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Thought for the Fortnight
Yes, earlier this year, I reached the big 80. It wasn’t a surprise. I had seen it coming for some years. But I only started thinking about it when it was close to the time.
We all tend to make a bit of a meal of the decade birthdays, although less so at age 10 (all part of childhood) and age 20 (because we make a fuss of 21).
Each one sounds ‘old’ at the time. We fear becoming 30 (yes, it sounds ridiculous now), because it somehow means we are ‘over the hill’. Little did we know.
Age 40 and 50 remain milestones as each sounds like a marker for a different part of middle age. And I suspect the unspoken thought is that middle age itself is only a stone’s throw from something called ‘old’.
Sixty is the traditional benchmark for the beginning of our older years. And yes, it does feel like a big step, even though for me, it is now 20 years ago.
For the first time since my childhood, I held a big party when I turned 60. My daughter helped with the organising. We hired a room and had live music, loads of good food and wine. Some friends even came from abroad. It was very memorable.
By the time I turned 70, I chose to have a much smaller party, but a number of friends came to my house to celebrate. As it happened, it was the first slightly warm day after a cold winter and everyone was in a good mood for that reason.
And this year, at 80, I had only my daughter and her family, plus my long-suffering husband who doesn’t even like parties. My son and his family were too far away.
But it was enough. Our world shrinks somewhat as we age. But so do our expectations.
My Feelings About Turning 80
But the real question is, how do we feel about turning 80? I can’t speak for anyone else, but I feel great. I didn’t expect this reaction, but it is what I find.
I feel I have climbed a mountain and like the view. Or have been honoured with some unexpected prize.
It is a sense of achievement. Perhaps well described in the Sondheim song “I’m still here” sung famously by Elaine Stritch.
Yet all I have really done is just kept breathing. Looked in that way, it is hardly an achievement at all.
The truth of the matter is I like being old. It took me awhile to realise that fact, but once I did, I gave it some thought as to why.
The result was a book, published nearly a year ago, exploring the joys and challenges of being older. Called The Granny Who Stands on her Head: Reflections on growing older, it seems to have given readers some enjoyment and food for thought.
I concluded that although there are both upsides and downsides to becoming old, for me the former outweigh the latter. As long as – and this is a big proviso – you retain reasonably good health.
Yes, you go downhill physically – no doubt about that. Your memory is not what it was, and your energy is disappointing. Your body lets you down in many ways.
Your day-to-day life tends to shrink. You may give up driving. You may look to downsize your living arrangements. You begin to lose some people you love – old friends, perhaps your spouse.
And you become more aware of the Grim Reaper looking over his (or her?) shoulder in your direction.
But this is only one part of the story. I like being old because of the very great self-confidence it brings. You know yourself – your strengths and your weaknesses – and, with luck, you have come to terms with your life. You feel comfortable in your own skin.
All this brings a sense of freedom or liberation like never before.
Relationships tend to strengthen with age. With your spouse. With your friends. With your now grown-up children. And in many cases, you have the delight of new grandchildren in your life.
What’s not to like?
And, as my dad used to say, it is better than the alternative.
A version of this article was initially published by SixtyandMe.com
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