Why is it so hard?

I remember the first time it hit me that I was entering a new stage of my life. I was still in my early fifties. I was watching the news cover a storm. And a very young reporter referred to someone as "an elderly woman." Later, in the same piece, he mentioned the woman's age. She was in her early sixties. And I felt appalled, a little outraged, thinking (out loud) that elderly was fluid and that nobody less than eighty was elderly. Some are not elderly even post-eighty.

What surprised me, though, was the nerve that was struck in me by his word choice. I was offended by the remark because I didn't want to be thought of as an "older woman" prematurely. I don't relish the thought of being referred to that way no matter how old I get, if I am honest. I have never liked being called ma'am, though I am learning to accept that that's exactly who I am. Ma'am is entirely appropriate. I'm many people's senior these days. But I realize that it only bothers me because my mind hasn't accepted that this is where I am and who I am. I'm still struggling against the inevitable. And I don't understand why I can't just fall into it and embrace it. Perhaps it IS (as the meme suggests) about our culture and the way society in general regards aging as a disease and a loss of value; something to be resisted with all our might in order to stay relevant.

I don't feel old when I'm in the company of people "around" my own age (even slightly younger). But when I'm with much younger people (who I still very much enjoy), I feel so aware of my advancing years. I also feel them slipping away faster with every year. Now that both my parents are gone, I realize that my brothers and I have become the older generation of our family. Since I am the oldest sibling, I am the oldest of the older generation. It feels weird.

I think about the vulnerability of old age. And I think far too much about the time when I won't be here with the younger generation of our family. I may not be the only one who is thinking about it. But because of my personality, I'm one who frequently verbalizes my thoughts. So I notice how often I make "getting older" comments out of the blue. And then I ask myself, "Why do I do this? When will I stop feeling awkward and uncomfortable about the natural progression of life being my lot as well as everyone else's? We all age." Sometimes I feel guilty for fearing or dreading old age when I am so well aware of how many don't enjoy the privilege of growing old because they leave us prematurely. My own mom didn't see 50. John's only daughter didn't see 19.

I thought about this a lot after spending time with my 22-year-old niece this past weekend. I reflected on how many references I make to my age. My nieces don't think of me as old. But if I keep talking about how "old" I am... 

So why can't I stop it?! 

And something occurred to me. I thought about how many times I have shared with someone (when they ask me how I was able to leave a cult), that my identity had never been rooted in the group, as being "God's special" anything, having special truths, etc. It was good enough for me to just be His; His child. I wasn't giving up my identity to question what I had believed and leave some of it behind. I saw it as growth, progression, gaining new perspective. I let go of what I needed to let go in order to embrace what was ahead. I had to stop fearing deception and rest in knowing God was working all things for my good. I was in His hands. Everything did not depend on my own wisdom or performance.

As I pondered these thoughts, it kind of struck me that I'm having to release an identity I've enjoyed since my thirties. I've always been the young mom, the young aunt, the young grandma. When my son was in high school (and I was still in my mid-thirties), I heard constantly, "You're Danny's MOM?" And then when the grandkids came along, "You're a GRANDMA? No way!" I loved it. Well, my oldest grandchild is almost 13 now and nobody is shocked anymore that I'm a grandma as I cherish the last year in my fifties. Even if I look a little younger than my chronological age, a huge compliment is for someone to think I look closer to 50 than to 60. Obviously, I haven't fully adjusted yet. 

I need an identity adjustment! I will only feel awkward and self-conscious about where I am in life if I keep trying to be where I was instead of embracing what's next. Our world and our families need the older generation. It's not my turn to be young anymore. But I can always be young at heart. (However, I can only be young at heart if I stop focusing on being old ... and dying!)

I really just want to be someone who has a zest for life; to grow into an older lady with insight and humility, who lives her life with humor and vibrancy, and who tries her best to enhance the lives of those around her for as long as she's living. As I approach my (gasp) 60th birthday next year, it's my turn to embrace the words I so often repeated to my nieces when they were little girls: "Be pretty on the inside. That's what counts."

Girls, when I fall back into my silly old age remarks, please just give my hand a little smack to remind me of my own words to you in years past. All I really want to know is that I will still matter to you no matter how old and irrelevant I may be in the grand scheme of life. I'm going to conquer this new area of transition. I do fear the vulnerability of old age just a bit. But I'm determined to embrace the next chapter wholeheartedly. You just might have to help me walk through my vulnerability as I've tried to help you walk through yours. It's called role reversal. And the struggle is real. 

Words to live by: