We asked women in their 40s, 50s, 60s, 70s, and 80s to write short personal essays answering the question, What does aging gracefully mean to you? Each one is a window into the mental and physical lives of women as they grow older. This essay is by Louise Gilliam. At 80 years old, she’s letting a lifetime of experience inform her mission to give back to her community. Watch for more submissions all this month and submit your own essay to firstname.lastname@example.org.
As I enter this decade, I look back and am so grateful for the life I have led. I am grateful for the strength to have weathered ups and downs, to have raised three wonderful children, and to have lived to enjoy eight grandchildren. Twelve years ago, I moved to San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, and have embraced the beautiful town and the Mexican culture.
I think it’s sad when people have preconceived notions of what a certain age should look like, act like, or dress like. I am still interested in style, hair, and makeup. I am in my 80s — not dead! I travel, enjoy sex, love good food and wine, enjoy good friends and lively conversation. I still like to have fun!
I know what I need to have a fulfilling life. First: love. Also: gratitude. And I need to give back. I could sit and ruminate over what I could’ve, should’ve, would’ve done differently, but I’m not going to change any of that, so what’s the point? My joints may ache, my hair has lost its luster, I have grown thick around the middle — these changes are inevitable — but I am content with who I am.
For me, aging gracefully is embracing friendships that have endured over the years and reaching out to new friends both young and old. It is surrounding myself with positive people and having the gumption to let go of negative people. It is about separating what matters and what doesn’t.
At 80, I know what I need to have a fulfilling life. First: love. Also: gratitude. And I need to give back.
A sense of humor is paramount in aging gracefully. The ability to laugh at yourself will endear you to others. Becoming involved in something you’re passionate about will keep your mind from turning to mush. When I retired 10 years ago after years of working as a corporate executive, I realized I still needed a purpose, something to focus on besides myself. I became involved with a charity in San Miguel called Casita Linda. I am now president of the organization building houses for the less fortunate. It’s been extremely rewarding on many levels. I have a board filled with young people and find that their brightness and energy rub off on me.
I love to entertain, and I like to mix up the crowd with people of all ages. Some of my younger friends are my best friends. My true joy is spending time with my children and grandchildren whenever possible. I’ve been fortunate to travel all of my life, but there are still places in the world that I want to see. I’m no longer afraid to go alone, because I’m comfortable in my own skin and I like being with me. I have more self-confidence than ever before.
All that said, I don’t necessarily enjoy getting older. Just saying the number 80 is difficult for me, and I do, in melancholy times, worry about illness and not wanting to be a burden to my children. Thinking about assisted living, nursing homes, etc. makes me crazy. But those thoughts are not prevalent in my mind. They come and go.
At the end of the day, it’s important to like the woman you see in the mirror after the makeup has been washed away.
Louise Gilliam lives in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, where she oversees Casita Linda, an organization building houses for the less fortunate.