If you are a senior who still browses through bookstores, you may be in for an unpleasant experience if you hit on a particular self-help section.
Check out this sample of titles:
"Are Your Parents Driving You Crazy?"; "Coping With Your Difficult Older Parent"; "I'm OK, You're My Parents."
Then, turning to the next aisle, you will find "The Art of Aging"; "Aging With Grace"; "Rules for Aging."
The sheer number of books on both aisles brings home the fact that there are a lot of us old folks searching for a little grace at the end -- and a lot of boomer children hoping we find it.
The authors of the graceful-aging books have a hard sell because of pervasive diminishment and loss: sight, hearing, reaction time, memory, hair, muscle, balance, various body parts.
Writer Sherwin Nuland points out that things that are supposed to be soft become hard: blood vessels, joints, lungs, heart valves. Things that are supposed to be hard become soft: bone, teeth, muscles. Half of those reaching 65 have hypertension and three or more chronic medical conditions. Then there is dementia, with estimates that half of those over age 85 will experience it.
But wait. You know all of this. You're looking for ways to cope with it. Thousands of octogenarians are moving, going to the gym, riding bikes, making love, working, playing tennis, dispensing justice, volunteering in the community -- and at least one can still run a 6:46 mile.
Robert Altman made movies at 80. Saul Bellow was a new papa at 85 (poor fellow). Former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor continues to teach and argue for an independent judiciary. Surgeon Michael DeBakey was still operating on people at 90. Studs Terkel wrote a memoir at 95. These may be exceptional people, but they show us that it can be done.
At 85, the life tables project an astonishing six more years to come. Time for new pleasures and choices yet to be made. Also, it's time to relax. Don't feel guilty about taking it easy. If you are lucky, your children will at least fake not having much interest in the books on Aisle 1.
(Kent Miller is an emeritus professor of psychology at Florida State University. He writes about the challenges of being 80-something. You can reach him at email@example.com.)
Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service, shns.com