Growing old gracefully and why keeping your teeth helps!

Posted 6 January 2015

One of the most difficult things about retirement is that it reminds you that you’re getting old.

All those childhood dreams of what you might be when you grew up are over and done with. No more hopes of promotion. No chance to change your mind and follow that new career you always wanted. Your working life is over. Time to close the door behind you and walk forward courageously into that unknown phase, that ends we all know where.

Peter has bought a purple jumper. For 32 years he’s never been able to wear that wonderful colour that suits him so well, lest it appear he had aspirations to become a bishop! And now, demob happy, he can wear it if he wants - though I suppose some spoilsports may suspect him of thwarted ambitions.

As for me, well, walking through the high street of my daughter-in-law’s new parish in Essex I discovered that for a small fortune I could lose twenty years in a flash - with a bit of botox here, some dermal filler there, a nip and a tuck, a heave and a hoist, acrylic nails, and tattooed-on make-up.

On their boards outside, every beauty salon offers eternal youth, appealing to that major loss for any woman - her beauty.

Why is it that as we age, our curves, our softness, our very femininity seems to walk out on us and we end up with the shapeless, rather baggy figure of a man. (While a man loses his waistline, develops breasts and a paunch, and starts to look more like a woman!) The ears and chin continue growing - which is mean of them - the nose becomes more defined as the skin slinks down into jowls, our glowing locks thin, and we grow a moustache instead, like an old crone from a Grimm’s fairy tale.

So hats off to the Essex women who don’t let it happen without a fight, even if injecting polyfiller into your face does seem a bit extreme! And I do wonder whether having some of your bits done doesn’t make the rest seem incongruously more knackered.

So I think I prefer the Mother Teresa approach when she said at 17,

We have the face we’re born with, at 70 we have the face we deserve!

It will all be written there - the anger, sourness, resentment, jealousy and disappointment, or perhaps the warmth, love, joy, fun, generosity and sparkle. After all, the latter will still register in the bright, crinkled eyes of an old crone.

Mother Teresa’s own face was a case in point. Who could not think her beautiful - even at 90?

In front of me the other day, at the local supermarket checkout was a wisened, old woman with the face of someone swallowing a mouthful of unsweetened lemon juice.

“Hello,” the young man on the till said to her. “Pack my stuff,” she barked at him. He handed her two plastic bags and left her to it. When it was my turn, I made a point of saying “Hello” back, smiling, and holding eye contact. After all, he hasn’t the most exciting of jobs. “I’d have packed her blinking bags,” he told me, “if she hadn’t been so flipping rude. Honestly. Old people today!” “Woah, careful,” I warned him. “I’m well on the way.” “Yes,” he agreed, “but you still have your own teeth!”

Now that was very odd. What have teeth got to do with the price of fish? And how did he know they were mine anyway? I chose to take it as a compliment, and left the supermarket somewhat bemused, making a mental note not to become a crotchety old biddy - so that my shopping bags get packed for me when the time comes.

Aging isn’t easy in a society where maturity and experience count for little...

...where the elderly are invisible and lonely, and tales of elder abuse abound. Even the doctor begins to attribute every ailment to your age. And complete strangers take it upon themselves to say, “You do really well - considering! I’d never have thought you were that age.”

It’s hard to be hampered by achy joints, failing eyesight, and ever expanding bunions when you’re still twenty five inside.

But frustration is no excuse for rudeness. Nothing is.

“The grey head is a crown of glory” says the book of Proverbs in the Bible. Perhaps I shouldn’t let my hairdresser fight it, but the Essex woman inside me won’t give in just yet. At least I have hair. My husband has none to go grey. “I only married you for your full head of hair,” I tell him. It cheers him up no end.

No, I love him now for his wisdom, dignity, and inner strengths, so many qualities that have matured over the years, like fine wine or the best cheese.

The Bible is full of heroes and heroines who get their moment in later life...

Sarah was well over the hill when she had Isaac. Becoming a grandmother will do for me, thanks. But I want to be remembered as everyone’s fun-loving Gran, and not just by my own grandchildren, but love and respect has to be earned, not demanded or expected.

So thanks to the young man on the supermarket till, I have a new determination to set off into this retirement life investing in an inner, not an outer youthfulness, by bringing some smiles into what can be for many a rather depressing world.