Dealing with the fear of growing old is a universal challenge as well as accepting our own mortality. Taking a personal approach to this long-standing problem.
We’re not getting any younger and each of us needs to come to terms regarding it. Even though these should be the best years of our life, it sucks getting older!
For many men and women, it’s fraught full of denial and regret. Looking at another wrinkle on the sad face in the mirror. The receding hair line or those nasty gray roots requiring yet another trip to the hair salon.
My lovely wife reassured me that I didn’t look or act my age. That made me feel a little better. Perhaps age is just a number and you are only as old as you feel.
Afraid to be 60
Let me say my 60th birthday wasn’t exactly embraced warmly and openly. It was more like “How in the heck did this sneak up on me?”
I’ve always loved my birthday; this one was different. I somehow felt unprepared and uncertain what the future would bring.
Maybe it was because we’re in the midst of a once in a hundred-year pandemic. Yeah, that must be it. I didn’t want to admit this age thing was bugging me.
When you think about it, it’s rather ironic as everyone wanted to grow up so fast back in their youth. Yet, some of our fondest memories are from childhood. Then, as we age, we yearned to be young again! Doesn’t that seem screwed up?
Back in my early twenties, I fervently wished to look more mature. My self perception was I appeared like a “babe in the woods” and desired a more distinguished, mature look. Perhaps just a touch of gray around the temples.
Note to self, always be careful what you wish for!
Like a runaway freight train, in a period of three decades every hair on my head was “distinguished”. Now, I had the opposite problem and was concerned everyone thought me past my prime.
Call it vanity, but it really bothered me. Ever resourceful, I decided to dye my hair. Oblivious to the overall impact, I was delighted to be as dark haired as I was in my twenties.
Little did I realize at the time, what an unmitigated disaster I set upon! There was absolutely nothing natural looking when I got finished using that home dye kit.
Overnight, a complete makeover darkened my hair and the skin surrounding the scalp area. It was so obvious I’m surprised none of my co-workers didn’t laugh out loud.
My inner struggle must have been apparent to the world. It was a losing battle from the get go as each hair conspired to reassert its rightful glory. After several months, I finally gave up on my “youth in a bottle” experiment.
Shortly thereafter, I received several compliments on my natural gray. Feeling a little embarrassed, I thought they were just being kind.
After a while it sort of grew on me and I became accustomed to my “grayness”. The best part is my wife affectionately calls me her “silver fox”, but that’s another story.
That was my first bout facing the aging process. The score so far, one nothing. I wasn’t getting any younger and knew there’d be subsequent battles against the age demon and dealing with the fear of growing old.
Is Age Just a Number?
It’s often said that age is just a number. Somehow that sounds like a cop out.
Statistically, we’re living longer, healthier and more active lives than previous generations. Has 50 become the new 60? I know I still feel young. Maybe not having quite the same energy and stamina as my younger self, but a heck of a lot wiser.
At least at a subconscious level, we become more aware of our unspoken concerns of what the future will bring. All those questions underpinning what it’s going to be like.
Tackling a recent project such as refinishing the deck entails planning better and, usually, accomplishing more. If you’re like me, you are probably going to feel all those aches and pains the following morning.
It's a very poignant reminder that we’re not getting any younger.
Dealing with the Fear of Growing Old Alone
As if aging wasn’t bad enough, one of the greatest worries is aging alone. Research reflects about 27% of all adults over the age of 60 live by themselves.
This includes the death of a spouse, divorce, or those who are single. This percentage increases for each year we survive. Further, woman outnumber their male counterparts. In part, due to their longer life expectancy.
My father’s passing was difficult for my mother. Her life-long partner was gone. Fortunately, my sister and I remained part of her daily life and she had many good friends.
Even so, she once commented how she grew to detest “celebrations of life” and losing another dear friend.
If you don't have a strong social network of family and friends, there is a heightened risk of loneliness and social isolation. Research reveals this can have as great of a negative health impact such as obesity or smoking!
Scared of Becoming Sick and Decrepit
We all worry about becoming sick and decrepit. As we age, we become more vulnerable to a whole host of diseases. Cancer, Alzheimer’s, COVID, you name it. It’s natural to be scared of what might strike us down.
The long-term care facilities wait lists are overflowing. And after all the COVID stuff, I sure don’t want to end up in one!
How do we focus on remaining healthy? There’s many stories of seniors who remain fit and healthy right into their 90’s, and even beyond.
What is their secret?
You’ve probably heard the saying “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”. In most cases, they’ve lived a healthy lifestyle. Some of the things most of us could improve upon include:
Another way to think of it, you’re investing in your future self. Getting healthier will pay many dividends in the years to come.
Loss of Independence
We all cherish our independence!
For my mother, it was a bitter pill the day she couldn’t renew her drivers license. Deep down, she knew she shouldn’t be on the road anymore. Even so, she had lost her freedom. While symbolic, it was yet another sign of becoming elderly.
The simple task of getting groceries, running an errand, visiting a friend, or a doctor’s appointment became more difficult.
Several years ago, I needed to under go a hernia operation. I know, I know! Lifting heavy things like I was still a young man was really stupid!
The point is, I absolutely hated being bedridden and feeling dependent. Whereas my wife should have been a nurse, I certainly made a lousy patient.
I can’t even fathom the indignity, if later in life, I’m dependent on someone to feed and clean me.
As well as striving to remain healthy, I need to learn how to graciously accept help when I need it. At some point, we’ll all need a bit more assistance from others.
Loss of Dignity
In many cultures, elders are revered for their wisdom and contributions. Not so much in our western world.
We don’t place a high value on the elderly and, many times, they are shunted aside becoming almost invisible. Instead of respect, they receive disdain as if they have outlived their value.
In spite of working their entire lives, they are diminished. Even though they paid taxes and contributed to Social Security, they are now viewed as a burden on society by some.
Sadly, we’ve all heard the derogatory and demeaning names such as curmudgeon, geezer, biddy, crone and much worse. There is no excuse for ageism!
This erodes self-dignity and marginalizes good people, who through no fault of their own, became elderly. In light of how the elderly are treated, it's understandable why they feel unimportant and have eroding self-dignity.
The Greatest Deterrent to Aging Gracefully
In my opinion, the greatest deterrent to dealing with the fear of growing old is our mindset. While no one looks forward to it, we need to accept the aging process and manage it as best we can.
Aging gracefully requires an open mind and making the most of our time.
Alternatively, some people develop a “hardening of attitudes” where they become more opinionated and judgemental. Any new ideas are met by resistance.
Often, they become argumentative, self-righteous, and outright defensive toward any new idea. They’re going to do things the way they’ve always done them!
Then, they’ll also bemoan everything that goes wrong as if it wasn’t their fault. Rather than taking responsibility for their actions, they’ve effectively allowed themselves to become victims.
Only by having a positive attitude and openness to change are we going to age gracefully. Time is our most precious asset and we can either squander it or spend it wisely.
The Age of Celebration
The Chinese believe at the age of 60, you’ve completed a full life cycle. Not only do they commemorate it, this is the beginning of a second life.
Hmmm, I certainly didn’t think of it that way!
When you think about it, our best years are still ahead. The best is yet to come and it’s a time to rejoice. Finally, we can enjoy the life we have worked so hard to achieve.
We are entering the next phase of our lives. Our choice: to be riddled by worry about aging (which we can't stop!) or to make the most of the rest of our lives.
I was apprehensive at achieving the milestone of turning 60, and all those unspoken worries and concerns bubbling forth.
What I realize is I’m happier and more content than any other time in my life! Age really is just a number. How we act and feel is what really matters.