If I live, I’ll have another birthday in two weeks. I’ve been trying to downplay it, but I might as well broadcast it because no matter how I try (every year) to ignore the approaching event, someone always reminds me. Just the other day a good friend asked, “Don’t you have a birthday coming up next month?” I know her well enough to know that immediately after I mumbled, “Uh-huh,” and tried to change the subject, and she asked, “What day?” she made a mental note to buy me a card. Oh, snap!
It’s not that I don’t appreciate the greetings and well-wishes, because I do. It’s just that my birthdays are no big deal to me anymore. Unlike milestone birthdays – turning Sweet 16 or reaching legal adulthood, the other B-days are, well, just birthdays. I suppose that nonchalance comes with age. Don’t get me wrong; I know that accumulating years is, as the saying goes – better than the alternative.
Although growing older doesn’t bother me, I am concerned about the undesirable things that most seniors resent like age-related challenges. The body changes: physical and mental. The frequent aches and pains, and the multiple medications some must take daily. According to WebMD, “Adults over age 65 buy 30 percent of all prescription drugs and 40 percent of all over-the-counter drugs.” I was not surprised to learn that many seniors take five or more medications a day. No wonder on the few occasions when I go to a doctor one of the first questions the nurse asks is “What medications are you on?” It is not my imagination that when I say, “None,” I sometimes see her arch an eyebrow before she scribbles her notes on a page attached to a clipboard or keys them into the computer.
My philosophy is, if you are a senior and free of medical challenges or even if you are dealing with them, there are two essentials for aging with strength and grace: (1) maintain a positive attitude and (2) keep a sense of humor.
So many people my age (and many who are younger) are taking age-related medications for high blood pressure, heart disease, Parkinson’s disease, arthritis. You name it.
Let me knock on wood, my head will do, as I say that I am (currently) not dealing with any of those ailments. I know that doesn’t mean that it can’t happen. Life is a day-to-day adventure. One day you could be perfectly healthy. You jump out of bed, cartwheel to the bathroom, hop into your workout clothes and hit the ground running. The next day you could be flat on your back KO’d by the flu or some other sudden illness, a heart attack, a stroke, or a terminal disease.
Life is like that. We may think that we are in total control, but none of us are. Control is quixotic as life is transitional. The only guarantee we have is that eventually, we all die. Better to enjoy each moment while we can. If life is blissful or relatively comfortable, then take it for what it is. If we perceive it to be miserable, then pray that it gets better. Succumbing to negativity only makes a bad situation worse.
As an aside let me share that in June 2014, I spent the last week, day, and final seconds with my mother at her home before she died of cancer. There are numerous things about that week and our time together that are resolute in my mind. Braiding her hair while she was propped up on the borrowed hospital bed provided by the hospice organization. The hissing noise made by the oxygen concentrator feeding her breath. Her smile and slight nods as I read Maya Angelo’s poems to her. But what stands out prominently is that during those weeks and days before she died, on the day before my sister’s birthday and four months before her 87th, mom seemed unafraid and at peace.
Before I digress further, let me get back on track about birthdays and aging and offer some tips to my cohorts.
Some age-related annoyances like occasional memory lapses or waning eyesight can be a pain. It is useful to stick post-it-notes wherever needed around the home as memory joggers. Store your eyeglasses in the same place so you can readily find them to read the notes. And don’t pitch a hissy fit if you can’t open a child-proof product, call a neighbor’s child and ask him or her to come over and open it.
Although, unlike numerous people my age (and many who are younger than I), I am not on any medications; don’t take that to mean that I don’t get occasional age-related discomfort. I do. Some mornings, especially after I have over-exerted myself while working out the day before, I wake up feeling like I rolled out of bed during the night, body slammed myself to the floor and then sleep-climbed back into the sack.
Ask me to what do I attribute my fair-to-middling health, and I’ll say “God and good genes” in that order. A scientist might say that it is the half-dozen vitamins and supplements that I take daily combined with regular exercise. And eating habits. Most days, I eat healthily. I rarely eat red meat. But I admit I am a magnet for sugary snacks. I easily avoid salt. Over the years I’ve developed a low tolerance for it. And I don’t smoke, drink or do drugs. Can I get a witness? (Who said caffeinated coffee is a drug?)
I won’t tell you and all the world how old I will be next month. If you already know, then you know. But if you don’t know, let’s play a guessing game. I will give you some clues. In the year I was born, Harry S. Truman was reelected U.S. President; Mahatma Gandhi was assassinated in India, and if I were a canine, I would be 335 dog years old. Now, go figure. But shh, keep it quiet.