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Simone's OncOpinion: The Joys of Aging

Simone, Joseph V MD

doi: 10.1097/01.COT.0000396100.94124.da


Getting old is feared and fought in our society. Plastic surgery, Botox, creams, hair dyes, and gadgets to tighten sagging muscles are all part of a gigantic industry that promise to make you look young, or at least younger. When I am being photographed I ask photographers to “please take off about 10 pounds.” These actions mainly focus on the appearance of being younger.

Others focus on delaying the loss of function by working out, walking, water aerobics, and yoga exercises to increase or maintain flexibility, range of motion, balance, and core body strength. Participants may look better, perhaps even younger, but the main goal is functional. I am more inclined to be in this category rather than the focus on changing my physical appearance, a losing proposition in any case.

In both categories, we combat the destructive aspects of aging, the natural decline in our bodies— muscles, joints, stamina, strength, and appearance. The latter, in our society, means the change from youthful features to wrinkles, dewlaps, and very high foreheads and potbellies like mine. If we are honest with ourselves, we know all these efforts will provide only temporary relief, if any, from the cause of our age-anxiety.

The elderly Rabbi Albert Lewis, quoted in Mitch Albom's book, Have a Little Faith, may have said it best: “Getting old, we can deal with. Being old is the problem.”

So why do I think this is one of the best times of my life? Why am I enjoying life so much in my mid-70s when at least 80% of my life span is behind me, when death is closer and closer each day? Let me count the ways.

First, my wife and I and our family are in good health. Oh sure, we take a couple of medications, but all in all we are fine. I am grateful beyond expression for this key baseline for my enjoyment of aging (and I fully appreciate that the anxiety and worry from a chronic, life-threatening illness in a family member would have a negative impact on our collective mood).

On top of that, I can look back on my career with a sense of accomplishment and gratitude for all the wonderful people I had the opportunity to work with. And I have been able to stay active (part time) in my profession. I am at a time in life when I can work when and if I wish, choosing to do only that which is interesting to me.

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What Has Provided the Most Consistent Joy…

All of these things contribute to my happiness in old age. But what has provided the most consistent joy in my later life is our grandchildren. Our three daughters, born only about two years apart, married at progressively older ages so that our five grandchildren are 3, 5, 9, 16, and 21 years old. As a grandparent, I could not have planned this spread any better. For two decades we have always had pre-school or grade school grandkids in the family, and that will continue for another decade.

For those of you who do not have grandchildren, you may wonder what all the fuss is about. It is hard to explain, but I shall give it a try. I begin by relating comments from two friends who have grandchildren when I announced that my first grandchild was born. The first said, “If I had known having grandchildren was so much fun, I would have skipped the first part.” The second said, “Grandchildren are God's reward for not killing your teenage kids.” (Especially at age 15, I would have added.)

We loved and enjoyed our kids when they were growing up, but grandchildren are different for many possible reasons, though none truly captures the essence. When our kids were growing up, I was working harder and was focused on building a career. And like all mothers, my wife was scrambling to keep the house and care for the kids and me. We were responsible for the kids' safety, health, education, training, manners, behavior, and all the rest.

No matter how much we love our grandchildren, we are not responsible for their upbringing. In fact, we knew that meddling in what is the parents' responsibility could cause problems. It helps that my wife, Pat, is a professional grandmother. She has an uncanny ability to gently guide me so that we maintain this wonderful relationship with our daughters, sons-in-laws, and grandchildren—close, but not smothering; helpful, but not intrusive.

And finally, we are wiser and more perceptive now than when we raised our own kids and over time, we have sharpened our focus on the values that count most in life and families.

All of these things are factors in the special relationship we have with our grandchildren. But the joy we feel when we are with them or talk on the phone, when we track each of the magical development steps they move through with amazing speed, when we hear how their speech develops and their ability to read blossoms, when they give their love and receive ours without restriction or qualification— that joy is powerful, inexplicable, and spiritual in some way.

The whole family talks about the children's development, and phone calls among us always include something said or done by them, especially Peter, Luke, or Matthew (ages 3, 5, and 9), usually creating belly laughs in the listener. The boys are sweet and good-natured (with occasional melt-downs), and their grandparents have the privilege of enjoying and loving them in their wondrous early life.

So a major reason that I am enjoying life enormously at 75 is the joy that these five grandchildren spread like a friendly virus throughout our family. It is such a blessing and, we are eternally grateful.

© 2011 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.
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