Everyone Dies — The Question Is How Are You Going To Live?

Photo: Courtesy of the author
Aging Has Nothing To Do With My Self-Esteem And Confidence

Growing older is a thing of beauty — try to appreciate it.

I haven’t had my hair cut for three months. I keep pulling it up into a bun on the top of my head.

I looked in the mirror recently and thought I saw a little bit of Grace Kelly in my face. 

My parents told me I looked like her when I was younger (much younger).

So I ask my husband, “Do I look a little bit like Grace Kelly?”

Unenthusiastically, he replies, “I don’t know, maybe.”

I let my hair down. It needs to be cut. I was never known as someone who is good at styling her hair. But maybe I am going to rebel and not get it cut and grow it long during my 60s.

My daughter drops by to visit and I ask her, “Do I look little bit like Grace Kelly?”

She says, “Really, Mom? I don’t know who Grace Kelly is, but you definitely need a haircut.”

I turned 60 this month. It hit me much harder than turning 40 or 50.

Sixty means the finish line is getting closer, mortality is closer. With losses of loved ones — my mother, father, brother, and mentor — I was forced to let go of the illusion that life will continue forever.

Yet, like many baby boomers, I have always felt younger than my age.

Wasn’t it just a few years ago that I was the young parent, helping my children with their homework, watching them play sports, perform in plays, and dance around the basement? That same parent who cried as they walked through graduation from high school, dropped them off at college and rejoiced in seeing them graduate.

It was.

But now my post-menopausal body is changing. I am a little heavier and stiffer than I’ve ever been. If I am going out on a Saturday night, I take a nap in the afternoon so I will be energized for the evening. When I get a new ache or pain, or when my back hurts after a long plane ride — I worry this is a sign of something worse.

My memory is not what it used to be either. There are moments when I get worried because I can’t remember how to get to the mall or other places. I am trying to eat healthy, exercise, get enough sleep, stay connected to others, and learn something new each day — but I am learning to accept that some things are simply out of my control.

At 60, I realize that life can be messy, and quite complicated.

I think about mistakes I’ve made and missed opportunities, the ‘what ifs?’  

What would I do differently as a mother, wife, or in my career?

Should I have spent my career in the university where I started, although I love private practice?

Should I have worked part-time when my children were growing up?

Should I have been more strict with my children, although I love that they are independent and critical thinkers?

Should I have moved out of the Midwest and lived near a beach like I always dreamed of?

I think about some of the things I have done that I am proud of and the mistakes I’ve made along the way. But I wouldn’t be who I am today unless I did both. Much knowledge and wisdom have been gained over six decades.

We are all a mixture of strengths and weaknesses and are lovable as we are.

A gift of aging is being less critical of yourself and others — and finally understanding what unconditional love is.

I am thankful that I have a family I love, amazing friends and colleagues, and meaningful work. I am lucky that I have lived long enough to experience my children turn into interesting adults, friendships that are increasingly precious to me and more gratifying than before.

I always remind myself of the importance of having fun, laughing, and dancing whenever I can.

I am trying to approach aging as a gift and opportunity. It is a privilege denied to many.

My amazing mom died at 63, right after she retired and was ready to relax and travel. We never know how much time we have left. It could be three months, three years or 30.

What I know for sure is that everyone is going to die, but the real question is — who is going to live, be fully present, and make a difference?

I want that to be me.

There is still plenty to do: Nurture and enjoy those I love and be open to unexpected adventures and travel.

So it’s time to go for a haircut, I think. There is still plenty of time to let it grow.

Ann Kearney-Cooke is a psychologist in Montgomery and mother of four adult children. She is a distinguished scholar at Columbia University and a New York Times bestselling author.

This article was originally published at Cincinnati.com. Reprinted with permission from the author.


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