America is a wonderful country with amazing opportunities for anyone and everyone. We enjoy our current freedoms because of the beliefs and sacrifice of many, many people who came before us. We may not be perfect; in fact, we make a great deal of mistakes and I’m sure that many other countries often view us as a nation of overgrown children. However, in my opinion, it’s the best place to live, work and get our dreams off the ground.
That said, there is something I’ve noticed over the years about us Americans: we seem to have a national anathema about speaking about aging, dying and death. These are life cycles that come to us all, like it or not. It is viewed by many as a taboo subject; children, when they first encounter it with a pet or grandparent are often not prepared for what this process means. We put ourselves through such unnecessary pain, sorrow, blame and regret when it all could be so different and so much easier.
Many cultures have more positive views on these processes then we do, and I think it would help if we considered some of them. Take aging, for example: in *China, when a person has reached the glorious age of 60, it’s a cause for major celebration. Turning 60 means that they are officially a respected and revered elder, with much wisdom to impart to the young.
Physical beauty is such a fleeting, transitory thing, and oh, how we mourn it when it slips away from us! I used to work with a man who at the time was in his late 40s. He kept a picture of himself at age 17 on his desk; young, unlined, handsome, with thick bushy hair and a flowing mustache. In the picture, he was looking directly at the camera, unsmiling and beautifully young. He used to point to it and say, ‘if only I still looked like that! I’m nearly bald, I have wrinkles around my eyes, I have a paunch I can’t get rid of, and I just look OLD.”
Really?! After I chewed him out for being such an ass, I told him to stop looking backward and start looking forward, and for Heaven’s sake to take that stupid picture down!
Just about every person is beautiful, cute, wonderful and so on when young. We women especially are given to worrying about each little line or wrinkle or gray hair; that we don’t look the way we did when we were 18 or 20. Unless you’re born with extremely good genes, the aging process happens to us all. Of course, we can keep looking and feeling better by eating whole and healthy foods, moderate exercise and staying positive. Doing meditation is very beneficial, too. So is letting go of past hurts and real or imagined slights.
If we keep looking backwards, we’re going to miss all the lovely and wonderful things ahead of us. Aging is not the end of the world, it’s actually the beginning of a new world for us. What keeps us young in spirit and heart and yes; even in our looks, is looking ahead and not behind. Studies have shown that the people who do this and are excited by the life’s possibilities at any age; the optimists, the dreamers, the ones who don’t give up believing in the good in people–they are the ones who are truly happy, and even in some cases, look younger!
What would be so bad about having a kind of “life class” that explains the aging process for what it really is; another step in our lives? We all go through it as we get older; our bones, muscles, organs, skin; all of it is just as old as we are and it all wears out or slows down. Eventually, we move on from the Earthly plane to the spirit plane; our spirits are alive–we have just worn out our bodies.
Dying only means that the body is wearing out. I was with my grandfather when he was in the process of dying. Although his eyes were closed, he kept beckoning with both hands, as if welcoming someone, or being welcomed by someone. I have heard of people who, before they take their last breath, open their eyes wide and smile at something or someone we cannot see. I believe that’s the first welcome ‘home.’ As I have said before, I believe that Earth is school, and Heaven is our home.
Of course when we lose someone we love, we grieve them and miss their bodily presence in our lives. But again, I believe (and have experienced) that our loved ones check in on us from time to time, that they still love us, care for us, and advise us still. My mother’s mother, Effie, died of cancer of the liver when my mother was only 14. In 1983, my mother put together a wonderful genealogy of her family (the Feero line), called “Christian Feero, Loyalist of New Brunswick.” She wrote this (among other things) about her mother: “She died much younger than a mother should have to, without ever knowing any of her grandchildren which would have been her greatest joy.”
When I was about three years old, I was absently bouncing on my mother’s bed while waiting for her to come out of the bathroom. As I bounced, I suddenly felt two warm hands cupping the back of my head. I stopped bouncing, and looked around, but saw no one. As I grew older, I became convinced that the two hands I had felt were Effie’s and that we had finally met each other.
I hope that I live long enough to see the advancement of knowledge and information about these very human and very common phases of aging, dying and death. It is nothing to fear, only a new transition.
*Traditionally, Chinese people do not pay a lot of attention to birthdays until they are 60 years old. The 60th birthday is regarded as a very important point of life and therefore there is often a big celebration. After that, a birthday celebration is held every ten years, that is the 70th, the 80th, etc, until the person’s death. Generally, the older the person is, the greater the celebration occasion is. (See blog.eteacherchinese.com/china-culture)