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Aging is much more than just a process of getting older. It is not just about the human body being “more vulnerable to daily wear and tear” or about “a general decline in physical, and possibly mental, functioning”, as the dictionary claims (“Medical Dictionary” par. 1). It is not only physical. The old age is about wisdom, experience, peace, and a great deal of both sweet and bitter memories. Still, no matter how hard you try, it is impossible to comprehend it if you are twenty or thirty.
As a Swedish actress Ingrid Bergman once said, “Getting old is like climbing a mountain; you get a little out of breath, but the view is much better!” (“Gerotranscendence” par. 1). You are simply not able to see the view from the top if you have not reached it yet. However, we can always ask other people to share the experience. For a better understanding of both the process of aging and the theories we have studied in class, I have conducted an interview with an elderly person, and the results of it are presented in this paper.
The Background Information
As my interviewee, I have chosen a grandmother of one of my friends, Judy Addison (not a real name, in the interests of the respondent, the real name has been changed). Judy now is 77 years old. She is retired and widowed. Judy has been married only once, has three children, two daughters and a son, and two grandchildren, both girls.
Judy was glad when I asked her if she could give me an interview, and she was rather cooperative during it. She invited me to her house and greeted me with a cup of delicious tea. Judy has been living alone since her husband died. However, she is not lonely since one of her daughter’s lives just three blocks away with her family, so they often come to visit Judy. In addition, she has a dog, Cooper, and a beautiful garden she loves.
Judy does not want any caregivers and asserts that she can deal with everything by herself. Still, she does have a cleaner who comes several times a week to help Judy with the household chores. As the woman says, “I do not have too much energy to waste it on cleaning the house” (Addison).
I have liked Judy’s house a lot. Although it is not very big, it is cozy and warm. I have not seen all of the rooms, but the living room is charming; it is full of natural light, flowers in pots, and frames with pictures. The first thing Judy called my attention to were those photographs; she said, “That is my husband” and pointed to his picture (Addison). I have noticed that those photos mean a lot to her. It even seemed to me that the room was too small to hold all of the memories and precious moments of her life. Besides, in Judy’s young years, she painted a lot, which is why along with the pictures of her family, there were also many beautiful paintings, some of which depicted her children. As she explained, “there is much more of them [children] in my paintings than in photos” (Addison).
The Interview with Judy Addison
The first thing I have asked Judy about is her childhood. She admits that she does not remember a lot, only particular moment, things, and emotions. She says, “I remember my favorite sandals with little strawberries on them and how sad I was when my feet grew, and I could not wear them anymore; I remember the smell of eggs my mom cooked for breakfast; I remember my first friend, who moved to another city and broke my heart for the very first time in my life” (Addison). Although the number of suchlike memories is limited, according to Judy’s words, they are more vivid now than they have ever been. For instance, she says that she can close her eyes and see her parents, alive and healthy.
Actually, the same is true about not only Judy’s childhood but all her strongest memories. She often reminisces these days, and it seems that she is literally reliving her memories. When I asked her about the best years of her life, she replied immediately, as if she had been thinking about it just a few seconds ago. She said that the first year with her husband should be considered as one of the best: “We lived a long and happy life together, not without bad moments, but still; however, that first year of our relationships was unique and unrepeatable” (Addison). Then, she told about the first year after her eldest daughter was born.
She and her husband both wanted a child, but it turned out that they were not entirely ready to be parents. “I guess, you can never be prepared, you just get to know everything along the way”, Judy said (Addison). She remembered how she could not understand what her own child wanted, and how she thought, she was a bad mother because of this. It was one of the most difficult years of her and her husband’s life but “in spite of this, or because of this, it was one of the best” also (Addison). Finally, another great year came when Judy’s husband retired. He had worked more than thirty years at the same place, and when he finally left the job, he just did not know what to do with his life.
Their eldest daughter advised them to sell the house (since they did not use at least the half of it), buy a smaller one and go traveling for the rest of the money. They finally decided to heed the advice and with the help of their children managed to sell the house and move to another one. Then, they went to Canada and some part of Europe. “I had always wanted to visit Rome, and I was so happy sending my children the postcards from there”, the woman says (Addison).
