On July 21st, I turned 44 years old. I love that number! I am quite excited to see what this year will bring. In this youth-obsessed society, so many women hide their age and dread what the aging process will do to their appearance. I was very lucky to have many role-models of positive aging in my family while growing up. My grandmother lived to be 100. She wore jeans, high heels and red nail polish well into her 90s. When something made her laugh, she kicked her legs up in the air and let out a deep guttural laugh. Her sister, Mary, wore a tall, red beehive hairdo, bright red lipstick and blue eye shadow. She called everyone sweetheart, smoked cigarettes (ribbons of ash hanging off her fingertips) and wore bikinis, tanning her body, slathered in baby oil (I didn’t say they were beaming with good health). Every time we spent a day at the beach, she bought KFC salads which she ate after leaving them out in the sun for far too long. Still, she never got sick. Must have been the liquor. My grandmother and her siblings were enjoying life: playing cards, joking around, drinking, teasing each other, playing horse shoe and bean bag toss.
I met many older adults through my work in long term care. There were residents who declined any invitation to participate in recreation programs because they were too old or tired. Other residents said yes to every offer even before they heard what you had in mind. One lady, aged 92, welcomed me into her room for weekly art therapy sessions even though she was blind and deaf. She spoke, mostly reminiscing about what she had and how much she had lost and, I listened. She drew, painted and healed.
How are you aging? Are you living in fear? “What if I have a stroke, heart attack, breast cancer”? Are you living your own life or someone else’s? It’s never too late to claim it. Are you fighting the wrinkles, white hairs, aging spots? Are you grateful for your strong body, the one that has carried you through thick and thin, enduring much abuse (too much work, too little sleep)?
Stop for a moment and think about the way people described you as a baby. “You were so quiet, easiest baby ever” or “you were full of beans, always busy, you hated sleep”. What were you like as a child? Where was your favorite spot to hang out? What activity did you do that made time fly? How did you express yourself as a teenager? Were you athletic, artistic, hard-working, lonely? What have been the main challenges in your life and how have you handled them? Can you see your essence, the parts of yourself that were always there? Your essence is going to be the same as you age. Your strength, sense of humor, love of nature, compassionate heart will forever be a part of you.
So what are we afraid of as we get old? Being ill and dependent on others, feeling useless and vulnerable, losing our attractiveness and sex appeal, approaching our mortality. We can’t see into the future or prevent negative events from influencing our lives but, in each moment, we can choose to be present, alive, engaged, joyful and grateful. Say yes to life and, regardless of how many years you have left, life will feel full.
Activity: This is more fun if you do it with a partner. Get a roll of craft paper. Draw each other’s body outline on the paper. Use markers to draw and write on your paper outline. Draw your body’s scars (acne from when you were a teenager, cysts on your ovaries that caused infertility, physical or sexual abuse), write the messages you or others have given your body over time (too fat, too hairy, too flat, too pale), acknowledge the way you have abused your body (diets, crazy exercise regimen, drinking, lack of sleep, saying yes to sex when you wanted to say no, exertion from overdoing it). When you are done designing your body outline, put it aside, still within view.
Get a piece of lined paper and a pen. Write a love letter to your body. Tell your body how much you love it down to every cell. Ask for its forgiveness. Thank it for its patience, strength and endurance. Promise to take good care of it from this day forward. Write three steps you can take this month to move toward more self-care and a healthier body: drinking more water, going to bed at a reasonable time, preparing healthier snacks, making an appointment with your doctor for that check-up you keep putting off, whatever is meaningful to you.
Give yourself a hug, breathe deep into yourself and be grateful for this moment.