In Nora Ephron's best-selling book, I Feel Bad About My Neck, she
laments the sorry state of her 60-something neck: "Our faces are lies and our
necks are the truth. You have to cut open a redwood tree to see how old it is,
but you wouldn't have to if it had a neck," she writes.
"Every so often I read a book about age, and whoever's writing it says it's
great to be old. It's great to be wise and sage and mellow; it's great to be at
the point where you understand just what matters in life. I can't stand people
who say things like this. What can they be thinking? Don't they have
Hannah Kalil is 83 years old, and lives by herself in upstate New York. She
has aides who help with her caregiving throughout the day. But the
responsibility of managing her finances, health care -- both mental and
physical -- and long-term living situation falls to one person: her daughter --
and my mother -- Eleanor.
It's almost a full-time job. Making sure my grandmother is happy and not
feeling lonely means daily visits. Her never-ending stream of medical issues
means weekly -- if not...
With rueful humor, she writes about smoothing her face with Restylane and
Botox, reading in large type, and grieving the deaths of beloved friends.
Ultimately, Ephron concludes, "The honest truth is that it's sad to be over
Yes, getting older is rife with emotional landmines, gerontologists say,
including fears of losing one's independence or getting a serious
illness. Aging gracefully isn't always easy, but attitude matters a lot,
"For some reason, our society is very obsessed with pointing out negative
aspects of aging," says Susan Whitbourne, PhD, professor of psychology at the
University of Massachusetts, Amherst. She is also the past president of the
American Psychological Association's Division on Aging.
But Whitbourne cautions, "Don't get bogged down in all the hype about aging.
Once you start thinking about it, it can drive you mad. There's nothing you can
do; the clock is going to tick away."
Of course, not all seniors are pessimistic. Some, such as Kirt Spradlin,
don't care a whit about what their necks look like.
The great-grandfather is one of those vigorous and optimistic elders who
astounds his peers. Naturally, he tires more easily and has to take things
slower, he says. But having battled prostate cancer, the California man
relishes every single month that life affords him. When asked his age, he
proudly replies, "79 and a half."
The former electrical engineer took up a new hobby after retirement:
mountain climbing. He has climbed Mount Whitney and Kilimanjaro and trekked to
Mount Everest's base camp. Just last year, he and wife Donna went on a weeklong
backpacking trip -- just the two of them alone in the wilderness. Donna is
"People think we're nuts," he says. But for him, aging with a bad attitude
is simply out of the question.
The Spradlins have grown old with astonishing grace and acceptance. But
depression is a real threat among the old; some drift into isolation,
bitterness, and a sense of meaninglessness. Still others put up their dukes,
determined to go down swinging. Face-lifts and tummy tucks? Bring it
Experts who have worked with thousands of seniors share their insights into
how you can navigate emotional challenges in order to age gracefully.