Artists and Old Age

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My brother and I just spent a few days touring our parents through senior housing. At one point, he leaned in, and whispered, “Growing old is tough.” I agreed, though “tough” is probably too mild a word, the reality deserving something more visceral, definitely more chilling. As my parent’s generation enters what I would generalize as “old age,” they’re struggling with what seems an endless list of losses—family, friends, careers, driver’s licenses, vision, independence, stamina, health, dreams, and the myths about who they are.

I mention myths because so much of who we are is perception, our firmly-gripped beliefs about ourselves. One of the more painful losses, from my observations, is the loss of a sense of identity. Who are we when we’re no longer recognizable to ourselves, when the myths of our lives no longer apply?

Even on the upward arc of life, there are losses, many painful, some liberating, and most irreversible. Through loss, we gain maturity, a broader perspective, and deeper wisdom about life. If we are blessed, we parse the enduring from the ephemeral, the meaningful from the inconsequential, and end our days as a sojourner with an appreciation for the profound gift of this one delicate life.

As more losses loom in the nearing future of my life, I take stock of the person I am and peer into the future for a vision of the person I will become. Will loss peel away my identity? Will I mourn the fading myth of myself?

Not a chance. In that future I will revel in my art … my writing.

I remember the day I realized that writing could sustain me beyond the exuberance of youth into the foreign frontier of old age. It was a marvelously glorious day when I understood my myth wouldn’t go flat or seize up on the highway of life. I can write until I’m old and silver-haired, wrinkled and whiskered, complaining of warts and aching bones. I can write until I’m shrunken and bent, sagging and frizzy, home-bound and bed-bound. A lovely image, isn’t it?

Yes, I declare.

True beauty dwells in the soul. Imagination isn’t bound by age. The creative spirit that breathes life into art never grows old. As long as I can write, I will be me.

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121 thoughts on “Artists and Old Age

  1. Bernadette says:

    Dianne, you are right. As long as a person can keep the creative portion of their personality alive, that person will maintain the ability to enjoy their life. I think it is an absolute necessity that in retirement especially that a person take the gift of time and go mining their creativity vein for the hidden gold that lies there.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Lisa Orchard says:

    Loved this post! I’m also a writer and I’ll tell you. I can spend days in my writing cave. 🙂 This is something I’ll be able to do when my hair turns white and my bones groan and crack. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Yes, I fully intend to carry on writing too, just as long as I can!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. This is a beautiful post, elegantly stated and with great heart. Thank you for sharing. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  5. coastalmom says:

    Wow. As a lot of us find ourselves in this place with our parents… it does make you reflect. And as always you have articulated each word like magic to keep me reading. I am bookmarking this one for sure!
    Di
    xoxo

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Diane. My parents picked a place about 40 minutes from me and they hope to move in the spring. It’s going to work out well having them near (by Oregon standards), but not in the next room. All is well 🙂

      Like

  6. Beautifully written. I never thought of art as keeping a person young but now I will remind myself of that fact when I am feeling sorry for myself for the physical changes that age has brought. Thank you for taking the time to read my posts.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. “when the myths of our lives no longer apply” Astute line.
    My family had multiple relatives that live years past 100. I grew up around very old people who were very active. Many lived in rural areas on farms until my dad or one of my uncle told them firmly they had to move into “town”. They loved the the senior citizen communites – it freed them from boring stuff like cooking and cleaning. Some married a second time. One took his fiddle (not violin, country fiddle) and laughed he won contests because he was the oldest – but he was good and was recorded. One uncle at 102 was still on a major university advisory board. Even those bedridden had clear minds and were always reading and learning and ready to talk current new/sports.
    It seems the trick getting old is to not let outside forces define who you are. And to have a handle on that when younger so you can carry something of your own with you. Musicians, artists, and writers may have an edge with that?
    Enjoyed the post and your insights

    Liked by 3 people

    • It sounds like your family was blessed with great attitudes (as well as longevity). That goes a long way…longer than any other quality, in my mind. Being able to continue doing what we love seems to smooth the process as our identities transform. Thanks so much for the comment 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  8. anotharandomgirl says:

    Holy mother of pearls! How do you write so well? Seriously I’m beyond awed and inspired again. This is so beautiful 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Jed Jurchenko says:

