I’ve noticed some changes in my life as I age and it’s been interesting to discover what a surprise each one is to me. Perhaps this wouldn’t be the case had I grown up with an older person in the household, but I didn’t.
This is my personal list, so it won’t reflect everyone’s experience. Some of what follows is lighthearted, some not. Aging has been a mixed bag for me. Some things I’ve welcomed; others not so much. I’m sure this is true for everyone. Here are 12 things I didn’t expect to happen as I've aged:
Thankfully this doesn’t happen too often, but when it started, it used to embarrass me. Increasingly, though, I’m learning to laugh and tell whomever I’m talking to that I forgot what I was I was going to say. Usually, after a minute or so, I remember, but not always…and that’s okay. I have no shortage of other things to talk about!
It never occurred to me when I was young that, someday, my body might not want to move with ease into whatever position I was requesting of it. I’ve learned otherwise as I age. It can be quite irritating, like when I can’t reach an itch in the middle of my back because it’s too painful to bend my arm and reach it.
When I was young and took a fall, I just got up and continued with whatever I was doing, even if it meant first washing off a skinned knee. Now that I’m older, evidently my bones are more brittle, making them more likely to break if I fall. And a bad fall can be catastrophic, especially if it results in a broken hip. It can reduce your quality of life significantly. I read that Winston Churchill was never the same, mentally or physically, after breaking his hip.
So, as a preventative measure, I work on my balance whenever I remember to do so, even in the simplest ways. If I’m waiting for water to boil in the kitchen, I stand on one leg. I also do this when I brush my teeth, when I water my bonsai, and whenever I have to stand in line for something. Sometimes I sway the other leg to try and throw myself off balance. This focus on balance is helping; I feel more sturdy when I climb stairs or even when I slip on something.
There are lots of exercises to help with balance. I keep it simple, by standing on one leg whenever possible.
Recently, my sister-in-law came to visit. It was special because I hadn’t seen her for several years. We both have children and grandchildren and enjoyed catching up on each other’s lives. But did we start with this rich and fulfilling chat about our families? No! We started with our aging bodies. She talked about her knee issues. I talked about my own knee problems. She talked about her hip pain. I talked about mine. It was only after 20 minutes of this “organ recital” that we began to share what our families were up to.
I’ve noticed that this is true when I’m with other friends and we’re aging together. We almost always start our visit by going over our various health issues. I never did this when I was younger!
I’ve only had this happen a few times, but others tell me it’s not an unusual occurrence. It happened to me the first time while I was ordering an espresso. It so surprised me that I looked around to see if the barista was talking to someone else. Then I realized he was talking to me…and probably in this manner because I looked older than younger. It was an unpleasant experience, that’s for sure.
I remember whipping through this kind of stuff. But increasingly, it’s a big deal to arrange things. And it’s happening across the board, from simple stuff (like arranging to get the rug cleaned) to more complex stuff. It definitely takes more “juice” than it used to.
I mean this in a lighthearted way, but it’s true nevertheless. I force myself to be bothered by important things such as something that affects my health and safety. But other stuff? I can’t be bothered—whether it’s neatening a drawer, vacuuming under the bed, or brushing spider webs off the eaves on my front porch. I’ll get to all of this at some point—when it gets really bad-looking—but until then, I can’t be bothered.
Things break, including things I love to have around. It used to upset me. For the most part, no more. Perhaps this is because of a practice I wrote about in my first book, How to Be Sick. The idea for this came from the Thai Buddhist monk Ajahn Chah. I call it “broken glass practice.” So many people have written to me, saying how helpful it is, that here it is, from Ajahn Chah:
You say, “Don’t break my glass!” Can you prevent something that’s breakable from breaking? It will break sooner or later. Penetrating the truth of these things, we see that this glass is already broken. Whenever it’s time is up, it will break. Look after this glass until it slips out of your hand and shatters. No problem. Why not? Because you saw its brokenness before it broke!
I use this reflection on impermanence in many settings—from the breaking of one of the antique china teacups my mother-in-law left to me, to the “breaking” of my ability to do certain things due to aging (for you, it may be jogging or other physical activities). And P.S., I love how he says to “look after” the object (or activity) until it breaks.
This is a personal statement, so not everyone may feel this way. I mention it because of the title of this piece—things I didn’t expect to happen as I age. When I was younger, if I thought about death, it was always along the lines of “How long will I live?” Now, when I think about death, it’s along the lines of “How long will I maintain a good enough quality of life to want to keep living?” That’s how it is for me, anyway.
I’ve stopped because, for one thing, I don’t have enough time! In addition, aging has taught me that no one’s life is ever “fixed” anyway. There will always be ups and downs, successes and disappointments. It comes with the human condition. It’s been such a relief to let go of the responsibility I felt most of my life to make everything always all right, especially for those I cherish the most. Now, I do what I can to help and send all my love, but I don’t try to fix their lives.
This has made life much easier for me because I no longer feel as if I’m being battered around by life events like a ship on a stormy sea. Tragedies happen, and they still make me cry and I do what I can to help. Wondrous things happen, too. Life has been this way throughout history—joys and sorrows, good times and bad. I’m better able to take this long historical view now. It doesn’t mean I always like what’s happening, but I’m less likely to get angry and upset when things don’t go my way, both personally and globally. As a good friend of mine likes to say: “I’m not an optimist, but neither am I a pessimist.”
And the last thing I never expected was…
Seriously. In fact, I remember looking at my mother one day when she was in her fifties and noticing that her usually flat belly was now bulging a bit and that her upper arms were getting a bit flabby. I thought, “It’s too bad that’s happening to her,” never imagining it would happen to me, too.
Bette Davis famously said, “Aging is not for sissies.” When I heard this as a young person, I thought it was silly. Reading over my list, now I think she was right!
In the comments section below, I hope you’ll share the surprises you’ve encountered as you age.
© 2017 Toni Bernhard. Thank you for reading my work. I’m the author of three books:
All of my books are available in audio format from Amazon, audible.com, and iTunes.
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You might also find this helpful: “When You’re Down and Out: How to Get Through the Bad Days.”