woman with dyed hair and silver roots, I think, How tacky. But that was me, before the intensive process of letting it grow in.

I started looking at old women. I sought an archetype to which I could aspire. For sure I didn't want to be one of those bitter, angry old women, always complaining about everything. You know the type, right? Likewise I didn't want to be one of those vague old ladies, all doped up, confused, nor did I want to be a frightened old lady, scared of everything.

What I wanted was to be hearty, happy, red cheeked and healthy. I wanted to be an old lady who laughed at everything, one of those who doesn't sweat the small stuff. I didn't see a lot of that archetype, but I knew they were out there somewhere.

I practiced diligently throughout the decade of my fifties. I called it the happy hour of life. I had lots of fun, so much so that I was able to, for the most part, ignore the way in which the aging process picked up speed.

At age sixty, I have a far better grasp on why there are so many bitter, vague and fearful old women because on my birthday, every illusion I had about old age evaporated. Old age is hard. For instance, there are aches and pains that are the result of aging. Even if we do everything right, something is going to hurt. I have a friend of my age who says, "When you're sixty, if you wake up and nothing hurts, you're dead."

There's some truth to that. Given how devoted I am to aggressive self care, I have been kind of shocked to notice how many times my knees (for instance) hurt - not because I've done anything wrong, just because I'm drying up. It happens! On high pain days, I entertain the idea of happy pills as I think the vague old lady archetype is preferable to the bitter, angry old lady archetype.

And the fear - oh my goodness, I deal with it every day now. I've taken good care of myself - I'm likely to outlive many of my friends, my tribe. I do not look forward to grieving for so many people. And what will happen when I'm too old to take care of myself? I have no children, partner or money. I'm screwed! But maybe I'll die before that happens, I tell myself, as if that will soothe my rattled nerves.

For heaven's sake!

Today I was thinking about how harshly I used to judge the unattractive old lady archetypes. Ten years ago, I really didn't get it.

That said, my determination to embody the hearty, happy, laughing old lady archetype is more intense than ever before. I do not want to squander the time I have left in my body by bitching, doping and/or hiding. I want to live fully and wholeheartedly.

I can do it. I will prevail.

L'chaim, y'all.


Pam said...

I don't know if I fit any of those older ladies achetypes you've mentioned Reya. I think I'd fit more into the role of the contemplative, but when I've wondered if I ever was, or could have been one, I know there's a smutty and black humour side of me that'd never fit in the convent - and I'd probably always be lusting after the gardener!
Thought I'd be the type to be parachuting out of planes at 60 to 80, but the early onset osteoporosis has done me in!
Loved your post.

Reya Mellicker said...

The mold broke when you were born, Pam. That's what we say when encountering a truly unique individual. Yes, that would be you - one of a kind, brilliant and deeply human.


Dan Gurney said...

Refreshingly honest and clear-eyed. Enjoyed this post.

Reya Mellicker said...

I'm thinking about the contemplative archetype Hmm ... Thanks, friend.

Reya Mellicker said...

Thanks, Dan!

The Bug said...

I'm contemplating growing my gray out - but boy my hair is so long now I'm not sure I'm ready for that committment. However, when I finally get sick of this mane & chop it all off I'll go gray.

I'm trying to do some things so that I'll still be able to move around when I'm older - I've already got the daily pain thing going on.

And oh I do so shy away from contemplating our older years. No kids. Don't live near our families (& don't want them to take care of us anyway). No money. It might get ugly :)

ellen abbott said...

the best thing you can do is stay active, both body and mind. I decided many years ago not to live in fear and so I don't. I mean, really, what's the point? you plan as well as you can given your personal circumstances and after that that's all you can do. being fearful of your future as a very old person isn't going to change it. I'm not sure modern medicine has done us any favors, letting us outlive our ability to care for ourselves. at 63, I have minor health concerns and I know there is the possibility of something more serious lurking in there, but it's life. and life always ends with death. but like you, I want to face old age and death with a love of life.

Reya Mellicker said...

The fear is not rational, Ellen.

Reya Mellicker said...

I loved your post today, Ellen, about how you want people to think, what's she up to now? Excellent goal.

Christine said...

May the light of your soul guide you.
May the light of your soul bless the work
You do with the secret love and warmth of your heart.
May you see in what you do the beauty of your own soul.
May the sacredness of your work bring healing, light and renewal to those
Who work with you and to those who see and receive your work.
May your work never weary you.
May it release within you wellsprings of refreshment, inspiration and excitement.
May you be present in what you do.
May you never become lost in the bland absences.
May the day never burden you.
May dawn find you awake and alert, approaching your new day with dreams,
Possibilities and promises.
May evening find you gracious and fulfilled.
May you go into the night blessed, sheltered and protected.
May your soul calm, console and renew you.

-- from Anam Cara: A Book of Celtic Wisdom, by John O'Donohue


Reya Mellicker said...

Thank you, Christine. I am a great fan of John O'Donohue. Thank you!

Reya Mellicker said...

Thank you! I'm a big fan of John O'Donohue.