    “As long as I can write, I will be me.” I love this line! As a new author, I’m finding many benefits to writing, but this is a new insight I hadn’t thought of before. I love the idea of having a legacy to leave behind & to pass on to my kiddos. Yet, this added benefit of being me,of artistically expressing myself, when others have opted for retirement, is very appealing too! Another great reason to keep writing & very eloquently said too 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  10. Susan Langer says:

    Your post was very touching. I left my career as a nurse in 2010 and now have a second career writing on my blogs with me in my mid-60’s. Losses are part of what happens but it also is how we deal with the losses that can make some difference in the speed we age. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    • So true, Susan. Thanks for all your years caring for others. I’m on my third career and found writing rather later than most, it seems. You are right that our approach and perspective regarding loss makes a huge difference. 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

  11. Interesting post, yes fortunately writing is a creative activity you can continue into old age, as long as the brain is still working and dementia hasn’t set in. I just hope that I inherit my mum and dad’s genes, they are both pretty fit and well, and memories in tact and are now in their 70’s/80’s.

    Liked by 2 people

  12. reocochran says:

    I have always drawn pictures in a journal. I still have my young Girl Scouting days with words snd thoughts held from over 40 years ago. I believe writing does sustain us.
    My Mom had a bad fall 3 years ago and we chose to get her to give executor position to one brother. We felt bad but Dad had been gone 11 years at this point. We sold her car and took her to 3 really nice Senior Apt places in Cleveland, which my sister in law calls ” the mecca of nursing homes.” Her Lake Erie cottage would not sell high enough a few years ago, so we had niece move in, she had a lovely wedding on the property which Mom, all family and close friends enjoyed this special moment. They now have a baby on her house. I am going to say Mom truly has made a lot of friends, likes the open seating arrangements in the dining room and recent fall (again) sent her to hospital for surgery for broken hip bone. She will go back for 4 to 6 weeks in the same building in the rehabilitation section. 🙂 Good luck and hope everything falls into place for your parents.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Erik says:

      I’m by no means a pack rat or hoarder, but I am sentimental and, being so, I’ve kept a lot of my drawings and writings from childhood. I can only say, along with you, that I’m so glad I did. It helps me somehow to have a sense of cohesion; it is the only real “proof” that I really “was” during times to which I can never return.

      I’ve seen first-hand the emotional toll that transitions and the decision-making process involved can take, where family members are concerned. How nice that your mom can still revisit her home and experience again the joy of memories both past and present.

      Liked by 2 people

      • reocochran says:

        You expressed this perfectly, how I feel the journals hold some of my faded thoughts at certain moments in time. I like the words, “sense of cohesion” and how this “proves” our younger selves existed or had deep thoughts, too.
        This would certainly help us if we chose to write young teen books since we at least have that past “voice” to use.
        It helped my Mom to have her photo albums and letters Dad had written her over the years, to get over leaving their retirement (tiny) house. Unfortunately, Mom had a bad fall last weekend, she had surgery with titanium holding her upper hip bone together. Which means moving to assisted living after therapy being 4 to 6 weeks in the rehab part of building. Inevitably, we have to list/sell her house to pay much higher costs. She will still have times we can take her back to the other “wings.” This is another factor which helped us to choose her place. I wasn’t sure if you found a place for your parents or already had solid good advice?

        Liked by 2 people

        • Erik says:

          My family enjoys unusual longevity and health. I’m 46. My mom is 71 and still working, jogging and working out, and in perfect health. My grandmother is 91; and while she just came through double-bypass surgery, she still lives on her own in her home of 65+ years. The reference I made was to the difficulty we had in deciding to place my grandfather in long-term care when he developed aggressive Alzheimer’s. It caused rifts in an otherwise close family that persist to this day, even five years after his passing.

          Liked by 1 person

          • I think the difficulties your family experienced with your grandfather aren’t that rare, Erik. It’s one of the reasons we are trying to get my parents thinking about it now. Both are quite sharp mentally, but their physical health has declined rapidly over the past year. We want the decisions to be theirs as long as they can be. Thanks for sharing your experience. 🙂

            Liked by 1 person

        • reocochran says:

          I aimed last question towards D. Wallace Peach about decision-making with your parents. I was suggesting to find somewhere it is comfortable at each “level of care.”

