I am 78 years old.
For most of my life, I never thought about getting old.
I was lucky – one of those people who seemed to “age gracefully”. I was healthy, had a full life, and assumed it would somehow always be that way. I was comfortable with the changes in my appearance and the normal slower pace. Retirement gave me a second chance and so I redefined myself. I began to write and to take photography seriously. I created a blog about my personal experiences with aging and found a community of followers from all over the world.
When I was 73, things began to change. Slowly, almost imperceptibly at first. My circle of 6 friends was diminished as one by one poor health, relocation and death left me the last woman standing. An only child, with no living family, I was confronted with a life I had never envisioned. I was alone.
I discovered that I lacked the skills necessary to rebuild my life. Where to begin? It felt as if I had been transported to a different planet. I was an alien among people who had spouses, children, grandchildren and longstanding groups of their own.
Slowly, the robust good health I had always taken for granted began to deteriorate. I ignored the warning signs. Instead, I lived in a fantasy that somehow this was just a rough patch.
And then came the Pandemic.
Followed by Massive Heart Failure.
I returned home after a long stay in the hospital and rehabilitation. My physical abilities are significantly reduced. I spend most of my time between doctors and physical therapists, no longer able to drive and have difficulty breathing or walking for more than a few minutes.
The bright spot in my life was my cat, Lovebug, the smartest and best companion in the world.
Lovebug died on September 4th.
For the last 10 days I have been sitting in what no longer feels like home. It is so quiet and I am strangely numb. I make lists of things I should do – things long delayed and things I never had time for before. They sit on my night table. I have trouble concentrating. And yes – I recognize the signs of depression and have virtual meetings with a therapist.
So why am I sharing this?
I suspect there are many people like me who have had to redefine what makes life worth living. It is not an easy or pleasant thing to do. But in order to move forward it is necessary.
We are an age resistant society. The word “old” is rarely used. Instead, we are encouraged to think, look and act “young”. It is as if life is not worth living if you get old.
My experience is that is not true.
Yes, for many of us there is heartache and illness as we age. No one escapes death. But if I look at my life without preconceived notions or the opinions of others, I find that there is almost always something worth living for every day.
Sometimes it is as simple as opening the windows on a summer morning and letting the fresh air in. Watching a sunset. Listening to the birds sing or the sound of the creek running behind the house. The unexpected kindness of a neighbor or stranger.
It is the satisfaction when I balance my checkbook and have a bit left over for the month.
It is the pleasure of reading a good book. Watching a good movie or play. Listening to music (even dancing to it when no one is watching). Having a good meal. An unexpected call from a friend
or a long email filled with stories and maybe photos. Having time for something you love to do. Fixing something broken.
I am not living the life I envisioned for myself when I got old and there are still many days when I am bitterly disappointed. But I am learning that little things mean a lot. And that I am more resilient than I would ever have imagined.
How do I define a Life Worth Living? Having Another Day To Live!
Carole Leskin is a retired Director of Global Human Resources. Embarking on a second career as a writer and photographer concentrating on her personal accounts of aging, her essays and poetry, frequently accompanied by her photos, are published in Jewish Sacred Aging, Jewish Women of Words, Starts At 60, Navigating Aging ( a Kaiser Health publication), Women’s Older Wisdom, Time Goes By and Next Avenue. Her poems, “Father Time” and “Carole’s Debate” were selected for inclusion in the 2019 anthologies of poetry, New Jersey Bards. Her photos have been featured in Mart R Porter Nature Forum.