Aging in an Anti-Aging World
How important is our Legacy?
Age is opportunity no less
Than youth itself, though in another dress,
And as the evening twilight fades away
The sky is filled with
Stars invisible by day.
~ Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Recently I was a part of a discussion to explore grief associated with aging. As we age, we start to lose our friends, loved ones, our health, our memory, and at some point, our independence. We may feel the best of us is behind us.
All these transitions and losses can have grief associated with them. Some people associate the passing of the artists and musicians they liked with loss; most likely because of memories that are elicited when they were listening to a piece of music or watching a movie. Or even because they respected those artists and their art, and they will miss that. Letting go is the hardest part of grief, especially when we face our own aging and mortality.
The discussion made me think of my own aging, and transitions in the last few years. Until we started the discussion, I had not associated my feelings with grief, which I realized was real and playing in the background like elevator music!
I started to think about what my legacy would be and how I wish to be remembered when my time comes to leave this plane of existence.
I never really paid attention to that. Even though I have a real sense of what my family’s legacy is. My parents told stories about their parents and generations past. Quotes and proverbs that were passed on to them, as well as interesting history of their struggles, joys, accomplishments, and how each life event left a legacy and wisdom they held in their heart and minds.
I remember sitting with my aunts and uncle and intently listening to how the ancestors lived through hardships, wars, political unrest, as well as joyful times and passed their stories of survival down to the next generations to learn from. My mother often quoted my grandmother who was somewhat of a poet.
I took for granted some of those conversations as a child but cherished them as an adult. My uncle had this ability to recite history and analyze it in a way that gave you food for thought. I miss his stories. I also miss calling my mother for a favorite recipe or asking her questions on how to do something. I miss asking my dad a medical question (he was a doctor) or discussing philosophical questions about nature and the universe. I now try to keep those memories alive, and by doing that, keep a part of them alive. Their legacy for me is how to become resilient in the face of hardship, and how to be grateful for everything. I hope I have passed that along to my daughter.
What I feel is important is to embrace what elders around you impart. That wisdom is something to be cherished and passed along. As a nurse, I worked with many elders and my favorite time with them was to ask them for their stories. In the age of technology when the youngsters get their wisdom from a robot or a made-up celebrity online, preserving the elders’ wisdom is a duty for all of us who recognize its importance.
And for those who associate aging with the thought that the best part of their lives is gone, contemplate upon what your legacy is. What wisdom would you leave for those around you or even to the broader public? We all have something to contribute. And like a fine wine, aging makes that more valuable.