My friend and colleague Riana Avis shares with us her reflections on ageing.
I am very fortunate. I have several friends in their sixties and beyond; older than me by ten to fifteen years. Last year, my dad who is 80, got married for the third time. How lovely it is to see him happy as Larry. Both my grandmothers lived well into their eighties.
My heart sings when I hear of an older person still working at age 100, like Jim Clements who still works two days a week at the company he joined as a temp 34 years ago.
Personally, I have set my sights to ninety plus and am revising that. After all, why should I not be one of the 12.3 per cent of my age group to make my one hundredth birthday?
Statistics have much to say about older people. For instance
• The number of centenarians in the UK has increased by 84 per cent since 2000.
• It is estimated that by the year 2030, the over 50’s will make up half the UK population.
Statistics also say
• The largest group of unemployed people in the UK are the over 50’s.
• More and more people in this age group are starting their own businesses and succeeding.
• The success rate of start-ups in this group is consistently higher than in other age groups.
• The largest group of volunteers, workers in the third sector, come from this age group.
• National divorce rates are down, though not for the over 60’s. In this age group, the divorce rate is growing rapidly.
As always there is good news and bad news:
When I look at my group of friends, I rejoice. There is hope for me. They are, for the most part, happy, living full and busy lives. Some are married, some single. Some are still in employment despite being past the traditional retirement age. Some are busier than ever with work, family, friends and other commitments and some are starting their own businesses.
The common worry is money, particularly the lack of it and loneliness. It seems you are more acutely aware of your physical vulnerability; thoughts of your own demise creep in. I was talking to Jane the other day. Fit as a fiddle, stylish and beautiful, some health challenges, though still full of smiles, light and laughter. “I sometimes think of death, Riana”, she tells me.
“In what way, Jane? Fearful? Afraid? Sad?”
“No, not fearful at all,” she says. “I am totally at peace with it. But it does cross my mind.”
I am happy for her. I have my own views on death. To me it is merely a transition from your current form of life to another form. I know this is not a common view and that’s OK too.
Then there is Thelma. She has bronchiectasis, a disease of the lungs. Basically she has the use of about 25 per cent of her lungs. She walks into town three times a day, easily a fifteen minute walk each way. She does not stroll either, it’s a brisk walk. She dresses well: her Russell & Bromley shoes and handbag from the second hand shop and the elegant earrings she saved up for months on end. My 50 plus year old self looks like a frump next to her 70 plus self.
Yes, I see much to admire and look forward to as the years march on. I also see the pitfalls. The “I am useless now, old and discarded, forgotten by friends and family” mindset that can creep in, if I don’t watch myself; money worries, some valid and some not; sometimes taking on the trials and tribulations of your grown up children; friends passing on and the prospect of poorer health although that too is not necessarily a given.
And so I can prepare myself: continue to reach out, meet new people, nurture friendships and appreciate the people in my life. I have learned to know my boundaries and stick to them; to not take on the troubles of others and make them my own. As for money worries; well, I am building my own business. Yes, it is and will be hard work. So what? I have the rest of my life to do it whilst looking after myself. Exercise and eating well: more vegetables and fruit than meat and bread.
There is one thing that stands out as I survey my posse of older friends: Attitude. Those who enjoy their lives to the full; who seem to grow younger in spirit; who remain feisty no matter the circumstances; they seem the happiest in mind, body and soul. They know what they want and they go for it. The notion of ‘hungry man waiting for roast duck to fly into open mouth’ is foreign to them. They take responsibility and make things happen. So I conclude that it is attitude that makes the difference and determines the outcome – whether happiness or misery.
“Grow old along with me; the best is yet to be” the poet Robert Browning wrote. I’ve seen the evidence. My mind is made up. I can but pray:
God grant me the Courage to change the things I can,
the Grace to accept the things I can’t and
the Wisdom to know the difference.