Over the past couple of years she has endured two knee surgeries and back surgery, with long, arduous recoveries from each. Thanks to these surgical tune-ups, and her faithful commitment to her own physical therapy, she just accomplished a cross country driving trip by herself, covering over 5,000 miles, driving 8-10 hours a day, from the east coast to the west coast and back again. Even my husband, who's about 25 years her junior, says he couldn't take on a road trip like that!
Needless to say, my friend is an amazing woman, who has embraced all of life's ups and downs with courage and great faith. I've watched over the years as she has gone from being bent over using a walker to standing straight using a cane while carrying her handbag and her Bible. Her career with the federal government took her and her husband overseas to exotic locales, and she will proudly tell you she has seen 49 of the 50 states. She raised three beautiful children, losing one adult daughter to cancer.
So when the invitations recently came to attend the family reunion in California and a wedding in the Midwest, logistically requiring unaffordable airline travel, much to her children's chagrin she decided to take her new knees and back out on the road.
So, this is what puzzles me. With that spirit of independence and great accomplishment under her belt, what did my friend see in this old fashioned cartoon depiction of aging that motivated her to forward it?
The last time I saw her describing her driving adventure, she was beaming like a headlight on a dark country road. She was so proud and excited that she had proven mostly to herself that she could still go on a driving trip independently. She is already planning her next one up and down the Mid Atlantic coast!
Yet I think for all of our talk in the elder services field about overcoming the "ageism" in this sort of cartoon, we must recognize that, for the aging, there is a reality to enduring surgeries and pain and changes in the body, seeing loved ones die and being the survivor, perhaps making a depiction like this one seem all too real.
I'm wondering if the bottom-line may be, no matter which type of wheels you may be using at any given time in your life's journey, as illustrated above, the most important thing is that you keep on rolling!
Some of the responses back to my friend after she sent this cartoon were:
"You inspire me!"
"You are rewriting the rules of aging!"
"Next I want to see you popping wheelies on a dirt bike on the hill outside my house!!"
I must agree, my friend and her accomplishments in her 80's are truly an inspiration for me in my 50's, and I can't wait to hear about her next road trip. In the meantime, I hope I will celebrate her accomplishments with her, while also being sensitive to the way she views her life and where she is on her journey.