Archive for Aging

Only The Young Dye Good

“Only the young dye good.” That’s what my mother always said. In spite of her advice I continued to dye my hair until I was close to 80. At last, in recent months, I’ve had to admit to myself that dark hair doesn’t look right with my older face. It’s time to go natural. I’ve come close to this decision before. Always though, I changed my mind and applied the colour once more.

Why was it so hard to go grey? Susan Moon’s book This is Getting Old: Zen Thoughts on Aging With Humor and Dignity throws light on my dilemma. Susan says she chose a time when there were no Buddhist workshops scheduled to dye her gray hair red.

Last year I dyed my gray hair bright red. (There weren’t any Buddhist conferences coming up at the time.) My hair was never red all by itself, and I wasn’t trying to fool anybody. When the hairdresser asked me what effect I was going for, I said I wanted to do something wild. I said I didn’t care if the color didn’t look natural. But I did want to look …well…not to put too fine a point on it …younger. I wanted hair color that would make people interested in what I had to say.

The hairdresser was expensive but skillful. For about two weeks, the red was very bright, and I was startled to discover that it made a difference. Strangers looked at me directly. From a distance I did look younger, more powerful, maybe even more passionate – A redhead! I became visible to clerks in crowded stores. (Page 106)

There! That’s it! If you’re a woman in our society, once your hair goes grey, you become invisible. An attractive woman lawyer friend told me men on the street stopped looking at her once she went grey. Nobody expects anything very intelligent to come out of your mouth. Clerks in stores don’t see you. You lose your clout. Sad but true: older women are invisible in our society.

Alas, it was finally time for me to let my hair go grey or white, or whatever colour it was in its natural state. Step one of going grey started with three hours in the hairdressing studio, my first step in this coming-of-age ritual.

Terina, the hair dresser, welcomed me to her studio. We started by talking about preferred styles. I was in a particularly adventuresome mood that day. “I’m looking for real change, so I’m open to whatever you suggest,” I said. Sitting on a stool beside me, she ran a comb through my hair, considering the task ahead.

“You’ve got quite a bit of curl in your hair,” she said. “Maybe soft and curly?”

“Soft sounds right.” Then I added, “Soft and pretty seems just right. Can you do that? ”We agreed on soft and pretty and Terina disappeared into her walled-off sink area. Five minutes later she emerged with a white plastic bowl and a wooden handled brush that looked like my basting brush.

The concoction she spread over my brown hair smelled like the kitchen composter’s rotting fruits and vegetables. Terina proceeded to slather it on my head. She then wrapped a sheet of saran wrap around the whole mess and left me sitting there for an hour. When she finally rinsed off the concoction, imagine my horror when I realized my hair was carrot red. Terina assured me this was just one step along the way to looking soft and pretty.

Next she washed off the compost mess and spread a rich foamy whip cream to remove any remaining colour and soften my hair.  Another hour and then a third coating left my hair soft blond. You can see it all in the pictures.


And so, as I write this, I’m shocking my friends with a head of very short blond hair. Who knows what will follow? The idea is to let the roots grow in unnoticed. I’ll let you know what happens.


I’d like to hear from you. What are your thoughts and experiences? Do you colour your hair, or are you also taking the natural route?


Susan Moon: This Is Getting Old: Zen Thoughts on Aging with Humour and Dignity, Shambhala Publications, Inc. Boston, Massachusetts, 2010

Shredding The Past

picture of filesI have a brand new shredder, one of those machines designed to eat up confidential papers so their contents are never leaked. Why, you might ask, would a retired older woman need such a machine? The answer lies in the ruling that says Canadian health care practitioners must preserve their clinical records for ten years after the last meeting with the patient or client. I practiced for thirty years. This is not the first time I’ve shredded.

My new shredder with its black plastic body stands in the corner of my cluttered study. To operate, I hold a pile of paper in its slit of a mouth, then watch it chew up the paper and spit out unreadable bits.

When I sit down to shred, one part of me feels relieved to render these files into unreadable curls. I no longer need to safeguard the file’s privacy. My duty to preserve the file in case the client or the law requires it in future is ended. It’s time to let go all responsibility for this relationship and the resulting written record.

That’s one part of my reaction to shredding. There is, however, another part of me. Each of these pages represents the time I spent following a session, sitting alone in my office, thinking and feeling about our work together as I searched inwardly for the next step in our work together, then sought to write it down.

Ten years later, I end up wondering where Geraldine is now: and whether Doug really did sustain his newfound self-esteem. Warm memories, troubled memories: some I feel really good about and some leave me feeling I should have done better. Hundreds of scenes come rushing back: a revivication of my past as a therapist.

