Feature

Reflections on ageing

Helen Hayes (at 73) once said: “The hardest years in life are those between 10 and 70.” I am within touching distance of 90. I am surprised. I do not feel 90. When I was a youngster of 40 or 50 I used to think, wistfully, that it would be nice if I lived long enough to reach the exciting celebration of the year 2000. Three score years and 10 was really old.

Pamela Briggs in Coogee. Photo: Heather Robinson
Pamela Briggs in Coogee. Photo: Heather Robinson

Being well past 70, I feel adequately qualified to offer some personal thoughts on the process of ageing, bearing in mind that as individuals we would each have unique experiences and perceptions.

How to age gracefully? The first matter that comes to mind is being able to adapt to change. I am old enough to remember converting from gas light to electricity in the home, rinsing cloth nappies, boiling them in a copper (not so good in the heat of summer), pegging them out to dry – do you hear the violins in the background? And from there all the way to the fascinating, astonishing miracle of the mobile phone in my pocket whereby I can contact almost anyone almost anywhere. The younger members of my family are a great help in mastering its intricacies, and how to enjoy all the wonderful things to be found on my computer.

But there are more difficult changes such as adapting to retirement, how to fill the days of leisure, a joy for many, a problem for some. An old joke from the days when wives were not commonly part of the paid work force went like this: “I married him for better, for worse and so on, but not to have him underfoot at lunchtime.”

Secondly, is learning the art of letting go. I have discovered as the years have rolled on that I do not have as much energy as once was at my beck and call and my body objects when I expect too much of it. My brain is filled with so much information and memories that occasionally it flatly refuses to regurgitate what I’m looking for, but eventually, most of the time, it “coughs up” in five minutes, an hour, a week later!

A corollary to that is having time and leisure to relax and enjoy things that were not possible in earlier years. I can still make a contribution to the community in voluntary work that stretches and interests me but is not beyond my capabilities.

Of course, there is a downside to old age. There have been losses over the years, deaths of family and friends and now there are only three left with whom I can share really old memories. I am so blessed to have lived long enough to have my hair turning grey, and to have my youthful laughs be forever etched into deep grooves on my face. So many have never laughed, and so many have died before their hair could turn silver.

I daily miss my life’s partner who died just before our 50th wedding anniversary and I grieve for my 17-year-old grandson who died in an accident at 17, forever young. However – pardon the cliché – life goes on. I find that it does.

A great help is having a “social” life, a lot of contact in a world, that is in some ways passing me by, through my “greats” aged from 2-11, family and younger friends. These latter are in my faith community, South Sydney Uniting Church, with their passion for justice issues, ecology and much more, and the fact that they don’t seem to notice that I am old enough to be their mother or even grandmother!

I like being old. It has set me free. The only responsibilities I have are of my own choosing, and choosing to be involved with life as much as I can brings enrichment and contentment. I acknowledge that although I do have some health problems as well as the normal frustrations of age, I am blessed in being mobile and living independently, with great support from family, friends and doctors.

I am not going to live forever, but while I am still here, I will not waste time lamenting what could have been, or worrying about what will be. And I shall have two chocolates every day, every single day with my evening coffee (if I feel like it). So, as Mr Spock from Star Trek would say: “Live long and prosper.”

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