Hubby and I are still down east at Mum’s. And there’s still no time for posting. So hope you enjoy this one from 2015. It’s pretty timely… sort of. Because it’s Mum’s 90th tomorrow. And we’ll be busy eating cake and talking to all and sundry. And whoever else drops by. 


There’s lots of stuff on the net these days about aging, isn’t there? How to, how not to, or how to and look like you’re not… or whatever. And as my Mum had her eighty-eighth birthday this week, I’ve been thinking about aging. And how one copes. And what the heck “aging gracefully” even means.

This is a shot of Mum’s haul of birthday cards and flowers. I couldn’t fit everything into one shot. I didn’t have room for the plant from my cousin. Or the bag of creams and lotions from one sister’s drugstore and the cozy shawl from the other sister. The cake from the across the road neighbour also didn’t get in the shot. Or the bags of fresh farmer’s market beans, carrots, tomatoes, and new potatoes from Mum’s cleaning lady/friend/neighbour and my niece. Mum misses her vegetable garden a lot. Because, really, nothing tastes as good as tomatoes, or beans, or cucumbers picked fresh from your own garden. Or new potatoes. New Brunswickers are great potato lovers. That’s the Irish in us, I guess.

 Mum's birthday cards and flowers

It may seem funny to be getting vegetables for one’s birthday. But really, at 88, as Mum says, what does she need? Except nourishing hand cream, a new cozy shawl, flowers, cake, and lovely fresh vegetables. And a good book. Or five. That was my contribution. A gift certificate to her favourite used book store, which she frequents as much for the banter with Gus, the owner, as for the books. He sighs and says, “Here’s trouble,” when we arrive, then mum threatens him with her cane. And the thought of Mum and Gus sparring, albeit in jest, always reminds me of the poem “Warning” by Jenny Josephs.

When I am an old woman I shall wear purple
With a red hat which doesn’t go, and doesn’t suit me
And I shall spend my pension on brandy and summer gloves
And satin sandals, and say we’ve no money for butter.
I shall sit down on the pavement when I’m tired
And gobble up samples in shops and press alarm bells
And run my stick along the public railings
And make up for the sobriety of my youth.
I shall go out in my slippers in the rain
And pick flowers in other people’s gardens
And learn to spit.

That’s not all of the poem, but you get the jist. We’re not that big on aging gracefully in my family. Disgracefully is more our speed. Like the woman in Jenny Joseph’s poem…. we don’t care to act our age.

My grandmother Sullivan did not age gracefully. This is a shot of Grammy when she was eighteen, in 1917.

My grandmother Sullivan in 1917

This is a shot taken at my sister’s wedding. That’s my mum on the left. My sister’s new grandmother-in-law in the middle; her Swedish husband’s grandmother, or Mormor, was ninety-two. And that’s Grammy Sullivan on the right, holding Mormor’s hand. One didn’t speak English and the other had no Swedish, but they hit it off somehow.

Three ladies at a wedding.
This is Grammy at the reception. Not sure how many glasses of that red wine she’d had, but when someone wanted to take her picture, she donned my discarded bridesmaid hat (I hated that damn thing) and folded her hands like butter wouldn’t melt in her mouth. I love this picture.
On older woman in a floppy hat
Grammy Sullivan in my bridesmaid hat at my sister’s wedding.

And just like her mum, my mum is aging disgracefully. Not acting her age at 88. Mum does not drive. But in her seventies she learned to drive the tractor and she and my stepfather got the hay in together for years after that.

Man on a wagon of hay with woman in hat standing beside it.
Mum and my step-dad getting in the hay. Probably 1990’s

Mum first learned to use the computer at 84. She reads my blog, (and she’s no doubt going to kill me when she sees that shot above) and she ‘Googles’ regularly. Every morning she does her leg exercises, then puts her Eddy Arnold CD on very loud and gets on the treadmill. Go Mum. 