Judy considers the vividness of her memories as a reminder that her life on earth will be over soon, and the boundary between memories and reality will vanish once and for all. Although many people are afraid of death and even talking about it, Judy asserts that she is ready for it. She is looking forward to meeting her husband and friends that have already passed away. She has no doubts as for where she will go after death – she says that she is prepared for heaven. Moreover, she even states that she has “been nearly there a couple of times”, and she is already looking forward to that place (Addison).
According to Judy’s words, to be ready for death, an individual should find peace, and peace for her is all about forgiveness because if you do not forgive, you can not be forgiven, and if you are not forgiven, you are not in peace. She also says that peace comes from knowing God. Judy believes in God and goes to church every week. She has a tattered old Bible, which is always on her nightstand. In addition, Judy says that religion is what distinguishes people of her age from modern families. She admits that even her own children are not such believers as she is.
When I asked Judy if she considered herself old, she kindly laughed, recounted her health problems and said that she had no illusions on this subject: “All of us will be there; it is just a matter of time” (Addison). As a bit of advice for young people, she says that they should take care of their health and pay attention to details they usually ignore. They should take vitamins, be active, eat healthier, give up bad habits, and never sacrifice their health for the sake of something, no matter how important that something seems. “And if you mother does not let you eat oily and spicy foods, you’d better listen to her, she has a point”, Judy says (Addison).
It is much better to live a healthy life and prevent diseases than fight them later. Admittedly, everyone gets old and sick but it is in our hands to make things easier for ourselves. Following her own advice, Judy eats healthy and tries to be active. She admits that she has got a dog only to make herself walk regularly.
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What I Have Learned
During this course, we have discussed the process of aging from many different perspectives. We have talked about the theories of aging, both those that focus only on biology and those that consider mental and psychological changes as well. Admittedly, none of them can fully explain all processes that occur either in people’s bodies or their minds. However, while talking to Judy Addison, I have noticed that her words confirm some of the concepts discussed during the course.
Firstly, I have interviewed a female, not a male. From the interview, it is seen that Judy thinks about her life a lot. She reminisces, she analyzes, and she is willing to share her thoughts even with strangers. In fact, I am a complete stranger to her, but she still has given honest answers to my questions and invited me to her house. I doubt that man would behave in the same way. Besides, according to Levinson’s theory, women’s life structure is most of all determined by family and relationships. And almost all memories that Judy Addison has shared with me are about her parents, husband, and children, which actually proves the theory.
Secondly, Erikson’s psychosocial theory is rather useful in this case. According to it, during the stage of maturity, an individual turns to either integrity or despair. Judy has definitely chosen the first path. She reflects back on her life and talks about it with wisdom and feeling of fullness. After the interview with this woman, I can not say that she regrets about many things (the only note of regret I have noticed is about the negligence in relation to her health early in life), she just accepts her life as it is. Besides, she has a lot of philosophical thoughts: about death, peace, forgiveness, religion, changes in society, and so forth.
Among other theories of aging, I find activity theory the most relevant. According to it, the more active people have been in their lives, the more they are satisfied with it in the old age. My interviewee is a living proof of that. Judy has said several times how activeness has been and still is important for her. She has even advised the younger population to be active to prepare for their old years. And, frankly speaking, I can not imagine a woman who could be satisfied with her life more.
As for my personal thoughts, in the first place, aging is hard. You lose people you love because they pass away, and it is not in our power to prevent or predict this. You lose the touch with your own children and grandchildren since they start their own lives. You do not work anymore and get a lot of free time with no idea how to spend it better. You have numerous health problems because those are inevitable as aging itself.
However, people who manage to choose integrity over despair, and who are willing to reconcile with both sweet and bitter memories, get a precision chance to see their own lives in a different light and gain wisdom, which is impossible to achieve in younger years. In old age, people have a lot of time, and everyone chooses whether to spend it in peace and wisdom or despair and regrets. To tell the truth, I am really glad that my interviewee has made the right choice.
Addison, Judy. Personal interview. 2015.
Gerotranscendence – a possible path toward wisdom in old age n.d. Web.
Medical Dictionary: Aging 2015. Web.