          Liked by 2 people

          • Oh absolutely. We are looking at residences that transition from independent living to assisted living and memory care. The independent living apartments have services that will help them stay independent as long as they can. The places are lovely – my husband wants to sign up now! My folks will be moving to Oregon from out of state, so we will attempt to sell their home.

            I envy your long years of writing. I didn’t start until later in life, so the writings of my youth are limited to school assignments. It just goes to show that its never too late to discover what you love. 🙂

            Like

    • Thanks so much for sharing your story. It certainly isn’t easy, and we can only do the best we can…as cliche as that sounds. What you did for your mom sounds so caring and compassionate. She is a lucky woman.
      My brother and I are applying a little pressure on our parents, I’ll admit. We want them to think about moving before it’s an emergency, so that they can get used to the idea, settle in a little more leisurely, still have much of their independence, make friends, enjoy the activities, and have a sense of home before their health declines further. My dad is resisting, but my mom really needs the services and social contact (since she’s blind). He is coming around to the idea of moving for her. Thanks for the well-wishes. I so appreciate it ❤

      Liked by 1 person

  13. I had tears on my lashes as I blinked and finished this wonderfully, insightful post. I felt as though I had found a balm to soothe the aches and pains, losses and disappointments inevitable when one faces the reality of what has become of youthful expectations and dreams. I am a writer and will continue to be a writer until the end of my days.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Thank you, Francis. I think we’re on the same page (pun intended 🙂 My little epiphany actually had a huge impact on my outlook toward aging – a giant weight off my shoulders as I realized the adventure doesn’t need to end with youth, but can extend far into old age. Keep writing and loving the great gift of your ageless imagination!

      Liked by 1 person

  14. Rajagopal says:

    Ageing, and arriving at life’s autumn, when days become shorter in a narrowing scale of years, and things slow down to recede into dormancy, is a juncture to reflect on our many blessings with gratitude, instead of despairing about prospect of our declining faculties and dwindling status, in a temporal sense that is. The key is to keep the spirit active with whatever skills we may be able to summon, it could be music, gardening, writing or social work. In Indian philosophy, old age is not a disease, it is a process of merger, gradual return to source, as painlessly as our physical forms would permit…best wishes.. Raj.

    Liked by 4 people

    • Thank you for the thoughtful response, Raj. You mention gratitude and that is certainly a vital part of reflection and peaceful, successful aging. I’m partial to the concept of death as a natural process versus something “wrong” to be feared and denied. Accepting the temporary nature of our physical lives frees us for a renewed appreciation of life’s gift. Embracing whatever it is that keeps our spirit active is wise advice.

      Liked by 3 people

  15. Jay says:

    We are many selves, and happiest, I think, when we learn to assimilate them as we go rather than trying to avoid them. Time happens to all of us, and it must be hard to give up former, freer, versions of ourselves. It’s a loss, as you say, but I hope that’s not the whole story.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks for the thoughtful comment, Jay. If we really think about it, losing and gaining characterize every choice. Assimilating those losses allows us to move forward so that we might embrace the gains. Perhaps it’s a matter, once again, of perspective – how we choose to focus our energy as we write the stories of our lives. 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

      • Jay says:

        That’s right. I know some older people who are much changed but still seem to be enjoying life and taking in as much as they can, when they can. Deteriorating health is a nasty thing, the mind even more so (I am very afraid of a day when I can no longer read) but I admire those than keep redefining and will hope to do the same myself.

        Liked by 1 person

        • I worry a bit about my sight since my mother and grandfather both lost their vision. Losing the ability to read would be a big loss for me as well. If that happens…I’ll listen to books 😀

          Like

  16. What you say is true and it is wisdom…in fact, many people don’t find their literary voices until they reach their ‘golden’ years. so much of our lives is dominated by the hall of mirrors we call media. It is a liar and it is very good at weaving its deceptions.

    One of these deceptions is that it is somehow wrong for us to grow old…

    This hasn’t always been the case, but everything is a commodity including our identities.

    The trick to growing old without losing one’s sense of self is to detach as much as possible from our media…and to look inward toward the creative force that gives us life.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I agree, Robert, that our culture, in general, undervalues old age (whatever that means…over 40?), including the experience and wisdom that can only be gleaned through the unique perspective years provide. Disengaging from cultural prescriptions as to how we should conform – look, act, and think – is helpful at any age.

