Knowing the end of the school year is just around the corner, I began writing a column about coming of age. As my scribbles evolved, I noticed the words becoming more personal, shifting from high school and college graduation to a completely different kind of “senioritis.” My own.
There’s a new book on the market titled, “You Don’t Look Your Age…and other fairy tales.” Although I haven’t read it yet, the title grabbed my attention, made me chuckle because in most every circle I travel these days, the conversation finds its way to some degree of “age rage,” a sentiment basically describing how many of us baby boomers feel like teenagers trapped in alien bodies.
Just yesterday I overheard a friend saying how dare our minds stay frozen at 37 while our skin and bones give way, surrendering to gravity – getting all crepe-y (the spell check function on my computer keeps changing this word to crappy and creepy).
It’s a whole new world, and the trend for longevity is lifelong learning, insatiable curiosity, healthy eating, and mind and body calisthenics.
“It’s time to be old out loud,” one headline boasts. “I am not obsessed with looking younger, I want to look radiant. Passionate. Healthy. I want to look like me.” Has a nice ring to it, doesn’t it?
A few weeks ago, I was invited to a book club to share my writing journey. Led by a pair of phenomenal women: Janice Mathurin and Sally England, The Friends of Huntington Park Village convened condominium neighbors for what turned out to be an enlightening and thought-provoking evening. Discussing the rigors of life, one of the members asked me what’s next on my writing agenda wish list?
What does one write about, he asked, after writing about surviving the worst day of her life?
I shared some of the magic that’s occurred whenever I risk and venture into these darker crevices, daring myself to dig deep and write with uncensored vulnerability. I referred to it as “stark naked writing,” the kind that exposes more than just my shiny parts. People want real. Surprisingly, I told him, it’s always the stories about the human condition that reap feedback and grab readers.
I told him I wanted to write about the next frontier – aging. It’s taken on a whole new landscape, reimagined and with bionic body parts, longer life span, a sassy new attitude.
Let’s face it, though – at moments it’s terrifying. I know this first-hand, after experiencing a major health scare last year. None of us is invincible. And as the saying goes, “No one gets out of this place alive.”
Luckily, I have a great teacher: my mother, Virginia Derian. At 91, she’s a pistol, if you know what I mean.
Unfiltered, brutally honest, sharp as a tack, she’s taught me a lot these past few years as her health has declined and we’ve had more doctor appointments than lunch dates. She is the one who will go down fighting, refusing a do-not-resuscitate order, determined to live out loud and outlive the odds until her very last breath.
She’s teaching me how to respect time travel, how to maneuver a walker, sleep in a recliner, but still be a social butterfly with a jam-packed schedule of activities. She takes writing classes, quilts, sews, reads voraciously, and then rewards herself with a few episodes of “Golden Girls” or “Judge Judy” while eating an ice cream sundae.
She’s earned her stripes, she tells me. And then she whispers something that sounds a lot like, “If only I had a boyfriend.”
To that I reply, “Long live love.”
In my spare time, I’m learning the how to’s of being a halfway decent caregiver and advocate while she does the heavy lifting – battling this inevitable and terminal case of senioritis.
She’s pointed out to me that most of the doctors we visit no longer make eye contact with her. This irks her to high heaven. They talk to me instead (I accompany her to appointments, but geez docs, she’s living, breathing and in the same room). It makes her feel invisible. So the moment we get into the car, guess who hears her wrath?
Next week she’s turning 91, and since she’s made it perfectly clear she plans to live to be 100, I thought I’d offer a few pointers to physicians and health care providers whose doors she might knock on in the coming years:
▪ Make eye contact when you enter the room. Offer a warm handshake. The human touch is both magical and medicinal.
▪ Please stop saying, “You’re doing fine for someone your age.” She is so much more than that number.
▪ Stop prescribing meds for every ache, pain or complaint. Let her rant. Be a good listener. Then suggest balance classes, yoga, applaud her for reading, and remind her to keep socializing with friends. (You might, however, suggest a few less sundaes).
▪ Talk louder and slower since her hearing (and mine) are not what they used to be.
▪ Above all, respect your elders. They are full of stories, humor, wisdom and life.
There are two schools of thought. We can age gracefully or out loud – speaking our minds, hearts, and making that grand exit kicking up our heels wearing bright lipstick and earrings. In my mother’s case, there’s no doubt which option she’s chosen. I’m apt to follow in her footsteps.
Happy birthday, Mom. Ninety-one looks great on you!
Armen D. Bacon of Fresno is a writer and co-author of “Griefland: An Intimate Portrait of Love, Loss and Unlikely Friendship” and two collections of essays, “My Name is Armen: A Life in Column Inches” and “My Name is Armen: Outside the Lines.” Write to her at firstname.lastname@example.org, @ArmenBacon.