Just as the Baby Boomers took the world by storm many years ago, with both the size of their generation and their more modern world view, so they are today changing the face of aging.
We were a more self-absorbed generation than those before us, and more anxious to express our opinions and to change the world to fit our personalities. Now, as we face the final chapter of our lives, we also choose to age in our own way. We are used to being the center of attention — of being able to impact the world with the weight of our influence. There were so many of us, and with our numbers came power.
Our parents and grandparents lived less transparently. Their conversations, relationships and private lives were shrouded by a sense of privacy and decorum. Aging was a more solitary transition for them. There were fewer books and articles devoted to the mechanics and emotions of aging. Growing old was a more personal, and often, lonely process.
Today, we are bombarded with information on aging. We are aware of the physical changes and diseases that accompany this life stage, as well as the emotional ramifications of facing our aging minds and bodies. Medical advances keep many of us healthier than ever before, and once again, our sheer numbers make us a great market for senior housing complexes, exercise programs, and various types of assistance to make our lives easier and more enjoyable. I believe that we are growing old under the best possible circumstances.
As individuals, one of our greatest blessings is the openness of our relationships with friends and family. As I recall the social mores of my parents’ world, there was a tendency towards privacy in all facets of their lives. There were so many things that were not acceptable in polite conversation. The serious problems in life were kept within the family and not discussed with friends. There was an invisible line that friends did not cross. As a child, I was often warned not to “tell our business to the neighbors.” (Which, of course, as a talkative child, I almost certainly did, much to their chagrin.) As an adult I developed a close friendship with a woman of my mother’s age. She was a career woman with many social contacts and friends. In her later years, she was depressed and had much difficulty reconciling herself to the aging process. I recall a conversation when she told me that she could talk to me about things that she would never tell the friends in her own age group. I felt sad for her, because I understood why — in her social circle you were expected to put on your happy face and keep your problems to yourself.
As I chatter on with my friends today, and converse over the internet with Facebook friends, I realize what a gift our friendships are, and I feel sad for all of the women who came before us who were unable or unwilling to share their experiences of aging. We can laugh at ourselves — at our unreliable memories, our stiff joints, and our greying hair. We support each other as we navigate family issues with children and grandchildren — issues our parents would NEVER have discussed outside the family circle. We can hug each other and cry together when life throws us more than we can handle. We no longer worry about losing a friend because we tell them the truth about ourselves; instead we listen to each other and offer love and support. We are in this “aging thing” together. We are thankful for each other; we are thankful for having someone to talk to and laugh with, and we are thankful for each new day we have, because we know that life is a gift, and that many are no longer here to share these days with us.