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Averyt: Growing Old-er

It seems every time I have a medical appointment now, I'm asked if I have trouble with falls, do I live alone and can I afford my medications?

I just marked another birthday and while it's a celebration of life, it's also an awareness of slowing down. Every day I seem to be more aware of limitations. I think I've painted my last ceiling and I don't know how much longer I can climb the ladder into the attic where I store the summer fans.

My neighbor advises me to take my cell phone when I go up to the attic in case of a fall. The young physical therapist who helps me with strengthening and balance exercises, asks me about wearing one of those emergency alarms around my neck, and a friend gave me a necklace loop for my eye glasses so I won't keep losing them.

I'll do none of that I protest... I'm not old... !

Yet, an old friend, meaning a long time friend, just turned 70 and is taking care of his brother who’s wasting away with cancer. Soon, my friend says, they’ll have to have hospice come in. My own southern cousin Jimmy died last year. He had indigestion, went to lie down and his heart stopped. He was just 70 ... And there have been other losses of family and friends - one had breast cancer, another has MS, two have suffered strokes, another with advanced Alzheimer's.

When I complained to my son recently about the stigmatizing "old" label, he said, diplomatically, that I'm not old, just "old- er". Well, there are a lot of us "old-ers" here in Vermont. In fact, our state has the second oldest population in the country. So yes, I guess "I" am an "old-er".

And being "old-er" is about more than gray and retirement. It's about readjusting our lives, it's about loss and about less. It's also about more - more time now to pursue interests, more time to read... to muse and reflect - and to mourn, to miss and to remember even though we often forget.

It's also about laughing, living in the moment and enjoying life in the slow lane. My granddaughters have taught me how to fully celebrate life. They've given me back the freedom to play, encouraged me to imagine - happiness and abandon coming full circle.

Time passing has also taught me to appreciate more the everyday miracles of time present. To savor the fleeting scents of summer, the lavender and honeysuckle, to fill a bud vase with wildflowers and sit in early morning serenaded by a symphony of song birds - to never be too busy to call an old friend or skype with my granddaughter. To know that my hair isn't just streaked with gray - those are veins of silver that make me rich.