Aging Gracefully

Do not lose heart. Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day. ~ 2 Corinthians 4:16

I am very thankful that my mom got to live with me and Jennifer, for the last couple of years of her life. We shared many fond memories about Dad, my sister, and living on 305 Wilson Road in Wylie, Texas.

When I was growing up, after supper, Mom would disappear most nights for a couple of hours. I found out that she would visit Mrs. Wilson, the old widow that lived in the creaky, moldy farmhouse next to us. All the land that the new houses were built on belonged to Mrs. Wilson and her husband Paul at one time. When the Wilsons sold their farm, the developers named the new road after them.

Mrs. Wilson had a big old Brahma bull in her pasture. Paul, her husband, ran a trot line at Lake Lavon for years. When he caught a big catfish, he’d filet the fish and then place the head over a skinny mesquite fencepost. The fence posts from the end of Mrs. Wilson’s driveway to where Wilson Road turned north were full of catfish heads. I had nightmares about those giant catfish swallowing me like the whale swallowed Jonah.

Between the Brahma bull, the creepy catfish heads, and old Mrs. Wilson walking around her yard with a walker, I just stayed away from her. But Mom went to see her several nights a week. “What do yawl talk about?” I asked Mom. “Just life,” Mom would say. “You know, Mrs. Wilson used to pick cotton by hand. She’s seen a lot.”

The significance of Mrs. Wilson’s life did not register with me as a kid. In a culture that values youthfulness and vitality above all else, how do we perceive the elderly? Growing old? Slowing down? My grandma always told me, “Growing old isn’t for sissies.” We let go of many things as we grow older but what gifts, if any, do receive as we age?

Mom always took an older woman under her wings. They would go out for lunch, drink iced tea on the front porch in the evenings and go on short walks wherever the ground was flat. Always though, they talked through all of life’s joys and hardships: marriage, raising kids, failing health, and aging parents.

“If we learn anything at all as time goes by and the changing seasons become fewer and fewer, it is that there are some things in life that cannot be fixed. It is more than possible that we will go to our graves with a great deal of personal concerns, of life agendas, left unresolved…” writes Sister Joan Chittister.

Mom befriended one older woman, usually a widow, throughout her life. She gleaned their wisdom which can only come with age and life experience. After Mrs. Wilson’s husband died, she told Mom, “I just take one day at a time, Sue. Sometimes all I can do is get out of bed in the morning.”

“Reality, fate, destiny, providence, and tragedy are slow but insistent teachers,” says Rohr. “They are a necessary part of life. What is gratuitously given is also gratuitously taken away, just as Job slowly came to accept. And sometimes we remember that his eventual painful response was “Blessed be the name of the Lord!” (Job 1:21.)  Mrs. Wilson told Mom, “Sue, there are also days I give thanks for the years Paul and I had together. Gratitude and sorrow aren’t separate.”

For years Mom cared for one elderly woman after another. Then one day, Jennifer and I cared for her. She was reluctant to come live with us. “Mixing families doesn’t work,” she said. “When my Grandma Parish came to live with us, she and my dad fought like cats and dogs. She would walk with him to the store and chew on his ear the whole way.”

“We’ll make it work, Mom,” I said. It worked, and we fought like cats and dogs.

Father Ron Rolheiser writes, “Nobody stays young forever. Moreover, aging doesn’t normally announce its arrival. You’re mostly blind to it until one day you see yourself in a mirror, see a recent photo of yourself, or get a diagnosis from your doctor and suddenly you’re hit on the head with the unwelcome realization that you’re no longer a young person. That usually comes as a surprise.”

Mom and I took walks in the evening at Boyle Park, and she especially enjoyed walking at Cedar Grove Cemetery. We talked about my father’s steadfast love and premature passing, my sister’s untimely death, and Mom’s love for making a meal for people. I heard stories about every dog she owned and every horse she rode. “Life has been good for me,” she said. “I have no complaints.”

Sometimes we would stop, and Mom would sit on a bench. “I get dizzy, and I just have to sit for a while,” she’d say. We admired the beauty of the hills and the evening songs of the birds. I got a glimpse into the world that Mrs. Wilson shared with my mom many years ago.

“Inside of every living body the life-principle has an exit strategy. There is no such strategy inside a soul, only a strategy to deepen, grow richer, and more textured. The soul does not age, it matures. We can stay young in soul long after the body betrays us. Indeed, we’re meant to be always young in spirit,” writes Rolheiser.

Paul says, “Do not lose heart. Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day,” (2 Corinthians 4:16).

May the Spirit of God’s Peace move through our lives, and may our souls mature and hold with Grace the complexities of life. May our souls remain forever young.

Blessings and peace,


Posted in Meditations.