Growing older gracefully

I have been thinking a fair amount recently about the process of aging. I try to remember that everything is relative in life, though perhaps death is an exception to that rule? It seems to me that there are no degrees of death, simply degrees of living. Dying may be full of degrees and comparisons, but as for being dead, well, that seems pretty absolute.

Age, on the other hand, is extremely relative. I am sure that if I am still around at 55, and choose to look back on photographs of myself at 35, I will consider myself young. Right now, however, with 30 less than 11 months away, I feel that aging is happening all too fast. Last year, a few weeks after giving birth to my second son, I noticed my first grey hairs and wrinkles. There were only a few of each, and not obvious to the unobservant or incurious, but suddenly startlingly conspicuous to my own eyes. I knew, of course, that they hadn’t appeared overnight, and their existence was not what was new, but merely my perception of it. I remember my mother holding my elder son Tristan’s hand in hers on the day he was born, and suddenly seeing her own hand as ancient and scarred against the unmarked freshness of his newborn flesh, while I became aware of my own as very much in between the two.


It is irritating when we notice things and then wish we could un-notice them; I feel much the same when I suddenly realise that the skirting boards need dusting or the oven needs a thorough scrub – once I notice I feel compelled to do something about it, and wish I could go back to being happily unaware.

So, since I felt propelled into action, I decided it was time to ramp up my skincare regime and (after some consideration) dye my hair. There wasn’t a lot more I felt I could – or wanted to – actively do. I realise now of course that sometimes the best action is inaction, and it seems odd to me to realise that one way or another my mother’s death has helped me embrace my aging process (temporarily, at least). As a teenager, I remember her speaking to me of her love for a song by Michelle Shocked called ‘When I Grow Up’. The music video is a bit on the strange side, but the song is just as I remember it, with the catchy refrain ‘When I grow up I wanna be an old woman’, and the beautiful lines

‘In the summer we’ll sit in a field and watch the sun melt.
In the winter we’ll sit by a fire and watch the moon freeze.’

Tessa said what she loved about this song was the acceptance, and indeed embracing, of growing old. There is such a prejudice against it, particularly in Western culture where the wisdom and experience of the old are so often overlooked and belittled, while youth is idolised.

I have always admired the sentiment within her words, and hoped to one day follow her along the path to graceful and enjoyable aging. I feel that I have, in these past couple of months, finally begun to find the faint trail that marks the beginning of that path, and I know she has left many signs for me to follow.

6 thoughts on “Growing older gracefully

  1. I think there are degrees of dying. Dying is the absolute permanent loss of life, and we lose bits all our lives – when we make choices, we also choose not to do something (like Robert Frost’s poem about the path not taken), when friends leave or friendships end, those are losses; little deaths. Actual physical death is permanent for the dead one but as well all know, for those still living, the dead person carries on in memories that are thick with sensual reality (the sound of her laugh, the nodding of her head, the smell of her going out …..)

  2. I think accepting physical ageing in a tough one in a society so obsessed with youth and beauty. When I find myself thinking I should be thinner, taller, blonder or fixating on a minuscule wrinkle,etc etc I try to remind myself that if I am lucky enough to live long I will look worse than I do now. That’s my mental nudge to focus on what is of real value – the person that I am – rather what is largely chance and circumstance – how I look. Some days I am better at it than others!

  3. Hi Laurel
    At 55 it is funny to hear you feeling old at 30! Rest assured you will still feel 30 inside in another 20 years and will still be enjoying life as much so don’t waste those years worrying about getting old! Tessa didn’t worry about how she looked, and she looked great. Being happy and active is what keeps us young.
    Having children makes us feel grown up as it shunts us up a generation. Losing a parent makes us more vulnerable to death, like we lose the safety net of the generation above us.

    As you said what is important is the person we are. We will always be that person whatever age. Always a good idea to try a new hair do though! and any other new thing that comes along.

  4. Warning – When I Am an Old Woman I Shall Wear Purple
    By Jenny Joseph

    When I am an old woman, I shall wear purple
    with a red hat that doesn’t go, and doesn’t suit me.
    And I shall spend my pension on brandy and summer gloves
    and satin candles, and say we’ve no money for butter.
    I shall sit down on the pavement when I am tired
    and gobble up samples in shops and press alarm bells
    and run my stick along the public railings
    and make up for the sobriety of my youth.
    I shall go out in my slippers in the rain
    and pick the flowers in other people’s gardens
    and learn to spit.

    You can wear terrible shirts and grow more fat
    and eat three pounds of sausages at a go
    or only bread and pickles for a week
    and hoard pens and pencils and beer nuts and things in boxes.

    But now we must have clothes that keep us dry
    and pay our rent and not swear in the street
    and set a good example for the children.
    We must have friends to dinner and read the papers.
    But maybe I ought to practice a little now?
    So people who know me are not too shocked and surprised
    When suddenly I am old, and start to wear purple.

  5. ” It seems to me that there are no degrees of death, simply degrees of living.” Wow!…you have these treasures in one lines. You are able to synthesis such thoughts…process…your journey. What you write I again love. After a few years of therapy…I stopped counting!…my therapist at the time said to me. It is not death that you are afraid of. It is of living. It was then that I heard what she said. Death is of Life. Death is Unknown. Unknown is in growth. Growth is potential. Is creativity. Is living. As we disconnect with the natural world. With the natural cycle we loose touch of this connection.
    So I aim to fully live. What does that mean to fully breathe. Apparently so many of us only breathe into a fraction of our lungs. Fully take in oxygen. So how to be more rooted and be able to take flight. And be fully ourselves. And so celebrate life. In all it’s complexity. Variety. And in challenges to be authentic. You know I wish I could just give this over active mind a rest. And say it’s ok. Give it a rest! Be alive and experience!

  6. “graceful and enjoyable aging.” Beautifully said. Till now I hadn’t thought about my ageing that much, but more of my father and mother. How would they age, how would they be and see themselves…
    But now that I think to myself about my ageing, I am suddenly nervous, scared, overwhelmed, and wonder how I will grow old…
    Your mention of degrees of living is making my mind think, love, care, connect, give, be open, be honest….just be.
    I love how you can process and have these thoughts throughout your life, I really do find it so incredible, so pure.

    You have touched my heart in so many ways and as I read more of your blogs, I am sure my heart will be opened fully.

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