I am not in my sixties, but I spend Sunday mornings with people way beyond their sixties. Indeed, just this morning I found out that one woman is 103! Most of the other folks in our morning movement and music group are in their seventies, eighties and nineties. It is due to them, and the yoga group I led at The Atria, that I determined to explore elderhood through the eyes of authors older than me.
My research uncovered The Best Books on Aging, as posted on Time Goes By, a blog about “what it’s really like to get older”, and I have just finished my first book, The Last Gift of Time: Life Beyond Sixty, by Carolyn G. Heilbrun. A small book and a relatively quick read, Heilbrun intrigued me just pages into her narrative. She was, by profession, an author and literary critic, a Ph.D. and one time Columbia University professor, and above all a feminist. Her writing pulled me in as she described ideas that resonated strongly because her words could have been my mother writing! Perhaps what I best liked was the sense that Heilbrun was helping me to know my mom better.
Most curiously, it turns out that quite like my mom, Heilbrun made a decision about the quality of her life. Unlike my mom, who had had a stroke and reached out to Compassion & Choices, Heilbrun was by all counts healthy. Nonetheless, she determined that “The journey is over. Love to all.” and then committed suicide. (This from the December, 2003 New York article by Vanessa Grigoriadis, A Death of One’s Own.)
Knowing this (for I researched her just part way into the second chapter of her book), I was still eager to read what she had to say about her sixties. I appreciated her elegant familiarity with words, and at times she had me laughing. Have to confess, though, that I stopped reading her at bedtime, preferring to absorb her commentary during the light of a spring day, which managed to ameliorate those passages that would otherwise have sent me to sleep with a sadness of heart – for Heilbrun or my mom, I know not which.