      There are many ways, I believe, to honor and value ourselves into our golden years. For some that might be writing, for others cooking or volunteering…the list is endless. What seems important, to me anyway, is that whatever we choose to do, it’s an expression of an inner sense of value, it’s fearless, and it’s shared.

      Liked by 2 people

  17. Erik says:

    My 91-year-old grandmother, whom I mentioned in a reply to another comment here, just had double-bypass surgery. Yet she still pursues her love for playing the piano. Just recently, she sat down at my mother’s 1851 grand and played up a storm – by ear, no less.

    My philosophy is this: if I can do it today, I can do it tomorrow. And that will be true of every “today” and every “tomorrow” barring some unforeseen accident or sudden loss. I do believe that discipline and the will to keep going even when its hard play a big part in how aging goes for us. Physically, mentally, socially – I say with Dylan Thomas:

    Do not go gentle into that good night,
    Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
    Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

    Liked by 1 person

  18. Diana, your piece was a battle cry not unlike the warriors in your books. Good for you. I also hope I can continue writing until the last. If not, I’ll have the satisfaction of knowing I tried and there’ll be something left for my children to keep so they know I tried. Hopefully I passed on some of whatever talent I possess to them. I love the Bristish saying, “Soldier on.” We should all do it. The heck with giving up. 🙂

    Liked by 3 people

    • Hi Suzanne 🙂 You got that right – The heck with giving up. Change is inevitable, but if we can still do what we love, whatever it is, let’s do it. Not only do we leave something tangible to our children, but more importantly, we teach them something valuable through our actions and attitudes that may impact generations to come. A nice thought 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

      • Erik says:

        I always tell my mom (71) and my grandmother (91) that they’d better keep living and laughing and not giving in, because I’m watching them for cues on how I myself should age and I need the hope that it can be a fulfilling affair.

        Liked by 1 person

  19. Dave says:

    Beautifully put, Mira. It gives one hope that I can still do some writing even though I am entering ‘that’ stage of life. Lol… Seriously, part of our work is to go with the flow of life which includes the autumn. As we march through the spring and summer, we are blessed with the energy and vitality of mind and body to grow and learn. When autumn arrives, we harvest from what we have learned, and, hopefully, have developed enough patience and wisdom to continue learning as we live out the dream. Om Namah Sivaaya!

    Liked by 4 people

  20. That’s a good quote. Like it almost as much as I do, “You’re only as old as you feel!” Had a little old lady tell me that on a psych ward when she was dancing and having fun. The other staff were worried about her breaking her hip, me, I wanted to join her!

    Liked by 3 people

  21. tric says:

    I love the way it is difficult to guess many authors age. Writing is indeed an ageless passtime. I just hope I’ve the mental capacity to write to the bitter end.
    My dad got ALS (or motor neurone disease in Ireland) and was unable to write. He got an old typewriter and over months wrote an article on what it was like to get and live with it and about how he felt towards his family now he was an invalid.
    On his first wedding anniversary after he died my mum was so sad, until she opened the newspaper and there was my dad’s article printed. We have no idea who sent it in, but it was as if he were speaking to her on their special day (yes it made it to a blog post).
    What we write will live on forever after us.

    Liked by 4 people

    • Oh Tric, what a beautiful thing to share. From my years with hospice, I know that the end of our lives can be difficult. How loving and courageous of your dad to put his thoughts to paper, and how kind that someone sent it in. Yes, he and the love he felt for his family lived on beyond his death. I hope I’m able to do the same someday. ❤

      Liked by 2 people

  22. Love this…and I needed this message 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  23. Nurse Kelly says:

    How true and how beautiful. Thank you for this inspirational post. 🙂

    Liked by 3 people

  24. What a beautiful, inspired thought, Diana, and you are so right. As long as we keep reinventing and renewing the self in our words/art, age is irrelevant. Bravo !! 💕

    Liked by 3 people

  25. Thank you for sharing this powerful epiphany and inspirational post. ❤

    Liked by 2 people

  26. Carrie Rubin says:

    The loss of “the myths about who they are” is such a perfect way to describe what I think is one of the most difficult aspects of aging. Even for those of us who have a few decades left (hopefully), as we get older there grows a disconnect between who we feel we are and who others–including our kids–think we are. I like the idea of using writing as a way to counter this.

