Growing Old Gracefully


I am scared to get old. Old age is still years away, but it’s something that’s on my mind quite often. I’m not talking about retirement, grandchildren and winters in Florida. When I think about old age I think about frailty, illness and nursing homes.

Why should someone my age (I don’t hide my age – I’m 40 years old) be concerned about old age? Shouldn’t I take joy in my young family, my career ambitions and great friends? Well of course that’s where I focus most of my attention, and every day I am grateful for the life I feel privileged to lead.

But it’s still there – that nagging reminder that someday I may be old. I grew up in a large close family, and all four of my grandparents played a big role in making me who I am today. My Bubby, who had a heart of gold and kindness and love seemed to emanate from every part of her, died at the age of 72. I was only 19 at the time and was still too young to understand what old age was. My other three grandparents lived to be old, and one of them, my Poppy, is 96 years old.

Poppy has been one of my biggest cheerleaders since I was a child and I love him dearly. Poppy has aged gracefully and has overcome tremendous challenges with his health. He is a colon cancer survivor, lives with angina and over the past few years has developed dementia. This is a man who was a practicing Chartered Professional Accountant well into his eighties, golfed and skied for decades and traveled the world.

Baby Matthew playing on the floor with Poppy
Julia loves to have snuggles with Poppy
Nessa loves having lunch with her Poppy

My grandparents always told me they chose to live life to the fullest, and I believe they did. But then they grew old, and I mean the cruel side of old age that included frailty and illness.

Last night, while many members of my family were enjoying a long weekend up at our country home north of Toronto my father got a call that his father (my Poppy) was in an ambulance on his way to the emergency room. I won’t go into the details here and I’m happy to say that Poppy is fine, but I could hear the strain and stress in my father’s voice as he spoke with my grandfather’s caregiver about what was going on. My father and sister jumped in the car and drove back to the city to be at Poppy’s side, advocate for him at the hospital and get him back home safely that night.

My Poppy was a strong and charismatic person throughout his whole life, who loved my grandmother with all his heart every day of their 69-year marriage. He was sharp, confident, smart and successful. And now he is frail and depends on his children and a whole host of dedicated and amazing caregivers for everything.

All I could think about last night, as my father raced to the hospital and my grandfather sat on a stretcher in the emergency room, was how scared I am of old age. I hated the idea of my beloved Poppy sitting alone with chest pains in the emergency room and no longer in a position to advocate for himself. Without the dedicated support of his children, grandchildren and caregivers I don’t know what kind of life my Poppy could lead in his old age. And yes, that scares me.

I hope to grow old gracefully, like my Poppy. I hope that life is kind to me, especially old age. But that doesn’t mean that I’m not scared.