Growing old gracefully

DoraMy granny believed in growing old gracefully. Her hair was a naturally silvery colour that caught the light. Age had given her more chins than most people I knew, and the back of her hands featured waves and hillocks of wrinkles and streams of blue veins where other people’s were just plain backs of hands.

She was so soft she seemed to be boneless. Her skin seemed too big for her, as though she had once fitted inside it but was now outgrowing the need for such an expanse.

Her eyes had an underwater, faraway look and she saw things that no one else could see. Her mind would go off on travels alone, leaving her family sitting around her, waiting for her return. She would come back after a while, smiling her delightfully crinkly smile, as pleased and surprised to see everyone as if they had just arrived.

Actress Joanna Lumley recently said she was happy growing old and had always wanted to be older, when she was young. I don’t remember wanting to grow old but there were many times in my life when I longed to be invisible, and in our society becoming a middle-aged woman is a sure-fire way to achieve this ambition!

Just as it’s a shock for a growing girl to move from being a child, kindly talked down to or ignored, to being a young woman attracting whistles and comments and head-to-toe assessments of face and body, so it’s a bit of a shock the first time people start to look through you or beyond you – like being a ghost. But it can also bring a sense of freedom.

The emphasis on staying young, or appearing young, is good when it reminds everyone that older people are still human beings who can contribute to society. But I think my Granny had it right in a way, when she chose to grow old gracefully. In a world that tries to have everything, grace is just what we need.

(Picture is of my friend Dora, then in her nineties)