A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Constance Alexander: Aging with grace is a stretch, despite the many claims to the contrary

As the barista leans across the counter with my first coffee of the day, she gestures toward me with her free hand.

“Love your necklace,” she says.

My fingertips graze the slender silver rope I threw on at the last minute before leaving home, the best I could do to cheer up my dreary ensemble. Top to bottom, eyeglass frames to the toes of my boots, I am garbed in all black. Full ninja.

“When I’m old, I want to dress like you,” the young woman is saying.

She is so sweet and sincere, it is clear she means it as a compliment. Nevertheless, the word “old” digs into me. Had I gripped the foam cup any tighter, the coffee would have erupted like Vesuvius.

“Thank you.” Words muttered through clenched teeth with a half-hearted smile.

What is it about being called “old” that makes me want to snap at the speaker? Why do I cringe when people claim that getting old is not for the weak, the faint of heart, or wimps?

Multiple messages in the media claim it is possible to age with grace. There are cosmetics to mask the signs of aging, medicines to revitalize faltering energy, even communities with amenities to still the steady drumbeat of decline.

Whenever former Good Morning, America host Joan Lunden appears on screen to claim there is a “place for mom,” I grab the remote. I don’t want to hear about the nation’s largest assisted living referral service.

“We are paid by our participating communities,” their website says, “therefore our service is offered at no charge to families.”

A video narrated by Ms. Lunden gushes about elder care facilities that offer “amazing amenities like movie theaters, exercise rooms, and swimming pools.”

She goes on to mention public cafes, bars and bistros, even pet service, all against vistas of gracious living.

In the map on the homepage of a Place for Mom, western Kentucky is obscured by the caption, “Find Senior Living Communities.” A different map invites viewers to click to view costs of senior living in your area. Kentucky, unfortunately, has no link, but some basic information about assisted living explains that the average cost of a spot in an assisted living facility in 2018 was $4000 a month.

For a semi-private or private room, the average nearly more than doubles, to $7441 and $8365, respectively.

While the cost can vary drastically across regions, the impact is discouraging.

Leaving the Web, I scan my personal collection of books for uplifting thoughts. A slender pamphlet, “Art, Age, and the River,” by sculptor Jane Teller, catches my eye. At the end of her life, she assembled her thoughts and illustrated them with images of her artwork.

“Aging is aggravating,” she wrote, “but I suppose I should try to be accepting and graceful – submit as though I had a lovely silk prayer shawl over my head… Instead, I feel like growing fingernail claws and rending the shawl to ribbons.”

Chuckling at the notion of claws, I put Jane’s book aside and continue looking through my books until I find, “Winter Grace: Spirituality and Aging,” by Kathleen Fischer. I’m not sure I ever read the whole thing, but as I flip through the pages, I find a highlighted sentence I will take as my mantra from now on.

“The deepest grace of winter is the faith that there will be yet another spring.”

Access to the aforementioned report on aging in Kentucky is available at chfs.ky.gov.

Goodreads.com provides information about Kathleen Fischer’s “Winter Grace.”

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Constance Alexander is a columnist, award-winning poet and playwright, and President of INTEXCommunications in Murray. She can be reached at calexander9@murraystate.edu. Or visit www.constancealexander.com.

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One Comment

  1. Lynn says:

    As I continue to visit my orthopedic doctor, my eye doctor, my ENT doctor and all the medical professionals who want to see me every 6 months, I will continue to look for “yet another spring”. And by the way, I’m wearing my shawl now. It’s cold!!!

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