Loving life after 80 years
By Ina Albert
Eighty is weighty.
Not weighty depressing. Weighty because time is short and it’s a big job is to deal with the bottom line issues of our lives.
My 70s were about accomplishing goals that I had not completed and identifying essential qualities as guideposts to live by in the coming years. First on my list was becoming bat mitzvah. Usually this Jewish religious ceremony is performed at the age of 13, marking the entrance of the young person into the adult community of Judaism. However, when I was 13, girls were not permitted that privilege. The challenge of reading Hebrew almost defeated me, but I did it.
Throughout the years, leading an active spiritual practice continued. I’m most proud of working with my husband, Rabbi Allen, to found the first Jewish Renewal Congregation in Chicago. Now here I am at 80, still active and healthy. What now? I’m finding that I’m more of a listener than a participant these days. In previous years, I gave my opinion even if it wasn’t invited.
Ina Albert of Whitefish
Now, I wait and listen, observe body language, facial expressions and check the quality of the vibes — the energy between people. By that time, the conversation is over and there is no need for my contribution. It’s humbling, but I learn more about people from distancing myself than I ever did from mixing it up with my opinions. I call it listening louder. Understanding the process of listening is an obsession. My first book, Write Your Self Well…Journal Your Self to Health, is about learning to listen to the internal fears and trauma of our lives. Clinical trials verify that expressive writing — journaling about emotional issues — relieves stress and speeds the healing process. It was a preface to my next book. Yes. I’m the author of the intergenerational picture book, Granny Greeny Says…Listen Louder. Granny is the result of years of coaching interpersonal communication in hospitals and healthcare facilities. I recognized that patients responded positively to staff members who communicated with patients and demonstrated caring behaviors.
Research later confirmed that blood pressure, stress and recovery time are reduced, the immune system is strengthened and relationships improve when patients feel safe and secure with the people treating them. It came down to positive energy created by healthy communication between the staff and the patients. “It’s the vibes, Stupid!”
Eighty is the age for harvesting the past. What have I accomplished? What haven’t I done that I still want to do? What do I consider a life well-lived? Am I walking my talk? Am I listening louder? I know when I do I am a better wife, mother, Life Transitions Coach, a more attentive grandmother and a better friend. It helps me let go of judgments and softened my take-charge approach. What about listening to my spiritual self?
That’s harder. For the past several years, I’ve been spending time in prayer and meditation. I listen louder to my heart and I try to quiet the voice of my internal critic. It’s a frustrating and difficult process, but it teaches me about the quality of my own energy and connects me to the world around me. The phrase, WE ARE ONE, the result of a Creative Spirit beyond our understanding, has become a basic belief. As a result, I’ve slowed down, don’t rush from place to place, and stopped cutting people short. And, I ask a lot more questions.
Not much is written about what to expect in our 80s and 90s except that they have been called The Wisdom Years. I assume that means that we share the accumulated knowledge and experience we’ve amassed. Some researchers say that a part of our brain is growing larger to accommodate the additional knowledge acquired in our 30-plus additional years of living. Some also feel that elders in the later decades are more in touch spiritually. On that score I agree. I don’t have a bucket list, but there are relationships I’d like to strengthen in the remaining years. I’d like more time with my granddaughters, my family, and much more time with my closest friends. Intimacy is increasingly important.
Our social life is busy and my husband and I are involved in community organizations. I’m writing a monthly column for Montana Woman and working on a book of essays about aging. My husband hosts a public radio show called “You Must Remember This,” songs of the 1940s and 50s. In short, life is good. I’d like not to have to worry about money. I’d like my husband and I to stay healthy until the very end of our lives. Suffering is something I’m not good at! And I’d like to leave my writing to those who come after me in some tangible form— more books, stories, and poetry. Cleaning up the relationships that have gone sour became a necessity, and I feel cleaner for having said my I’m sorry’s and thank you’s. I’m learning to accept physical limitations. I’m not capable of living the same way I did 10 years ago. My body is clumsy at times. My breath is short. My body certainly doesn’t look like it did at 50. Wrinkles keep multiplying and skin keeps sagging.
Even with these changes, I don’t feel old. I am blessed with genes that preserve my body longer than most, so I have yet to experience the feeling of falling apart. Though I still do housework, I can no longer hike up Big Mountain or downhill ski.
I’m exercising (not enough), still eating too much and drinking vodka martinis more than occasionally. Restrictions are annoying. The greatest difficulty is losing words. Because my mother suffered from Alzheimer’s Disease, I’m frightened when I have to grasp for the proper way to express an idea. That’s more frustrating than anything else. The word comes to me too late to make my point, and that’s not soon enough. What are the 80s about for me?
They are a weighty process of examining my life through beginner’s eyes that bring a fresh perspective to personal history. Judging others for being responsible for my disappointments, mistakes and screw-ups is fading away and I’m left standing alone with my life choices and consequences. It’s like watching a movie from an emotional distance. Last, being closer to the end of life certainly encourages me to think more about process of death, the reality of dying and what I want to accomplish in the short time left. In the end, I want to die with dignity, in charge of my life decisions, with a mind that is cogent, and a loving support system to send me on my way. Let’s not forget joy.
Celebrating our 80s began just before my husband’s birthday, six months before mine. We created a plan to honor our lives and each other all year long with parties, traveling and enjoying our time together, our children, grandchildren and our friends. Let the party continue and the music play on!
About the author
— Ina Albert is an author and Life Transitions coach in Whitefish.