I often still feel like a spring chicken, but I’m coming to realize I’m really just an old hen. So this column is to prepare all of my readers who, if they are lucky enough, also reach 90.
What is reassuring is that it is too late for me to die young. I sometimes wonder which of my organs will fail first. I’m on the alert; so far there are no signs.
These are some of the things that are beginning to happen to me with more frequency: immediately forgetting the name of the person I just met, constantly misplacing my iPhone (having to call from my landline to find it), not remembering the name of the movie I saw last night (but then neither does the friend I was with), needing to look at my calendar several times a day and still mixing up dates and times, losing track of conversations (because of diminished hearing) and therefore simply nodding and smiling when others do so, walking with my eyes focused on the ground rather than the scenery around because I’m afraid of tripping.
Two things seem to happen as people age; the first is that paranoia sets in: Whenever I lose an object in my apartment, I have a knee-jerk reaction that someone took it; I always find it later in an odd place. The other is losing one’s filters: I say things I had not meant to say; they come out of my mouth before I can stop myself.
What do I do differently now than when I was much younger — like when I was eighty? When I drive, I plot my turns more carefully than I used to. I take Uber to far away or unknown destinations instead of driving. I look at the back of my hair in the mirror to cover any pink skin that might be showing. I stand on one leg when I brush my teeth to practice good balance. I don’t order dessert, but take a spoonful from my dining partner’s — remembering from Weight Watchers that the second bite tastes the same as the first. I have refused to attend some boring events; I meditate more conscientiously; I write everything down that I need to remember and put it in a visible place for continued reference throughout the day. I use the speakerphone even when I’m alone on a call. It has taken me ninety years to finally feel I don’t have to finish everything on my plate. But I admit I still have trouble with the old admonition to not throw out or give away anything that is still serviceable, hence, the superfluous clothes in my closets.
The good news is that far from slowing down in old age, the brain can actually keep growing new dendrites, which are the connections between neurons. Old brains are as plastic as young brains; in fact, the connections between the two hemispheres of our brains become better integrated with age. Our reasoning powers and emotional stability increase, as well as tolerance for contradictions. Older people have fewer negative emotions such as sadness, anger, guilt, and are thus happier than they were in their youths. And the best part: I don’t ever have to have a colonoscopy anymore, nor a mammogram, nor ever go to a gynecologist again. I will outlive any possible cancer.
Indeed, I feel less hassled by small things. I am more tolerant and more compassionate. I try to be less judgmental then I was in my youth. I am also wiser; I figure out problems and find solutions faster. It is rewarding to still be able to be helpful and available to others.
My bucket list is empty. I have been everywhere I wanted to go (having worked as a lecturer on many world cruises). I am happy to stay put in my retirement community surrounded by caring friends.
I remember many joyful times in my life: the college years, having children at home, having no children at home, traveling with my husband, being in the trenches as an early feminist, teaching, and finally being here today. Even though I lost a husband, a brother, and a son, I am grateful for the palm tree and the ocean outside my window and even more so for my daughter, my four grandchildren and two great-grandchildren who will come visit to celebrate my 90th birthday.
So now you all know what to expect when you arrive to your tenth decade but that may not be the end other story, as there are more centenarians now than ever before. Ten years from now expect a column on turning one hundred.