In a rare visit to the library, a book caught my eye. Elderhood was written by Louise Aronson, MD, a geriatric specialist from San Francisco who is in her fifties. She quotes many historical references about what age was considered old centuries ago. Of course, people did not live as long when medical treatments were few and nutrition not as good. Although people begin to age much sooner in life, Dr. Aronson categorizes the beginning of "old" at around sixty. In the United States, we are eligible for Medicare and Social Security benefits at 65 or so. Many people retire at that age.
I worked until I was 69 years old, and was planning to work another year in the development office of a children's health system in Delaware. At the urging of my daughters however, I decided to retire so we could move to Texas and help care for our new grandson. We lived with Hannah and her family for more than a year and then bought a nearby one-story house so we didn't have to cope with stairs. It is my fervent hope that we can stay here for a long time.
On Halloween this year, I will turn 75. Thing is, I don't really feel that old. Surgery corrected some serious problems with my lumbar spine and I have much more stamina than before. I take care of laundry, cooking and other household tasks with little effort. My dachshund Toby and I walk a couple times each day and I've just started riding a few miles on a recumbent bike to get my heart rate up and my legs pumping. We take care of our grandchildren on a regular basis, especially Noah, an energetic six-year-old, and are the family Uber and errand doers when needed.
However, I am well aware that my health, or that of my husband Andy, could change in an instant. A bad fall, stroke or heart attack could quickly change the trajectory of our lives. But I try not to think about that too much. Dr. Aronson's book points out that most people in their sixties, seventies and eighties actually find this time of life fulfilling and satisfying. By this time of life, you have accumulated knowledge, expertise and wisdom and have the joy of sharing these experiences with others. For me, that feels true. I've had a long, happy marriage, raised three great kids, had a wonderful career in health care fundraising, and are now enjoying being close to our daughters and grandchildren. I still love writing and occasionally get some freelance work from my former employer and the designer I worked with for years. Our health is pretty decent and we enjoy, as a friend of mine would say, just "being."
When you get into your seventies, you no longer have the stress of raising kids and/or a demanding job. You can sleep late and take a nap if needed. I love having the time to read, write, do puzzles and play games on my phone. Recently, I completed a project which was great fun: assembling the biographies of my high school classmates. I was fascinated to see what others had done with their lives. Of our class of 96 people, 21 had passed away. About half of the surviving members, all now age 75 or so, participated. This group included doctors, lawyers, writers, veterans, authors, entrepreneurs, business people, educators, real estate agents and pilots. A few were still working full-time.
At 75, you do have aches and pains, especially when you get out of bed in the morning. You may be coping with illnesses such as heart disease, cancer, diabetes or orthopedic problems (like me). But life is definitely still worth living, especially if you have the joy of grandchildren and time to pursue what you love, whether that is work or a hobby. Too many of my loved ones and colleagues will never get that chance. So as I move into what Dr. Aronson describes as the "old-old" period of life, I'm still a happy person, grateful for each day on the planet.
I'm Chris Barabasz, retired from a 35-year career managing communications for health care development (that's fundraising for you civilians). I'm a wife, mother, grandmother and freelance writer. My husband Andy and I moved from Delaware to Texas to be closer to our daughters and three adorable grandchildren.