I changed from the process of writing my book Eightysomethings.
When I turned 80, I was in a funk. I thought my life was going to get worse and worse from that point on. My thirty years as a practicing psychotherapist didn’t protect me from this fear of growing old. I was living in a retirement community where I felt way too young. I was shocked and scared when I found I couldn’t make it to the top of a small mountain that I had hiked for seventy years. Worrisome things were changing in my body. I could hardly ever sleep through the night. I forgot names more often. My eyes began to water uncontrollably. My husband, John, had more serious health problems and they were getting worse.
By the time I was 85, my situation and my attitude had transformed. I had passed through a wretched, black period of grieving after John, my husband of 59 years, died. Gradually, I came to terms with losing him. My four sons, their wives, and the grandkids visited as often as they could and checked in by phone and e-mail—but most of them live far away. It was my many friends at my retirement community and in town who were there for me day-to-day.
What transformed me? Talking to others in their 80s and the lessons I acquired from them. So much so that I’m sharing what I learned from them, and in my career as a social psychologist, in my book Eightysomethings - A Practical Guide to Letting Go, Aging Well and Finding Unexpected Happiness.
My book is the key factor in my new upbeat outlook. When I interviewed people like Maggie, for example, I was inspired. Despite her crippling arthritis and the fact that it took her three hours to dress each day, Maggie was still was writing poetry and directing plays. I realized I could do better, maybe even thrive in my eighties.
I interviewed a diverse group of eightysomethings all around the country and found that the vast majority of them reported they were happy or very happy. With the help of modern medicine, most of them were healthy enough to do all sorts of exciting and interesting activities even if they were on a tight budget. I saw the possibilities were endless and I began to see my own attitude becoming more optimistic.
Writing the book gave me a focus and a purpose. I traveled to Mexico. Then I found a new love, Peter. We began to have dinner together almost every night and, after some months, we became a couple. As the book neared publication, I realized I had a new mission to get out the word that aging in the twenty-first century has changed. I wanted everyone to see that the old age did not need to be dreaded. I’m so engaged in my life now that I can hardly remember the time I was in a funk. I wish that for everyone who fears aging.