Tuesday, May 8, 2012

For A Friend Reaching Seventy

A good friend is approaching her seventieth birthday in a few weeks. I told her I'd share an essay I wrote three years ago when I was the one in that position. Each time we reach a new decade, it's cause for reflection. And now, for my friend and maybe a few others, as well.....

A New Age

I received word today that a friend passed away after a month-long fight with a virulent form of pneumonia. When someone has been so seriously ill, death sometimes arrives as a blessed relief. But along with the sad news, I found myself forced to face a reality.

I am soon to celebrate my seventieth birthday, which is the same age as my friend taken by a disease that should have been easy to treat. A girlhood companion, also my age, died a month ago after a hellish number of years battling Alzheimer’s.

Suddenly, my birthday looms as more of a dread than the joy of previous years.
I’ve always looked forward to marking another year, as it brought cards, phone calls, and gifts from friends and family. And I considered it my own special day of every year, a time to celebrate life, but it now seems less welcome.

Now, instead of being thankful, I find myself fearful. How many years do I have left? Will my mind stay whole or will it crumble bit by bit until nothing worthwhile is left? What lies ahead in this decade of my seventies? Will I face heart problems, a hip
replacement perhaps, or a fatal disease of some sort? The thoughts come occasionally, only to flee, then return again. My own Chinese water torture, drop by drop.

Age is only a number. You’re as young as you feel. Those clichés sound good when you have decades ahead. Some days I believe them but other times I find myself shaking my head and muttering sarcastically, “Yeah, right!” Some thirty-year old must have coined those phrases.

I’m aware of the aging signs every time I stand before a mirror. I see gray hair and
deep wrinkles etched from my mouth onto my chin, as well as under my eyes
Visible veins and yet more wrinkles cover the backs of both hands. Sometimes, I hide them in my lap. I watch the hands of my bridge pals as they deal, shuffle and play the cards. Most resemble my own, but it doesn’t always console me. We make jokes about our changing appearances. Laughter lights up our faces and brings that youthful sparkle back to our eyes. I resolve to laugh often.

My metabolism seems to delight in slowing itself further each year. My mouth takes in the same amount of food, allowing the pounds to stretch my clothes to the max. Where’s the magic pill that will speed my metabolic rate to that of a thirty year old?

I tire more easily now; climbing stairs is a chore which sometimes leaves me breathless. My muscle tone is not what it once was, so you’ll find no sleeveless fashions in my wardrobe. Cellulite and spider veins cover my thighs. Bathing suit days should be a thing of the past, but a cool pool on a hot day still calls out to me.

My memory isn’t too bad, but it’s not what it once was. I find that sometimes I need to concentrate a little more when trying to recall things. Names escape me more often than
I’d like to admit, but eventually, the errant name lights up like a neon sign in my brain bringing a sense of relief. “Did it!” becomes my personal, but silent, mantra with each memory success. I read magazines that give tips on improving memory, and I try the exercises they suggest. My morning crossword puzzle challenges my mind just as the experts who write the articles suggest. I wonder how old those writers are. Are they my age or young enough to be my grandchild?
Because I’m a writer, I worry that my work may not be taken seriously once I hit seventy. Will my essays be passé? I sincerely hope not, but the thought sprints to the front of my mind now and then. Will the younger people in my writers group consider me an old lady now? No, I tell myself. They’re my friends and they know the real me, the one that hides under all these nasty telltale signs of my years.

Several years ago, some friends were traveling in England, and a host of the B&B where they stayed spoke about the vacationers who come in the winter. “Ah,” he said, “in winter we get the Wrinklies and the Crumblies.” When my friends asked for a further explanation, he answered, “Wrinklies are pensioners in their seventies and the Crumblies are those in the eighties.”

And now here I am, almost a Wrinkly. But hey, I’ve got a whole ten years of living to do before I’m a Crumbly. So, maybe I’ll have a joyous celebration of my seventieth, after all. Inside, I’m still that slim redhead with a bundle of energy. I still have the desire and stamina to travel and live life to the fullest. Besides that, I’ve got a lot more stories to write. If it’s a question of write what you know, I’ve lived long enough to know a great deal, which means plenty of stories ahead. This new age is going to be just fine.


  1. Super essay and you make me feel like a spring chicken. I loved to read your passion and your fears as you age. I'm right there with you.

    Thank you for sweet words.

  2. I find aging one of the hardest things to grapple with in life. A challenge like no other. It is indeed something that everyone faces. And, while I am glad to be where I am in the years I've been allotted, I must admit that it is a hard journey to take. I am not the strong and independent woman who fought off the bigger than life circumstances with a sword of determination and resolve. I am more dependent and "soft" in these inclining years. I hope I can come to grips w/it all and face the next decade with the pluck and courage you and Kathe and many others possess. But those nagging little fears do persist. Only those who have been there can relate. And everyone will usually do this too late in life to really matter. Let's hope some of the younger folks will read and take this to heart.

  3. Nancy,
    I loved this essay. It really touched me and I just wanted to say thank you.
    warmly, with love,

  4. Nancy, what a beautiful gift - to your friend and to yourself! Thank you for sharing such a personal part of yourself.

    One of my best friends is in her 70s now and I'm not yet 40 and I when I look at her, I don't see "an old lady" but a beautiful woman with a lot of love to give and receive. I wouldn't worry about your younger friends; if they truly are your friends, they will never stop seeing the vivacious red-head inside.