On the pilgrim way: ‘I realised there are real benefits to being old’
Sheila Maxey finds 80 is not the new 60 – but its not all bad
In mid April, on what seemed like the first dry and sunny Saturday of the year, we held a ‘Celebrating 80’ family party for Kees, my husband, and I. Over 40 family members came, plus longstanding and close friends. I realised afterwards that there are real benefits to being old. (I don’t accept that 80 is the new 60. I am old – not very old – just old.)
We have hosted many celebrations down the years – bonfire parties, Boxing Day gatherings, silver and golden wedding parties, my parents’ diamond wedding party and our ‘Celebrating 70’ party, to name just a few. All these were good occasions but very hard work. This time, our children took over. They consulted us on what we wanted – the timing (from 2pm to 8pm), the food (family contributions supplemented by Costco) and music (drawing on family talent and equipment). We still had a role in the preparation. I had to make my ‘famous’ potato salad and, as we live near the High Street, we shopped daily for days beforehand to bring home drinks. (Kees’ mobility scooter provided the transport!) But on the morning of the party, we were sent out to have coffee in town. After the party was over, we were shut in the sitting room while a little army of daughters, nieces and granddaughters cleared up.
Another benefit of being old was a certain detachment which allowed me to enjoy this party far more than previous ones. I have to confess that beforehand I did my usual fruitless worrying – about the weather, about whether the daffodils would have died and the tulips would not yet be in flower, about whether Poppy, our eight-year-old granddaughter, would be left out by the older ones etc. In the past, I always felt under pressure as the host – to make sure everyone was OK. This time, I was somehow able to just let people be. I felt free just to watch some lovely encounters: a 50-something senior physician talking eagerly with my 85-year-old cousin who had given him a home in his 20s; a 20-something, transgender great nephew counselling our son about his transgender daughter; little Poppy so happy as she earnestly plied the company with drinks, as her father had done at her age so many years ago.
And I think that being old meant I enjoyed links to the past more than ever. One granddaughter looked stunning in her mother’s green silk wedding dress. I was moved to tears by our daughter, Mary, choosing to play ‘The Swan’ on her cello, knowing that I would remember the school concert where she first played it in public. I wore a pendant a dear German aunt gave me for my 21st birthday.
Of course, we were completely exhausted afterwards and needed several days to recover. Many of our things had been, as one niece put it, ‘mis-filed’ and we are gradually sorting that out. But none of that matters. The psalmist gives me words, when I can find none of my own: ‘The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; I have a goodly heritage.’ (Psalm 16:6)
Sheila Maxey is Book Reviews Editor for Reform
This article was published in the June 2018 edition of Reform