On Ageism Awareness Day
2013 — Just retired and on a trip
When I was 65, I stepped down from being Executive Director of Cherry Preschool to mentor the new director. For three years, I served as mentor and communications administrator, finally retiring in 2013. By then, I was 68, which felt like an appropriate age to call it quits. I’ll admit to feeling lost at first. I’m not much of a “going out to lunch” type, although I did join a book club. I was still helping out with my in-town grandkids, who were ten (twins) and seven, driving them where they needed to go and occasionally babysitting. But this was nowhere near the amount of time I spent helping out when they were younger. I also had three grandchildren in Indiana and two in Boston and wanted to spend more time with them. So, it seemed like the right time to let go of my working life. Yet, I suffered from what my fellow retiree Marcia called the loss of the boss syndrome.
While I’ve kept pretty busy these past ten years, blogging, writing a book, renewing old friendships, moving from our home of 45 years to a condo, and getting through COVID lockdowns, I am also feeling my age physically. Mentally and emotionally, it’s a different story. If I avoid mirrors, I’m nowhere near my actual age, or at least what I perceived my parents and grandparents were like when they were 78.
In a recent post that echoes many of my feelings, Robert Reich, Secretary of Labor in the Clinton administration and retiring college professor, asks How Old is Too Old? Some of the highlights include:
Yet I find myself reading the obituary pages with ever greater interest, curious about how long they lasted and what brought them down. I remember a New Yorker cartoon in which an older reader of the obituaries sees headlines that read only “Older Than Me” or “Younger Than Me.”
And my hearing is crap. Even with hearing aids, I have a hard time understanding someone talking to me in a noisy restaurant. You’d think that the sheer market power of 60 million boomers losing their hearing would be enough to generate at least one chain of quiet restaurants.
When I get together with old friends, our first ritual is an “organ recital” — how’s your back? knee? heart? hip? shoulder? eyesight? hearing? prostate? hemorrhoids? digestion? The recital can run — and ruin — an entire lunch.
My memory for names is horrible. I once asked Ted Kennedy how he recalled names, and he advised that if a man is over 50, just ask, “How’s the back?” and he’ll think you know him.
Rob Reiner, age 76, shared a joke on cable news that went something like this: “I’m starting a new quiz show called Name that Name.” For sure, those nouns are sometimes hard to retrieve. Also, speaking of retrieving, where did I put my ____? (You fill in the blank.) What did I come into this room to do? Why is my response to Jeopardy clues, long after they have moved on to the next question, “I knew that”?
And then, there’s doctoring. How did it happen that I seem to have an appointment with one every week? I dread blood tests because the results that pop up on my online chart are never great, and I’m the girl who always needed to earn an “A.” Unfortunately, this is one test for which I can’t study, and even though I have tried to exercise more and eat healthy, I always fail in some areas. How to explain that my thyroid seems to jump around, leaving me with unused prescriptions at various strengths? Did the fact that I dutifully had my RSV, COVID, and flu vaccines in the two weeks before the blood draw mess with my results? Will I have to repeat the blood work before my upcoming annual physical next week? Sigh.
Rather than thinking of myself as elderly or geriatric or a super senior or old-old, I much prefer to be called an older person. I still love to hang out with my friends, many of whom are also older people, as well as some who are a decade younger. I hope my kids don’t think of me as hopelessly old. I know my grandkids think I am ancient, as I grew up without a smart phone, computer, social media, and many other things they take for granted. Do they think I am wise? Right now, I doubt it. Maybe someday?
Which brings me to the issue of wisdom. Although a few of my friends are struggling with memory issues, most of us are still able to discuss politics, books, movies, and current events through the lens of history. When you have lived through a lot of change, you have the gift of perspective. While I admit Trump is frightening and evil, I also remember a time when I thought that about Nixon. (Yes, Trump is far worse than Nixon.) But having experienced the fear of the Cold War and atomic annihilation, the draft and its impact on the war in Vietnam, the assassinations of Martin Luther King and John and Robert Kennedy, the huge cultural shift of the late 60s, feminism, the massive changes brought about by computers, technology, and social media — I have a bit of perspective.
I promise not to harangue my children and grandchildren, as my father did to me, with comments that their concerns and opinions are somehow less important than what I have experienced. In fact, I feel sick that my generation has left them with a ruined environment and too many old politicians who don’t know enough to retire and make way for new leaders. As a retired older person, I have no idea how to approach the problems of their generation. I know I could not do my job of directing a preschool as well as when I retired ten years ago. Understanding when to step down for a new generation of leadership is difficult but necessary. So is respecting people’s accumulated wisdom and experience as they age.
Ten years between these photos do make a difference
Today is Ageism Awareness Day, which is dedicated to shedding light on the issue of ageism in our society.