I don’t know about you, but I didn’t really get the concept of acceptance until I hit 59. At that point, I could finally see that my senior years were inevitable. I wasn’t thrilled, but I was willing to put up with them. Mainly because I had no choice.
What I hadn’t counted on were the remarkable benefits.
As I age, a new patina has settled over my life – a comforting smudge of acceptance on all my old anxieties. It occurred to me that this is actually the gift of our senior years.
We can develop new, helpful mindsets that can help us tackle any crisis and surmount any hurdle. I say we are far better positioned to do this than our younger cohorts. For one thing, we can accept hard things in life with greater ease.
I know this because in 2012, my 22-year-old daughter Teal dropped dead from a medically unexplainable cardiac arrest.
That single event knocked me from being driven, type A workaholic with a relentless drive to succeed to… well… an inert blob, for several years. I spent those years writing, examining, and learning as I went.
When I emerged from my grief, I found I was wiser and far better off because of the experience of real, enduring loss. Turns out that somewhere in all that acceptance, I’d found my wisdom.
Here are the takeaway mindsets that have helped me navigate my 60s with a new, unexpected joy. Hopefully, you’ll find them useful as well.
It’s All Good
I’ve always hated the pat little phrase, “It’s all good” – but it turns out there is some truth to it. There really is some kind of humbling, or empowering, or love-provoking, reason for pretty much everything that happens to us. If you look hard enough, you can usually find it.
An unexpected benefit of my daughter’s death was that it helped me strip away the masks of illusion I’d lived with for so long. Finally, I had to let go of that old, overworking false persona – and with it, all my prickly defensive behaviors.
I was left a vulnerable pussy cat who didn’t work nearly so hard – and enjoyed life more. That’s when, quite unexpectedly, I met the love of my life. We are now quite happily married.
We Are Not Alone
After Teal died, I was more alone than I’d ever been in my life. My 25-year marriage had ended, and I was still relatively new to San Francisco. The one family member who lived near me was now dead, and I had few friends.
I dreaded that first miserable Thanksgiving because I had no place to go. Yet that weekend I found my way to a church where a hilarious, highly-organized group of drag queens were serving Thanksgiving dinner to hundreds of homeless people.
I joined in the fun, and that afternoon made my first real friends in California.
Willing and friendly people are out there – and you may have to go looking for them.
It’s Fine to Ask for and Get Help
I’m thinking of how I learned to ask for help after Teal’s death. I’d always been the stoic lone wolf – the powerful one-woman show who needed no one’s support.
The minute I let go of that narrative, in came remarkable resources. Free grief support groups, caring friends and family, and even a pair of pals who advised me wisely on my finances, all showed up. This support emerged naturally and easily, simply because I asked for help.
There are no two ways about it. As we age, we need more support. The opportunity is to surrender, ask for it, and enjoy what comes.
We’ve Become Street Smart
You know all those little tricks you’ve figured out along the way? From opening jars to learning how to console a distraught friend, we’ve learned a lot in our decades on this planet. This is not wisdom you can read in a book or learn from a teacher (though that can help.)
Mostly, we’ve learned these things by doing. For instance, when my spouse is in pain, I’ve found I can provide the same loving comfort I did when I was a mom, anxiously leaning over my feverish toddler.
I’ve learned how to move towards what works, and drift away from what doesn’t. And since my daughter’s death, I’ve learned how to tune into my own needs and meet them.
The lessons life gives us every day really are our greatest teachers. The longer we live, the more of them we’ve learned.
We Know We Deserve Good Care
Do you remember when we were younger, how hard it could be to get ourselves to exercise – or diet? To ask for help when we need it? Perhaps we were too busy then, working, and possibly even raising children. Now, however, we have time on our hands. We can finally become our highest priority.
That’s true even – or perhaps especially – if we are also caregivers to an ailing spouse. For without adequate self-care, we simply can’t get the job done.
Not only do we realize we need to take excellent care of ourselves – we know we deserve it. We finally know how to “put on the oxygen mask first,” as flight attendants always advise us. Because now we get it.
We deserve the best possible health, comfort, and ease we can give ourselves. No matter what our circumstances.
The gift of hard things – and aging – is this basic return to our own intrinsic power. It’s a power based on great love and self-compassion, and it can make the last quarter of your life sing instead of moan.
What techniques have you been able to use to turn life’s hard lessons into gold of your own? Can you give us examples of what worked for you and why? Please share in the comments below.