Don’t get me wrong. Aging has its challenges. Painful arthritis. Loneliness at times. Watching friends and family go. Mum lost two brothers in one week, this spring. But she keeps on keeping on, as best she can. She swears in public when she can’t get her feet to go where she wants them or when her cane gets caught in the grocery cart. Gives herself a shake when she’s feeling down. And then maybe puts on her old sunhat and does a bit of weeding in her flower beds.

So aging gracefully… what does that mean, anyway? I certainly don’t know. But I do know this, that contrary to media hype, aging gracefully isn’t really about keeping that smooth, wrinkle-free complexion into your seventh decade. Or worrying about “age appropriate dressing” and whether or not one is too old to wear mini-skirts… or pink pants.

I just know that as per family tradition, when I’m in my eighties, I’ll probably start wearing floppy 70’s bridesmaid hats and listening to Eddy Arnold. And hopefully I’ll have inherited some of the aging disgracefully gene. I mean, I already swear in public, so there’s a good chance.

If you get a minute check out this lovely  video from the creators of the CBC radio show “Wire Tap.” Advice from nine year olds to ninety-five year olds on aging gracefully. It will definitely make you smile.


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41 thoughts on “Aging Gracefully…Or Disgracefully.”

  1. You have a great way of writing around the subject to make it more meaningful , making your mums birthday interesting for us all . She must be proud of you & your blog . Happy birthday to her , it's obvious where you got your long legs from . Loved the video too .
    Wendy in York

  2. I loved your sweet story of aging disgracefully. I think the best way to age is however we can! Arthritis pain does get to me, but I refuse to let it stop me from doing whatever I want.

  3. There is such variance in how people age – by genetics, by demographics, by personality and experience. Your mom is so fortunate to have her memory intact – the tractor and computers seem like extra bonus points:).

    1. You're right, of course. But I also think we don't always see that even those who look like they're sailing through old age… are struggling.

  4. I'm not sure I know the answer to aging gracefully, but what I do know is that as you get older it is important to live each day as though it is the best one of your life.

  5. Hi Susan, Love this and so happy to meet you, my fellow make-over volunteer. I just signed up to follow you here. This will be fun!

  6. Life is for living, not existing and sticking to some code about how we're "supposed to age"! I salute your mother, your grandmother, you and all the women who live life to the fullest, and who exalt in having strong personalities, whatever their age. Thank you so much for linking this lovely post up to #AllAboutYou

  7. Beautiful article! TFS. I have never understood what 'Aging Gracefully' means. I don't think anyone has ever been able to define it. Sometimes I think it just means 'Going out quietly, with dignity'. And I don't like that at all. And I also despise the term 'Age Appropriate Dressing'. Every time some one uses that phrase, I just cringe. It's so shameful sounding.

  8. I love this post. That poem is amazing; I've read it long ago, but had completely forgotten about it, so thank you for refreshing me. I intend to age disgracefully too… my clothes get more adventuresome as the years go by, and that's just how I want it. xx

  9. Oh,it is a new post for me! Great
    Happy birthday to your mum!
    I love the poem-maybe I could start right now (I'm just reading "The Secret Diary of Hendrik Groen-83+1/4years old" as well,so I'll have a lot of inspiration :-))
    Have a nice celebration

    1. I will convey your birthday wishes, thanks, Dottoressa. Glad you enjoyed the post. Hope you watched that video…it's so charming. I still love it.

  10. Your mum sounds like a great character. You look quite alike I think. Was once given a fridge magnet with quote "growing old is not for sissies" very true I think. Growing old disgracefully sounds like a wonderful idea. Happy birthday to your mum. Enjoy the celebrations. Iris

  11. I've never read your blog before, but this post was a great start. That is exactly how I feel about aging. Tell your Mum she is my hero!

  12. Oh, Sue! This is just wonderful. Happy birthday to your mom — she's a peach. And thanks for your halelujahs to aging however we choose and can manage. 🙂

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