Since my early childhood, when my favorite people in the world were my Great Aunts, Alice and Jean, I have wanted to be an old lady, like the two of them. They had a fun life, and the best laughs. Their old age was far more appealing to me than my grinding childhood. Having surrounded myself with old people for the past thirty years, I’ve felt like the perpetual young person. My attitude toward age has never been oriented toward the usual goal of being “ageless,” because how then would I ever achieve that blessed state of being like my great-aunts?
Over the past few days, I’ve been delighted to let myself get lost in Wendy Lustbader’s new book, Life Gets Better. I first encountered Wendy and her books at caregiver conferences about twenty years ago. When I met one of my favorite elders, a Quaker lady named Billy Vincent, we bonded quickly once we knew we both had Wendy’s book Counting on Kindness, Dilemmas of Dependency on our bookshelves. I inherited Billy’s copy and I share it with other Circle of Life caregivers. I re-read it just last month. Billy and her family allowed me the privilege of being a caregiver for her sweet husband Tad during his years at home with Alzheimer’s. Within a few days of meeting Billy, I said to her, “I feel like I’ve known you all my life.” Billy said, “That’s what Tad says too!”
My elder care life and Wendy’s books have always been on the same shelf in my brain.
Wendy talks and writes about older folks in ways that resonate with me, echoing my own experiences and attitudes. It is rare to find someone who understands and can articulate the precious knowledge that old people are people first and that aging is not a disease but in fact can be a wonderful part of life. Now, with Life Gets Better, I have advanced into new territory.
This is going to sound silly coming from a grandmother of six, but in the course of reading Life Gets Better, containing stories about elders, many about people in their fifties, I suddenly thought, “Wait, this is me, this is my age group. I must be an elder!” Did I finally become an elder when I wasn’t looking?
Life Gets Betterincludes lots of stories about how and why elders are so much happier and fulfilled than the young can ever understand. In the Epilogue, I found one of those Wendy lines that resonates so deeply with my life. “I became old when I was young.” Exactly! Awareness about aging has certainly changed and improved my experience of my continuing life. My lack of fear about aging however did keep me from recognizing that somewhere in the past ten years or so (as I approach sixty), I crossed into sacred territory, becoming the age-full being I always wanted to be. (I know, the ninety-somethings still scoff at my new found elderhood, but I will catch up, hopefully, eventually.)
Thanks, Wendy for sharing your life and work. Anyone who doesn’t know about Wendy Lustbader and her books should go find them, right now, before any of us get much older! (www.lustbader.com)