Typical words to describe the changes that come along with aging are resilience, transitions, adaptation, change – these feel clinical and not particularly personal. I prefer the word SHIFTING. It recognizes remaining our essential selves but adapting to the inevitable changes of aging. And lest we forget, almost every time you read about the aging baby-boomer generation, we are told there is a huge shift in our demographics and changing demands in the work force. A tsunami, they say! Shift implies not change, as much as re-thinking and re-organizing. At heart, we all remain the same but have to shift our expectations as we age.
Other aspects that shift include how our bodies shift almost daily before our very eyes. We experience shifting relationships, our requirements around housing and what we define as home. Our physical and mental health shifts, our perceptions of our needs and what remains important in life — how we define quality of life, our cognition shifts, our sense of independence and perhaps our definition of spirituality shifts.
Shape shifting has a mythical quality to it and if people are living well into their 90s and even past 100 – isn’t that magical and almost unbelievable. That’s what my 93 year old mother says! Shifting implies motion, not stasis. The paradigm is that we move back and forth relying on our past experiences and move forward to build on what we know. Aging too, as I have observed, requires an understanding that you make adjustments and at some point, re-adjustments and then more re-adjustments. It is continual motion, yet hopefully we remain connected, as our essential selves, with family, friends and community.
Two articles in the NY Times (one more recent than the other) address change and acceptance as you age. The more recent article https://www.nytimes.com/2017/09/12/smarter-living/aging-well.html?emc=edit_tnt_20170912&nlid=5442201&tntemail0=y&_r=1 speaks to strategies and techniques to utilize – remain positive, diversify your friends, get ready with good health promoting activities – all excellent suggestions.
But I was reminded of the story that appeared in the Times https://www.nytimes.com/2016/04/24/opinion/sunday/findinglove-again-this-time-with-a-man.html over a year ago of the 90 year old gentleman who is preparing to get married which poignantly speaks to the possibility of change and optimism in late life.
While much of this gentleman’s writing was about the fact that he is marrying another man, who also, by the way, is much younger than he by some 40 years, and having had a previous successful marriage with a woman, the greater message here, was not about the significant societal change in the acceptance of same-sex marriage, to me this was about the ability in older years to open-ness and change. Shifting. It flies in the face of stereotypes of old people who are stuck in their ways, unable to manage change and accept differences.
This gentleman was fortunate enough to have had a very successful life with career and family. A first marriage that was, reportedly, accepting and fulfilling. Yet, after his wife’s death, at age 70, he left himself open to developing new relationships and to his surprise to a new love.
To me this is about wisdom – the supposed hallmark of age, but elusive to define. His experience with love and family in his earlier years enabled and supported him in knowing what a good relationship can be like – good communication, good fun, ease with oneself.
The celebration is not that he is getting married, but that he knows himself well enough and feels secure in offering himself in a new and loving relationship.
Let’s also recognize that these wisdoms need not be brought forth in marriage. There are any number of ways to engage and celebrate one’s relationships. My mother participates in almost every activity, discussion group or classroom learning opportunity that comes her way. She has even joined a secular spiritual group – digging deep into history and roots of her Judaism. This has been an entirely new endeavor in her life. As a younger and professional adult, her concerns were the immediate political battles of the day. Now at an older age she can reflect on history and explore ideas that relate to family roots and connections. Again, she shifted though remains the curious and analytical person I always knew her to be.
I feel lucky, indeed!