Generally, it’s agreed that nobody who’s an avid reader can be efficient about cleaning out and organizing a library. Such literary types keep finding a book they loved or always meant to read. It takes them forever to dust and replace the books.

It’s something like that with my old client notes. I suppose someone else might just look at the date of our session, conclude that it was ten years or more ago and shred the whole thing. As for me? I’m like that book lover. I hold the file, stare at its cardboard cover, get lost in the memory of the client whose story it contains and end up gazing off into the misty distance, remembering our time together. Shredding becomes an act of honouring the time we spent together a decade or more ago. It’s the paper, not the memory of the client, that gets shredded.

All this shredding then get dumped into a huge see-through plastic bag. This year I managed to fill a few of these recycling containers: tangible evidence of my 30 years of work.

The New Years Day Party

colorful-fireworks_1232-2075As a reader of these blog posts on aging, you know how hard I’ve worked at making friends in my new city. I tend to be on the shy side, and if I didn’t push myself, I’d be one lonely old woman. I’ve had to be more outgoing than comes naturally, and I’ve given lots of thought to just how friendships develop. One of the factors I’ve realized is that friendships develop over time. Somehow, you have to spend considerable time together. It’s necessary to discover common interests and find reasons for getting together again and again. I’ve thrown myself into volunteer jobs, exercise classes and other gatherings where I’ll get to know people and let them get to know me.

During the Christmas season, I got a bright idea. I’d throw a party for the tenants in my building, the ones I know and would like to know better. A New Years Day party sounded just right. With that in mind, I wrote a stack of invitations and, over the next weeks, managed to put them in the hands of or under the doors of those I wished to invite. Step one was done. My newest attempt at making friends was underway.

I started planning. I’d need to rent party supplies like wine glasses, since I recently broke one and now have a total of two wine glasses in my downsized cupboards. (Before de-cluttering, downsizing and selling the Toronto house, I had enough glasses of every type to entertain my whole apartment building. Alas, my current tiny kitchen has space for only basic necessities.)

pexels-photo-26447Catering. Yes, I’d need finger food. Since I was holding my party on New Years Day, none of the services would be around to deliver trays of tasty mouthfuls. I’d have to make the food myself. I reviewed my repertoire of favourite cocktail fare. They all required time under the broiler, a warming oven to keep them hot until serving and somebody to pass them. Reality began to set in. I didn’t have the energy to make food, broil it the day of the party and then serve it. My energy just doesn’t rise to such occasions these days. And so I decided that a cheese tray with seedless green grapes was a really elegant offering. Yes! That was perfect. I’d buy a great collection of cheeses and encourage people to help themselves.

The rental wine glasses arrived a few days before the party. The cheeses were in the refrigerator and the fancy napkins and tablecloth were ready for the big event. That’s when I got really nervous. I couldn’t back off now. I was committed. The invitations were out and fellow tenants were greeting me in the halls with assurances that they were looking forward to the party.

I’d been so upbeat and positive about the party. Now, for no reason I could figure, I was sorry I’d ever put the whole dang thing in motion. I didn’t want to do it. Waves of shyness and uncertainty were washing over me, instead of the upbeat sense of fun that started the party plan. I wanted to call the whole thing off. But, of course, I couldn’t.

At last the day arrived and – at the appointed time – the guests arrived. I got busy welcoming them and, in my role as hostess, soon forgot my nervousness. As for the guests, they seemed really happy about the opportunity to meet and greet their neighbours. At least, they kept telling me what a great idea it was to have the party. As for me, I was actually having a really good time. And so, I chalk up one more step in making a place for myself in my new home.

Planning and carrying out the party also drove home once again the truth about nervousness and anxiety. They’re almost never about the present moment. They’re always about anticipating negative fantasies in the future.

Dealing With Change

sunset-in-the-city-with-skyscrapers_1127-192Visiting Toronto

As I write this blog post, I’m in Toronto for a brief visit. It’s a celebration of sorts. After a year of living on my own, I finally feel as if I’ve landed both feet solidly on the ground. (You many recall my recent piece about times of transition being similar to having one foot up in the air and easy to knock off balance.) I don’t claim to fully understand why we humans get so stirred up when we leave a relationship or move to a new setting. I just know it to be so. It has taken my visceral response a whole year to calm down and for peace to return. It doesn’t seem to matter if we’re making a move for the better. We still feel discombobulated.

Third move in a year and a half

Recently Sammy The Poodle and I made our third move in a year and a half from a ground floor apartment to the top floor of our building. I worried that Sammy would mourn the loss of familiar territory. When we lived at ground level, he spent his days within sniffing distance of grass and other dog tenants as they came and went on walks.

