Getting older is one of the biggest emotional and psychological challenges we encounter in our lives. Most of us struggle with one or more aspects of the aging process, but there are few women who seem to take aging in stride and deal with loss, changes in physical appearance and ability and increasing life limitations with a sense of peacefulness and grace. Even these women are bound to have their moments of struggle and anxiety but their fundamental approach to the “problem of aging” is to treat it as a fact of life rather than as a problem, as a gift and a blessing rather than a curse.
What does it mean to “age with grace”? I think it has something to do with being able to accept the reality of our human condition and acknowledge the cycles of life from birth to death. Birth, growing up, adult life, aging, and death are all aspects of a single process that cannot be dissected into separate components. These life stages cannot ultimately be separated from each other and accepted or rejected by an individual within the life process. As long as we are alive we continue to progress through the circle of life. Life is a package deal. Aging with grace involves the active, conscious choice to focus our attention on what aspects of our lives we feel gratitude toward rather than the (sometimes many) aspects of our lives that are not to our liking.
At its best, grace in aging may look like wisdom, a sense of humor, resilience in the face of loss, and having a sense of self and self-worth based on something more essential and eternal than our fleeting mortal forms. We are each a unique and amazing embodiment of the mysterious life force, a force that we can neither completely describe nor understand. The ways we relate to the mystery of the universe and the mystery of being alive influence our attitudes about everything else that happens in our lives. A few questions to discuss:
1) What allows some of us to confront the challenges of getting older with less angst and more acceptance than others?
2) What factors help some of us age with grace? Is it a matter of personality? Luck or good fortune in our lives? Philosophical or spiritual approaches? Our attitudes?
3) What are the benefits of accepting the realities of getting older? Do these benefits change as we progress from one decade of life into to another?
4) Do you have a relative, friend, or role model that exemplifies aging with grace? Describe their approach to aging and what seems to help them nurture acceptance.
5) Are there areas of your life in which you have succeeded in moving toward embracing your aging process? How did you accomplish this transition?
6) What is the difference between being “older”, “an elder”, and “old”? Does language make a difference in our attitudes about aging or create a difference in how we experience getting older?