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Legacy and Issues of Aging

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My musings as I approach my 74th birthday: Maybe that's why I feel invisible! But I'm feeling energetic and in love with my life, and I realize my blessings. I've not had a diagnosis of a life-threatening illness, my life is full and rich with relationships, meaningful work, learning and I've lost 25 pounds in the last two years.

"She had the sensation that she had been seen.
And she had not even known she'd felt invisible."
-- Elizabeth Strout

People say I look like I'm 60 (whatever 60 looks like). I don't mind most of my wrinkles or greying hair (though I'm less tolerant about my "squishy" upper arms -- enough said!). When I look at my hands -- the veins and arteries clearly articulated, the skin loose and translucent -- I think I'm looking at my mother's hands.

My mother died at 56, 40 years ago this month, so she wasn't available to be a model of aging for me. How did my children get to their mid-40s, when I see them vividly at the ages of their children? My oldest granddaughter is investigating colleges for next year, and the "baby" of my grandchildren is already 9. I can't make sense of the lyrics of the music they listen to and love. They're all respectful and kind, but I know they don't "get" me anymore than I understand their lives and their choices.

"One of those things about getting older was knowing that
so many moments weren't just moments, they were gifts."
-- Elizabeth Strout

I wish for captions on the TV, because everyone talks so fast that I miss half the jokes and innuendos. When I walk down a flight of stairs with my 42-year-old daughter, she walks in front of me -- to break my fall, she says, should I lose my balance. I live alone, but since I fell in my kitchen tearing my rotator cuff some years ago, I wear a lavalier around my neck -- you know the kind, if I push the button, one of those robot voices responds: "Do you need help, Rachael?" "No; I'm just testing the device." I get the feeling she doesn't believe me.

It's harder to drive at night, especially on highways. I'm still resisting my need for glasses -- they distance me from people, they slide down my nose, the lenses are always dirty from makeup. I'm having a hard time letting go of my landline, though I love my iPhone. I no longer do the New York Times crossword puzzle because it includes too many references to people that I've either forgotten or never heard of.

I don't wish to be younger (maybe because I'm blessed with good health and plenty of energy), but I can't deny that I'm slower; I process more slowly and I move more slowly, too. And the memory lapses, especially names of people I've known forever. Yet with each passing year, time seems to pass faster. Some mornings I sit down to journal, do my readings, meditation and prayer, and when I get up two hours have passed -- where did the time go? Should I eat breakfast or wait a bit and have lunch?

My friends and I talk lots more about doctoring, who's newly diagnosed, who's dying. I bought a plot in our cemetery some years ago -- proof that my denial is not total. But we don't spend enough time sharing with each other about our blessings or, more to the point, about our fears about aging, old age, illness, pain, and dying ourselves. Well, need to get up and prepare breakfast, or should I wait and have lunch?

"For the unlearned, old age is winter;
for the learned, it is the season of the harvest."
-- Hasidic saying

Suggestions for Action:

1. Muse and write about concerns you're aware of as you age and how you deal with them. Do you share directly with friends and/or partners, with your family in your generation, or those younger or older than you? Is there anyone you trust enough to share your concerns, your fears, your discoveries, your learning, your blessings?

2. Scour your reading memory to see what books you've read that help you understand your aging, the process of aging, the wisdom of aging. I recommend Olive Kitteridge, the 2009 Pulitzer Prize novel by Elizabeth Strout.

3. Journal the stories you remember about people you know who have aged well, and who are models for you as you age. What did they teach you?

4. Write a legacy letter to someone in a younger generation to share how you've been aging and what you anticipate as you age in the future. Include what you'd like them to know and learn about you and your aging.

5. Consider bringing your thoughts, feelings, and concerns to your family for discussion, and if it makes sense to you, append your writing to your living will (health directive) so those caring for you at the end of life will know your concerns, fears, values, and desires.

"May you have a trusted friend or family member
who has the courage to listen
to your positive and negative experiences and feelings
about your aging, today and in the future."
-- Rachael Freed

NEW 2012 editions now available of Rachael Freed's Women's Lives, Women's Legacies, Passing Your Beliefs and Blessings to Future Generations, The Legacy Workbook for the Busy Woman [also available as pdf downloads at] and Heartmates: A Guide for the Partner and Family of the Heart Patient, and The Heartmates Journal. She is currently working on Your Legacy Matters: An Intergenerational Legacy Guide, to be published early 2013. Senior Fellow at the University of Minnesota's Center for Spirituality and Healing, Rachael is a clinical social worker, adult educator and legacy consultant. She has seven grandchildren. Her home is Minneapolis, Minnesota. For more information, visit and Follow her on Twitter:

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