Growing up, I had a great aunt who I will refer to as Aunt D. Aunt D. grew up in the Great Depression, saw all three of her brothers drafted to fight in WW II, and outlived her husband. My cousins and I loved to go to her house because she was so much fun. She would cook us hot dogs, and we would play Bingo. She ran through the yard with sparklers on July 4th. Aunt D. rode a go-cart through the yard on her 80th birthday. She rode on the back of a Harley Davidson motorcycle when she was well over 80. As she grew older, she began to complain about her friends. They would go on senior outings to the local amusement park, and her friends would only shop and watch shows. Aunt D. wanted to ride the roller coasters! Did Aunt D. age gracefully? Exactly what does it mean to age gracefully?
I most frequently hear the term aging gracefully as it relates to women. I’ve never heard anyone talk about a man aging gracefully. Men just age. Society doesn’t really like women to just age. We are supposed to age gracefully. Recently multiple people in my social circles have mentioned that not coloring one’s hair is a sign of aging gracefully. If you don’t want to color your hair, then don’t. Personally, I love getting my hair colored, and I intend to do it until I draw my last breath. Hair color is, in some ways, like tattoos. If you like tattoos, get one. If you hate them, then don’t get them. What I know for sure is that hair color has nothing to do with aging gracefully because hair color can be changed in one afternoon. Aging gracefully is much harder and more time consuming. Here is what I think should be the hallmark of aging gracefully:
- Stop bashing younger people – To all my Baby Boomers and Gen X friends, enough with beating up on the Millennials and Generation Z! They have a lot more positive attributes than we give them credit for. Yes, they are different because the world they grew up in is vastly different. Stop using the word millennial like it is a derogatory term. Also, many older people are using the term incorrectly. Everyone younger than you is not a Millennial. Millennials are starting to push middle age. Those teenagers and twenty somethings that you frequently complain about are Generation Z, and they are awesome.
- Be open to new music – Everyone loves the music of their youth. I get it. My husband and I can absolutely rock out the 80s station on a road trip. However, good music is still being made. I’m a fan of the country music genre. I love Waylon, Merle and Dolly as much as the next person, but there are plenty of new artists that are true to the genre’s roots and pumping out new music that’s worth adding to the play list.
- Show grace – As an older person, you should be able to understand better than anyone that people make mistakes and screw up in spectacular ways. We’ve all been there. Instead of pointing the finger, try forgiveness. That’s so much harder than letting your hair go gray.
- Look however you want to look – Color your hair. Get the tattoos. Wear what you want. Just live. Don’t sit in a hospital room one day near the end of your life regretting that you didn’t do what you wanted to do because you were afraid that someone, somewhere was worried that you weren’t being dignified.
- Stop talking about your health issues all the time – I could do things in my 20s that I can’t do anymore. When my husband and I were in college, we would pull all night study sessions. I would sometimes give out about 1 am or 2am and could sleep on the floor of the University of Kentucky library until my husband, who could stay awake, was ready to go home. Now I have a hard time staying awake until 10 pm, and if I sleep on the floor, I’m going to need to make an appointment with a massage therapist. We all have health issues, but unless facing a serious illness, maybe it doesn’t need to be the number one topic of conversation.
- Show unconditional love – It is nearly impossible to love deeply in your youth. You haven’t lived enough, lost enough, and learned to appreciate other people enough to do that. As you age, you have that capacity. It can become a superpower if you are open to it. If someone loves you unconditionally, do you really care about the color of that person’s hair?
- Keep making new friends – You may want to huddle close to your established friends as you get older, but that’s a mistake. Keep meeting new people and pursuing new friendships. Meet all kinds of people that are different ages and look different and think differently. Those new friends add to your life, and you have something awesome to give them too.
- Cut through the smoke and mirrors – In my youth, I always took everything at face value. If someone told me she was fine, I would assume she was. I asked. The person answered. That was that. After nearly 50 years, I have realized that people frequently give the answers they think you want to hear. Use all that life experience to ask the follow up question. When someone says they are fine but your aging gut says otherwise, ask that follow up question. “Are you really fine?” Then, let that person talk. Be someone else’s anchor in times of trouble.
Aging gracefully is a choice, and it has nothing to do with how you look. Aunt D. didn’t care how she looked when she was tearing across my back yard in a go-cart. I hope I draw my last breath with brightly colored hair, multiple tattoos, and a group of people who will miss me because of the way I loved not because of the way I looked.