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How does it feel to be old?

That 15-year-old girl in the bookstore is now 60

As a nurse working with people older than myself, I hear it time after time. “I don’t belong in a place like this. These people are old. They are in wheelchairs and using walkers.”

The last person I heard say it was sitting in a wheelchair, but he did not see himself like the others in wheelchairs.

We still feel like the same people that we were when we were young. My favorite patients are 88 years old and above. They are healthy. They usually take very few medications. They look younger than they are. They are active. They have seldom had anything seriously wrong with them — until now.

It may have been an elective surgery, or they may had a misfortunate fall. Suddenlly they are not bouncing back and recovering the way they always have. They are dismayed by the length of time it is taking them to feel “normal” again.

It reminds me of the saying, “Inside every older person is a younger person wondering what happened.”

At the age of 15, I walked into a large bookstore and chose the first novel I ever purchased. I gave the cashier the 60-cent price and proceeded to read. This book remains special to me even now.

“A Lantern in Her Hand,” by Bess Streeter Aldrick, is the story of a woman’s life told through her own eyes, beginning at 8 years old until her death at 80. I learned at the age of 15, while reading this book, that we are the same person, always, no matter if we are 8 or 80.

At one point in the book, her granddaughter asks her, “How does it feel to be old, Grandma?”

“It doesn’t feel at all,” she replies. “People don’t understand about old age. I am an old woman ... but I haven’t changed. I’m still me. They think we’re different ... we old ones. The real person I am still has many of the old visions and longings. I’m fairly contented here in the old home ... I’ve never grown tired of life as some old people do. I’m only tired of the aches and the pains and the inability to make my body do what I want it to do. I would like to live a long time yet ... to see what can still be invented ... to read the new things that will be written ... to hear the new songs that will be sung ... to see heavy foliage on all the new shrubbery ... to see all the babies grow into men and women. You will find out, when you get old, that some of the realities seem dreams, but the dreams ... the dreams are all real.”

I recently suffered an illness, lasting more than a week, and finally had to see the doctor. I realized that the doctor was looking at a 60-year-old sitting on her table. I was still young, but she had to ask all the questions that were applicable to someone my age. I don’t belong in a place like this. In other words, the questions she was asking did not apply to this 60-year-old.

I was doing it. I was repeating the same words my patients repeat to me. How strange! That 15-year-old girl in the bookstore is now 60. I am still the same person inside I have always been.

My advice: Eat well. Drink water. Move your body. Take fewer medications. Talk to others. Interact.

You are still alive. Find joy and dream.

Rhenda Wilson is a member of

the Lake Oswego Adult Community Center.


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