Aging into Grace

young and old hands

Aging brings with it changes that are universally human and are yet denied or prolonged by many for as long as possible. Here, with her trademark warmth and vulnerability, Becky Allender writes about recent encounters with that aversion to aging, and about one dear friend who showed Becky what it means to live a vibrant, beautiful life no matter the age. A version of this post originally appeared on Red Tent Living.

I felt foolish. I tried to not take her remark too “severely” into my heart. It wouldn’t have been good to myself given the rigorous day ahead. I must have overheard someone else’s conversation the night before about turning 50. This poised and beautiful woman ardently said that she wasn’t 50 years old! “Oh, I am sorry,” I apologized. “I must have heard wrong. You have five children? Oh my goodness! I had no idea. How old are you, anyway?”

As we walked to the back porch of the school she said that she was only 47! I thought to myself, “Well, Becky you weren’t too far off!” It reminded me of how big turning 50 is. I remember a bit of my own pending agony before I turned 50. And now, 50 seems quite young and long ago. As we rode quietly up the elevator, I breathed in the goodness of no longer feeling afraid of turning 50 and not owning shame over this small incident.

The following week my husband and I decided to spend a couple of days with our daughter and her family. We packed a shared suitcase and Annie’s birthday presents and made the 11:35 ferry. We looked forward to spending time with our grandsons, Van and Cole. I hadn’t been at their home since the first week of school. Where had the time gone?

The rain gloriously stopped once we crossed the floating bridge to Mercer Island. While eating lunch together the clouds began to disperse! Without any discussion, we put on our coats to take a walk. It’s what we do in Northwest, especially if there is hope of a “sun break.”

We walked briskly behind the boys who were riding their bikes. Our conversation with our daughter and her husband flowed easily after not having been together since Christmas. Somehow, once again, I mistakenly mentioned a “miscalculation” of the amount of years. “We haven’t lived in our home eight years!” Annie said with annoyance. I felt foolish and the sting of being wrong without meaning to came again. I am trying to not react harshly towards myself these days. It is new for me to not live with demeaning disdain for any minor infraction. “Oh, how many years have you lived here?” I asked. My daughter replied quickly, “Six years!”

Once again, I quietly kept walking and thought to myself, “That wasn’t such a horrific mistake. It’s all right, Becky.” I calmly breathed in grace upon my mistake. It’s new for me to let these corrections slide off my back. I actually wonder why it’s taken me so long to live with freedom in being wrong.

I wonder why it’s taken me so long to live with freedom in being wrong.

Is aging a fear for my daughter, or for the 47-year-old woman? Fear that if they had lived in their home for eight years instead of six years that would mean that she was two years older than she is? Is it so fearful to have a birthday these days? Is this how we are living? Is this life in America today?

Before I turned 50, my 83-year-old friend, Pamela Reeve, spoke at our church women’s retreat. I was thrilled to have her teach our church family. Pamela had a way about being present with each person and looking deeply into a person’s eyes and heart. We roomed next door to one another at Warm Beach Conference ground, and I took it upon myself to pray for her and check in with her at each break time to see if I could get her anything.

I knocked on her door Sunday morning before breakfast and she opened her door and most of her front tooth was gone! She looked horrific. I immediately asked how I could help and she said I could drive into town and buy her some super glue. I was ready to bolt to my car when she said, “Becky, if you don’t find glue, I suppose my missing tooth is meant to be an encouragement to someone. I am not worried.”

What? She was our speaker, and with poise and a twinkle in her eye she had meant what she said! I drove into the small town of Stanwood with my heart pounding and fierce determination to not allow a single person see my beautiful friend with a missing tooth. I bought the super glue and one of the women from our church was a cosmetic dental hygienist and was able to super glue her missing tooth!

I was able to visit Pamela a handful of times in her Portland home. The last time I visited, I took my friend Deby. Pamela was 94 years old and had shrunk three inches and was puffed up because of medication she was taking. Her face was covered in scabs, but her vibrant essence was the same. Her familiar living room with gold drapes opened up to her small backyard she had so dearly tended to for 63 years. We sat and she excitedly shared with us her outline for the upcoming women’s retreat she was speaking at. She was so close to heaven. I tried to hide my tears as the glory of her presence bore heavily down on my spirit.

Months later, the moment came when our phone rang and an unrecognizable raspy voice was heard. We guessed that it was Pamela! Someone was holding the phone for her to say goodbye to Dan and me. I think we heard our tears splashing on the floor as we held our breath on each labored word. “I am almost to heaven,” she said.

Van and Cole are seven and nine years old. I cannot help but wonder when they will not want to tell anyone that they are older than they would like to be. When did that begin for me? I started counting children instead of years to ease the pain. Dan had a rough time turning 30. His mother never told her age to anyone! She lied to her partner saying she was 59 instead of 69! Whatever age seems right, I think the given age is my only choice. I don’t always like what I am seeing, but as I said, I am breathing more grace with every breath.

Aging is a death before a death. If we stayed the same, I would keep caring about my appearance just as much as I always cared about it when I was young. But, alas, I am becoming a bit like The Velveteen Rabbit with one lost eye, fur rubbed off, but more loved and more real.