    Wonderful post that offers up some nice reflection.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Thanks, Carrie. Yeah, I’m still 24 on the inside, so that disconnect is disorienting. How can I be 24 if my daughter is 32? 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      • Carrie Rubin says:

        I hear you. I’m about 30 on the inside, so you’ve got me beat. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      • Erik says:

        My 91-year-old grandmother always tells me things she can do, like the Jitterbug, decorate stunning cakes, etc. When I ask her to show me some moves, she says, “Oh, I mean I can do them inside, not outside anymore. Inside, I’m still a girl of 18. Sometimes, I still wake up in the night to go to the bathroom, see myself in the mirror and get shocked at what I see. ‘Who could that be?’ I ask myself. And then I remember that I’m not 18 on the outside.” She grins while she says this, ever so sagely. But I am already beginning to understand what she means. On the inside, I am also 24, Diana.

        Liked by 2 people

  27. I loved this. How to proceed without fear is what I get from it. And how to avoid mourning the loss of yourself-because you are ever becoming even as the physical shell of the soul diminishes.

    Liked by 3 people

  28. I wish you, from the bottom of my heart, to be able to share your beautiful words with the world until the very end.

    Liked by 3 people

  29. This is absolutely beautiful and so true. Life is a journey of loss and there is great beauty in art, a breath of endurance and immortality. Thanks for this wonderful post.

    Liked by 3 people

  30. Mira Prabhu says:

    Reblogged this on mira prabhu and commented:
    “I remember the day I realized that writing could sustain me beyond the exuberance of youth into the foreign frontier of old age. It was a marvelously glorious day when I understood my myth wouldn’t go flat or seize up on the highway of life. I can write until I’m old and silver-haired, wrinkled and whiskered, complaining of warts and aching bones. I can write until I’m shrunken and bent, sagging and frizzy, home-bound and bed-bound. A lovely image, isn’t it?” Thanks for a great post, D. Wallace Peach!

    Liked by 3 people

  31. orangepondconnects says:

    This was a really touching read.

    Liked by 2 people

  32. thefeatheredsleep says:

    Love!!

    Liked by 3 people

  33. balroop2013 says:

    Beautifully articulated…such a wonderful choice of words. Loved reading it Diana. Yes, one thing is in our hands…despite the twilight of life, which is an inevitable reality, despite all those aches and sagging skin…our writing would go on and I hope to carry into the next world too, to become an accomplished writer.
    Thanks for the inspiration! Have a lovely day.

    Liked by 2 people

  34. philipparees says:

    Hate to seem to rain on this comfort, but as one to whom words were as natural as breathing, they too fade, and the vocabulary once effortless, staggers. As one friend to whom I confessed this said ‘But you started with so many more than the rest of us, so it doesn’t show…’ It does to me! Interesting I am behind the words now and see them limping off, or failing to come when called.

    Liked by 2 people

    • A downpour, Philippa! 🙂 Two thoughts come to mind. One is that all this happy aging naturally depends on retaining the capacity for memory that many tragically lose. The other speaks to the question of why write. At this stage in my life, I’m publishing, but I write because I love it. I love the forays into my imagination and the characters I accompany in their travels. I love rummaging for words, piecing together the puzzle of a story, sharing ideas with the writing community, and, yes, I even love the editing process! I love blogging. As my skills fade with old age, I expect the love to last. We’ll see. ❤ Thanks for the comment, it got me thinking!

      Liked by 1 person

      • philipparees says:

        I write because I can’t not. Sometimes, when it flows, I find exhilaration, but I seek toujours les mots justs ( mais les mots me manquent) and increasingly make do with lesser ruder relations that stick out their tongues behind my back. I fear a writer might find a sell by date creeps up. Though I agree the mere act of continuing may delay it a span.

        Liked by 2 people

    • Erik says:

      Philippa, I’m not doubting what you feel. However, there is some kind of irony here at the very least, because you expressed your “loss of words” … with such beautiful and well-crafted words (even right down to your grammar and punctuation). Whatever loss you are feeling, we the readers are still seeing plenty of reasons for you to continue right on writing.

      Liked by 1 person

  35. Very nice post and so true! hopefully we have things inside of us or about us that will last and age doesn’t matter!

    Liked by 3 people

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