In preparing for retirement, for aging, we put money away like Smaug The Dragon who knows his coin. We imagine we will gain freedom, retain vitality, interest, and motivation, perhaps enjoy the affection of those we served through life. But do we prepare for what is really coming?
I’ve been asked, how do we age well? And guess who asked. An aged man. I tugged on my chin a little to hide my discomfiture. After all, I would like to sit at his table and listen in on his story of doing what he had inevitably done, grown old. I’d like to hear what he is pleased with. And what he regrets. I’d like to hold up the memories, like picture slides to the light, and see if I recognize anything. Maybe something I might relate to. Something I might more deliberately emulate. I might feel more secure, knowing what he has done before me. Maybe I’d think I am safe.
Remember that song,
A foolish man built his house upon the sand, A foolish man built his house upon the sand, A foolish man built his house upon the sand and the rains came a tumbling down. The rains came down and the floods came up, The rains came down and the floods came up, The rains came down and the floods came up and the house upon the sand went splat!
But why ask me about aging? Do I look so old already? What the!? Fine then. I’d like to say, grow old continent and stock full of Botox. Nah. That wasn’t it. (Mind wandering already you see.)
Or maybe, we who are aging wonder quietly if this person, or that might have a trick of doing it better. This person wants to hold up my picture slides to the light and gather security to them. That person wants to do more than hoard coin, and another doubts the vitality and wonders if she’d know what to do with it if it were waiting there for her after all in the end any way. “How do we age well?”
Start with Me.
As a psychiatrist, it’s easy for me to think first of the biology of aging of course – brain health over time and to recall that the brain is connected to rest of the body. I could tell this aged man that he’ll be wanting to get oxygen to his brain at night and use his cpap regularly. I could speak of motility and exercise, of caloric intake and sleep hygiene. We might spend some time on medical care for psychiatric illnesses common in again, depression, dementia, anxiety, and so forth. We might speak of the inevitable process of losing friends and family, aging past a child or losing pets. But as many so often remind me, psychiatrist’s only have the truth that their perceptions allow. 😉
A dear Obstetrics and Gynecology specialist told me the other day that she has become more convinced than ever that the processes of coming into the world and that of leaving the world are the same. Having delivered countless souls into life, she has been marked, as if the luminescence of so many branded her. She carries the knowledge of their entry and of those who have already died.
I remember my niece who died at 9 years and 28 days. Not so old. Not so aged. Some how we think of death when we think of aging, not when we think of nine-year-olds. However my niece did age well.
I suppose aging is like any system, as strong as its weakest member. The wonder is that if we believe in aging, we believe our lives run on a line, on Time, which is after all, a human construct, a philosophy and based on Magic. Aging well as implied by my OB-gyn colleague, is looking at it from both ends, looking at what is in between, and looking at what is outside of birth and death. Aging well includes exploring the essence of Me, what bit of Magic came before Time and before zero and numbers and philosophy turned into math.
How do we age well? Does aging imply disease? Aging is linear. They’re different but definitely paired… Help me on this?