By Liz MarchiI have a very special friend, Bill, who is 83. Bill is handsome, smart, wicked funny, successful, and really respects and admires women, especially smart, strong women. His mother was his first teacher and mentor. He has many, many friends. When he turned 80, winnowing the birthday party list to 400 was a challenge. But, like anyone, he is also facing the challenges of aging.
A graduate of UC Berkeley in Engineering Physics in 1959, he went to work for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on the Atomic Energy Commission. He was project manager for the Titan I, II and III programs. After splitting atoms, he made the pivot to real estate and went on to have a very successful career in Denver and Vail, Colorado. He was an early Vail resident and relished skiing deep powder in back bowls, the wind howling in his face and temperatures at zero. Bill introduced generations to the joys of mountain living, skiing, biking and hiking. And did I say he’s competitive? He makes the best margaritas from scratch on the planet, and he’s interested in science, technology and art. He loves the water and being on his boat. He has several beautiful homes and a talented and stunning wife. He is strikingly handsome with white hair and a great tan. I relish sitting with him at sunset and listening to his wisdom. Wisdom is earned by living. Bill has lived.
We spend a lot of time talking about aging and how there are no support groups, unlike during other major life changes: having a baby, getting a divorce, the loss of a child, having cancer. We’re all aging, and despite campaigns like “Grow Bolder,” “Stay Strong at 70,” “Elated at 80” and “Ninja at 90,” the reality is that the process of aging is ultimately about acceptance. Eighty is the new 60 is pretty much snake oil.
We’re accepting that if we lived an active life physically, the knees, hips and shoulders can only be replaced so many times. Putting on skis is hard; taking off boots is hard. Waiting in the lift line is hard. I can’t think of anyone past 80 who can hear without hearing aids, and not one of them thinks hearing aids work well. If you have a southern friend who talks fast, you will often have to make her repeat everything. Acceptance.
Fear of falling is real – not just falling off your bike, but falling while walking to the bathroom at night, or getting into the hot tub or boat. Something that was never at the top of our minds is now at the top of the fear list. Not that you don’t keep trying, but the consequences of a fall past 80 are harsh.
Although 20 years apart, the journey of acceptance has begun. For Bill, it’s top of mind everyday. Despite a great attitude, intellect and desire, choices have to be made. Bill does it with grace and humor. He walks very slowly but reminds his golf partners not to feel pushed by his blistering speed. He can hardly hear. He is very, very careful when crawling into his hot tub. He loves to travel and admits that one of the hardest things was succumbing to the wheelchair in large airports. Now, it’s not so bad, as he has accepted the loss and moved on, grateful to be traveling again. Though it can be difficult for successful people, accepting not being king or queen of the heap, having the lowest golf handicap, remembering facts and figures, or doing quick turnarounds will make this time more enjoyable.
There is grace in acceptance and beauty in living in the moment. Thank you Bill for your courage.
Liz is fascinated by the various approaches to aging – from denial, to plastic surgery, to running marathons, to depression. Given our current demographics, Liz thinks there is a lot to explore, celebrate and learn from those living and aging in the Flathead Valley. Contact her at Liz@frontierangels.com.