Having turned 80 last October I imbibe your wisdom and philosophy.
As I share my thoughts on being an octogenarian and still finding purpose and passion in my life, I feel a deep sense of gratitude. I tell my grown children to live each day like it was their last, as one day it will be. Living to this auspicious age we understand more than ever, life is short and the world, wide.
Our best commodity is time. Unlike toilet paper, the closer we get to the end of the roll, the faster it seems to go.
As I write this post, I am sitting peacefully in my rocking chair on the deck of my condo, accompanied by my laptop, overlooking a fifty mile view of the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina. The railing is festooned with indigenous flowers providing a kaleidoscope of brilliant color. Hummingbirds flutter by along with native birds, each flocking to their respective feeders. A blue, cloudless sky touches the ridge of the mountains giving the impression that all is well. Chimes clink as the wind whispers through the deepest greenery that surrounds my vision. No one would ever suspect that our world and lives have been invaded by an invisible enemy. It seems so incongruous to the reality of what we are experiencing.
Florida, my home state is perhaps holding the trophy of being one of the most infected states in the country. The stillness and peace that permeates our landscape leaves no evidence of the invasion of a pandemic and the devastation it has caused. Occasionally, my daughters and I turn the television on hoping to hear good news. We quickly turn it off in despair learning only that things have worsened as the days pass. Once more, we feel grateful that we are here in the high country, away from the highest cases and deaths in America.
It was in early December that I had my own personal crisis. A flood damaged much of my home. My closet flooded, along with the upstairs floors and a few rooms on the first floor, ruining much of my wardrobe including shoes, hats and purses. I had to let go of many of my beloved belongings. I remember with sadness packing them in large garbage bags waiting for the bulk waste trucks that come each Friday to pick them up. Now, nearly retired from my clinical practice as a psychotherapist, were the clothes I loved and collected over the years I wore to work; those I wore to deliver presentations, to appear on television and most of my evening wear. The sadness I experienced as I filled my belongings into garbage bags suddenly morphed into a sense of relief. Now I had a purpose to unburden myself with most of my material things that were no longer needed. The items not completely destroyed were given to Good Will and other assorted facilities that might find them useful for those in need. I recall the existential feelings accompanied with their departure. It was time to let go—to let go of material things that no longer mattered.
I had just purchased three new outfits to wear to the Book Expo celebrating and promoting my new book that was to be held in NY at the Jacob Javitz Center on May 28 & 29th, now a make-shift hospital for Covid-19 patients. They needed alterations, but with the virus so pervasive, they lay on a shelf in my restored closet waiting for attention and care.
I loved my clothes. I had a relationship with them as if they were my friends. Each had special meaning in their own way. Most represented memories that are dear to my heart. Despite my feelings of loss, I noticed a lightness of being as I folded them and placed them into the bags. They were a part of my past; no longer my present. As the months passed into March, the virus dictated my wardrobe. It now consists of yoga pants and t-shirts. My professional pumps and assorted glamorous high heel shoes and boots have been replaced with flip flops and sneakers. My hopes were to wear those back-breaking high heels until “death do us part”! I never imagined I could feel so comfortable and relaxed in my new wardrobe. For the first time I realize I can live on less and not miss trying to decide what to wear each day. What a splendid feeling it is to be liberated! On being 80 means liberation—not just with our possessions, but with our thoughts, ideals, values, principles and beliefs. We finally accept ourselves as we are and who we are!
The advantage of aging can be surprising. What was important just 10 years ago, is no longer important. What mattered in my 70’s quietly and surreptitiously disappeared into the abyss.
I have been a vegetarian for more than ten years. I walk 3-4 miles a day, practice yoga and work with free weights now that I no longer visit the gym. I stretch every morning, find meditation a wonderful resource for relaxation and engaging with my inner self and higher power. I have a communion with my deceased daughter, Pam as well as my inner child each eve before I fall into slumber. I appreciate the strong relationship with my faith and most of all the powerful and wonderful relationships with my grown children, grandchildren and amazing friends. I write to my heart’s content whether published or not. I try to morph my pain and sorrow into purpose and passion. It restores my sense of well-being. I still enjoy my work, albeit, much less now than in previous years. I have not been to my second home, my office since March 25, however, I see a few clients visa vie telehealth. Worries? Yes, I still have some, but they seem to fade as each morning brings a new day with perpetual possibilities.
Recognizing that most of my life lives in my memories and photographs, I appreciate each day that I am alive! I want each day to matter, each day to have meaning and each day to give me hope that there will be another.
I have written letters to each of my children that they will open upon my demise. I have instructed where they can find all that they need after I am gone. Not unlike my parents, I made all my funeral arrangements when I turned 70 so they would not need to be burdened with the tasks that will confront them when they need time to grieve and hopefully laugh recalling my memory and the amazing times we shared. I even paid in advance for a police escort to lead the mourners to the cemetery. The irony is that if I should pass during the time of the pandemic, no one will be able to attend anyway! I instructed them to have me wrapped in a shroud with no need to purchase a headstone; a foot stone is all that is needed. I even told them what to have inscribed: What I am is me: for that I came. No visiting will be necessary as I won’t be there! I will be living in their hearts and minds.
This post is not intended to be morbid. It is what it is—a full life with joy and sorrow; happiness and tears, now knowing that unexpected moments of both will arrive throughout our lifetime.
I will close with a quote I recall from Auntie Mame:
Live, live live! Life is a banquet and most poor suckers are starving to death!
Joan E Childs, LCSW is a renowned psychotherapist, inspirational speaker and author of I Hate The Man I Love: A Conscious Relationship is Your Key to Success