I never thought that I would get old. When one is very young, of course, one isn’t aware of ageing. The passing of time for me was measured by the number of candles on the birthday cake but real awareness of physical change came with our temporary move to Malvern which seemed to me to be peopled by stick-thin ancients in Macintoshes, which has influenced my feelings about rubbery garments ever since – not many around now, thank goodness, although my husband did propose to me on the end of Southend pier wearing his and I even owned one myself until its rubbery smell overpowered me.
But I did, by degrees, get old like everyone else; the great experiences of marriage and motherhood saw to that and I was not a particularly young bride, achieving our fourth much-wanted child on the brink of my forty-first birthday. By then I had come to realise that I had moved out of the charmed circle of young mothers and new life and the awareness of a new generation coming along was strengthened by twenty years of the school run in four different directions. Then came mother-in-law hood and grandmother hood and all the busyness of extended family life, during which time slips by in anniversaries and other excitements and rapidly-filling photograph albums, the loss of family members and old and valued friends. And here I am, the oldest surviving member of my family, wondering where it all went.
And what did I do? How did I fill all those years – eighty five and still counting? Well, plenty as I remember; all the multi-tasking that seems to be part of the female life plus the many opportunities for friendship and pleasure that come with happy married life and for immersion in local life. But who am I now? I have become rather arthritic in all the usual places and decidedly wobbly without my stick. I have lost much of my enthusiasm for many things – cooking, quilting, patchwork, rag-rugging, largely, I think, because they create so much mess – although it is still a pleasure to cook for family and friends, if not for myself; and having cooked well over fifty Christmas dinners I am now a hanger-on in other peoples’ kitchens – and enjoying it. Most of all I am a keen supporter of family life and love, with ten grandchildren of whom I am very proud, and of their parents, my children; I know that I don’t – and shouldn’t – possess them but they certainly possess me. Life is definitely an instruction manual for letting go and I’m not sure that I have mastered the first principles.
At the age of eighty-five I have decided that the time has come to take charge of what future I have because I don’t want to be found lying on the ground somewhere and carted off to a place where I don’t want to be and then assessed as to my physical or mental capabilities. I am half-way to owning an apartment in a retirement village which is being built a short distance away and should be ready in the autumn. The process of selling my house, disposing of surplus furniture and much else, is likely to be complicated but once I have taken possession of my apartment I shall be completely independent until time and increasing frailty propel me to a level of care where those needs will be met. I shall be taking up residence in company with friends, in the firm expectation of making more, and happy in the knowledge that time spent with my family will not be overshadowed by the need to accommodate the miseries of a woman surprised by old age.
I shall undoubtedly miss my present life in the town that my husband and I planned to live in together; we found our dream house just half a mile away and had many opportunities to build good friendships in a wide circle. But for eight years the decisions have had to be mine and I know that the time has come for me to move from a delightful house that is too big for me to a place that appears to offer most of what I need and much less of what I don’t need. Because, although I don’t like to acknowledge that I have grown old I can surely affirm that I have grown up. I wish there were still two of us in this further adventure but the good memories of love and friendship and the happiness of family life will come with me.
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