Sooner or later, we all must recognize what is no longer possible and find alternatives. Years ago, body mechanics forced me to give up tennis and ice skating and now strenuous gardening. I continue to do 10-mile bike rides several times a week in good weather, but two-week cycling trips up and down hills are now history.
A dear friend in her 90s is my role model and serves as a reality check. When I asked if she’d accompany me on a trip abroad, she said, “Thanks, but I’m no longer up to the level of activity it involves.”
I’ve vowed to stop talking to whoever will listen about my aches, pains and ailments, what Mr. Petrow called the “organ recital.” It doesn’t provide relief — in fact, it might even make the pain worse. Rather than instill empathy, the “organ recital” likely turns most people off, especially young ones.
And I do cherish my young friends who keep me youthful in spirit and focused on issues important to my children and grandchildren and the world they will inherit. They, in turn, say they value the information and wisdom I can offer.
I also strive to say something flattering or cheerful to a stranger every day. It brightens both of our lives and helps me focus on the beauty around me. But my most valuable advice: Live each day as if it’s your last, with an eye on the future in case it’s not, a lesson I learned as a teen when my mother died of cancer at 49. Her death inured me to catastrophic loss, which I handle better than little ones.
The stickiest wicket going forward will be driving. When I was in my mid-70s, my sons started urging me to stop driving simply based on my age. I hadn’t had any accidents or even almost-accidents or gotten a ticket for a moving violation. Still, they upped my liability insurance (OK, I said, if it makes you feel better). And, to get them off my back, I gave up my 10-year-old minivan and I replaced it with one of the safest cars on the road, a Subaru Outback.
Like many other cars now on the market, the Subaru has several protective bells and whistles that compensate for the declining senses and slower reactions that accompany aging. It warns me when there’s a car, bicycle or pedestrian approaching when I’m backing out of a parking spot. It stops dead when anything suddenly appears or stops in front of me. If I should turn my head to see something, it flashes “Keep Eyes on Road.”