As a little girl, I was afraid of monsters in the closet. When my parents came to tuck me in, I made sure Dad shut the closet doors tight. Once the lights went out I never looked in the closet. The fear of growing old is just as scary to many. We buy products to help us cover it up, reverse it, or change its color. And even though demographics paint a clear picture that we are moving from a predominantly youth nation to a “mature” one, we still try to outrun the unknown that comes with aging. It’s almost as if we want to stuff anything having to do with growing older in the closet and shut the door tight.
Marge Engelman, a professor and now a dear friend, was the first person that asked me to look at myself as an older woman. For a class exercise, she had us draw ourselves as an 85-year-old person—how we envisioned looking, what we were doing and with whom. This was my first course in aging studies during my Master’s work in 1994. What an eye-opener! I now teach that exercise in my presentations and like me, people experience many “ah-ha” moments. Once the door is open and the conversation rolling about what aging is all about, fear drops off. Looking at this mysterious, oftentimes-scary part of our lives called “aging,” is much like the monsters I imagined in my closet as a little girl. When I bravely looked in my childhood closet, the only thing frightening about the inside of my closet was if my parents decided to open it and discover my secret cleaning methods. I was afraid of what could be in there.
I am blessed that I have spent a great deal of time working with and around older adults. I have many elderly friends. I love them and embrace their aging…so why not my own aging? When I look at myself in the mirror, I see the aging changes. I also see the future possibilities and the many crazy times that have formed my face. I encourage you to look into the face of aging—have conversations with friends, talk with an older person, look in the mirror and observe the changes without judging. I hope that one day we all embrace aging instead of ignoring, fearing, and trying to make it—aging—go away.