Channeling My Inner Elder

“Elderly,” with its connotations of frailty and dependence and uselessness, has become a pejorative term, and I can certainly understand that. In fact, the other day when someone mentioned that I was elderly, I was miffed. Elderly? Me? No way.

But that comment led me to a search on what “elderly” is. And when it is.

According to the Social Security administration, 65 is considered elderly, though apparently, that number is being upgraded to 67 since 67 is the new retirement age. According to the AMA, 65 is considered elderly. (As in, “The elderly, i.e. those over 65, are most susceptible to the flu.”) The US Census Bureau considers middle age to be 45 to 65, with the assumption that over 65 is elderly, but one does not go immediately from being middle aged to being elderly, from usefulness to uselessness, from vigor to enfeeblement, but apparently there is no word in the official lexicon — or any lexicon — for this younger older demographic.

Other than these few mentions of what age is “elderly,” the consensus seems to be you are only as old as you feel, though that doesn’t tell me anything. “Feeling” is not the same as “being.” Humans go through a general growth arc, developing and then declining, and there does come a time that, despite what you feel, your body simply doesn’t work as well as it once did. The process is slow, so to a great extent we don’t know we are deteriorating until something happens to smack us in the face and wake us up.

The elderly, even the younger elderly, are at risk for various ailments and accidents, don’t heal as quickly, don’t process thoughts as quickly, don’t focus as quickly as when they were young. I realize this sort of determination is also subjective, but there is a cut off point for each of us when the arrows all point downward. (I’m not talking about joy of living or feeling useful and meaningful and even youthful; I’m just talking about physical things, body processes,)

A few years ago, a friend posted a blog for her birthday. She said, ‘It’s a big one. The one after “middle age” and the beginning of “elderly.” It’s difficult to fathom I’m there already. I don’t feel elderly. I’m told I don’t look elderly. However, the calendar says I am.’

I haven’t reached that “big one” yet, but I’ve often thought of her comment, especially considering the falls I recently experienced. Each fall on its own was simply an accident that could have happened to a younger person, but that they happened to me in such a short period of time makes me wonder if there was something else at work here. Maybe a slower reaction time? Maybe an extra fraction of a second before I realized what was happening? I don’t think so, but I don’t know, so I’ve been channeling my inner elder and staying inside when the streets are snowy or even wet. It’s almost comforting, in a way, to pamper this inner elder and not try to force myself to do something I’m not inclined to do anyway. (I prefer to stay inside since I’m not much for cold weather anymore. Or hot weather, either, for that matter.)

I don’t think it’s a bad thing to admit we’re elderly (though for now I still only admit to “getting older”). After all, when you eliminate the unpleasant connotations with which we’ve saddled the word, elderly merely means “olderly,” (which actually would be a cool word if there was such a thing). And anyway, according to the dictionary, an elder is an older person, especially one with a respected position in society. In this context, elderly has a connotation of wisdom rather than worthlessness.

I can live with that.

When I become elderly, that is.


Pat Bertram is the author of Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One. “Grief: The Inside Story is perfect and that is not hyperbole! It is exactly what folk who are grieving need to read.” –Leesa Healy, RN, GDAS GDAT, Emotional/Mental Health Therapist & Educator

9 Responses to “Channeling My Inner Elder”

  1. Malcolm R. Campbell Says:

    At my age, I have to accept the fact that I’m elderly. Goodness knows famous people younger than me have died and the press has said they lived long full lives. I don’t care about that. I’m still here and I’m still writing.

  2. rami ungar the writer Says:

    Sounds like my dad is further away from elderly than I thought.

  3. Intrusion | Bertram's Blog Says:

    […] and I offered him a cup of tea. (I have to laugh at myself in light of my post yesterday about channeling my inner elder since offering tea seems such an . . . ahem, old lady . . . thing to […]

  4. Young Elderly and Elderly Elderly | Bertram's Blog Says:

    […] post on elderliness the other day might have seemed fatuous, because who of us really cares what age “elderly” is? […]

  5. Coco Ihle Says:

    Pat, I don’t mind at all you quoting me. In fact, I feel honored that you found something i said as quotable material! With that said, this subject of “elderly” is one a lot of us are dealing with. In fact, I think I’ll add a progress report to my blog on that subject in my March blog. Thanks for the idea. And in answer to you, you may have fallen not so long ago, but, as you said, that could have happened to a youngster! YOU ARE NOT ELDERLY, and even though you are younger that I, I don’t believe I am either!!!! Age has to do with our inner core attitude, which for me and you is still learning and growing and therefore not settled into ‘elderly” yet.

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      It’s funny, I was just thinking about this. So many people I know have settled into a more aged life-style because of health, if for no other reason, and yet I still feel as if the world is opening up to me. As for you, I don’t think dancers ever get elderly. Those years of dancing make you eternally young.

      • Coco Ihle Says:

        It’s not just the dancing, Pat. You started me thinking and I came to the conclusion that as a child I didn’t really have the opportunity to be a child. I was too busy surviving, which required me to be pretty adult. It wasn’t until my son was little that I was able to actually share in his childhood and be one, myself. And I don’t think I’ll ever grow old until I stop growing up. Recently, my son said, “That’ll never happen!” 🙂 Made me feel really good!

        • Pat Bertram Says:

          I’m that way, too. Never really had the opportunity to be a child. I went through the mother stage when I was a child. Went through the crone stage in my middle years. All that’s left now is the maiden stage.

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