At the end of moving day I brought Sammy home to our new apartment. The ride in the elevator went okay. Once inside our door, he took off, going from one room to the next, sniffing the familiar furniture until he apparently decided, “Okay, this is all our stuff so this must be where we now live.”

I’d worried, too, that he’d be too far above ground level to feel connected to the other dogs in the building. Then one afternoon, soon after we moved in, I heard him give the whiney bark he saves for other dogs. I went to the window and, there, 10 storeys below, a dog was being walked. Dogs don’t seem to share their humans’ shaky disorientation when it comes to moving.

Going to another city, even when it’s a move we want, is stressful. For older folk, it’s especially difficult. We have no young children or work colleagues to help us find community in our new city. It would be easy to slip into isolation and loneliness. After all, older women are generally invisible in our society.

A Kingstonian among big city folk

So – what’s it like coming back to Toronto one and a half years after I left for Kingston? To my surprise, I find myself a Kingstonian among big city folk. I crane my neck skyward gawking in amazement at tall buildings with radical architecture. I have trouble remembering the names of streets. (Is that because I’ve worked so hard to learn Kingston’s street names?) People are in an awful hurry. I’ve become accustomed to Kingston’s gentler ways.

I’m glad I’ve moved to Kingston. It’s just right for my stage in life. And I’m glad I spent my adulthood in Toronto. After all, it was there for me as The Big Apple when I needed it during my professional years.

Thank you Kingston. Thank you Toronto.

Sammy and I Move Again

img_1531Sammy The Poodle and I have just moved for the third time in a year and a half. Our first move was from the house in Toronto, my home for 43 years and the only home Sammy had ever known. We moved to a bungalow in Kingston, then to an apartment. Moving to the apartment meant that we no longer had a door to a fenced-in back yard. I wondered how we’d manage. Sammy, being a dog, needs to go out once he wakens and before he goes to bed. In the early days of apartment living I felt sorry for myself having to dress and take him outside. But…once out there… it was inevitably interesting, often spectacularly beautiful. Even in winter, snowdrifts and red-orange sunrises turned the dog owner’s duty into a rendezvous with nature.

Sammy and I adjusted to life in a ground-floor two-bedroom unit. Sliding glass doors across the front provided Sammy with a sense of territory. He spent much of his day at those glass doors, watching other tenants, often with dogs, come and go. Constant activities took place within sniffing distance of his lookout. Clearly Sammy enjoyed a sense of territory and stability. The earth and grass were within his olfactory range and he could actually smell other people and dogs when the screen door was in place.

Alas, once I discovered life with a dog in an apartment building was manageable,

I started looking for an apartment higher up. Other tenants managed the elevator in this dog-friendly building. Sammy and I could manage too.

At last, a unit on the tenth floor became vacant. It didn’t take me long to sign the lease. From the moment I saw the view from its airy perch, I knew this was the place for Sammy and me. Lake Ontario, sailing boats, sunrises and sunsets: the ever-changing scene below would be a constant source of wonder.

The day of the move, first thing in the morning, I took Sammy to Harvey’s for the day. No need to have a bewildered upset Sammy witnessing his home being dismantled. Then I returned to meet the movers who were already outside the apartment building unloading cardboard boxes and wardrobes. At the end of the day, with our home for the last eleven months a hollow, empty shell, we returned to the usual building entrance, walked right past our old apartment door, boarded the elevator and began the slow trip to the tenth floor.

Once inside our new unit, I removed Sammy’s harness. His big brown eyes searched my face for some clues as to why we were standing in this strange hallway. Finally he cocked his head and took off for the furthest room, the bedroom. Sniffing thoroughly, he checked my bed, his bed on the floor, the chair and anything else that retained the smells he knew so well. Then he proceeded to the study where he evidently satisfied himself that this, too, was our place. Next he methodically sniffed the living room and assured himself that his water and food bowls had come with us.

He was accustomed to watching the world from the ground floor. I opened the door to the balcony. As you can imagine, it’s a lofty perch floats in space. Sammy rushed out, skidded to a stop, looked puzzled and began earnestly sniffing the balcony’s periphery. He’d never seen the world from this height.

Our first day in the new apartment was warm enough to leave the door to the balcony open. In the hope that this would help Sammy feel at home, I let him come and go as he wished.

As I write this, he’s repeatedly sniffed the edges of this strange perch. Right now, as we end this first day, he’s lying, chin on the ground, seemingly exhausted from the stress of moving. I understand this. I’m not feeling too energetic myself.