The Highway of Life

May 20, 2021

In one of my listserv communities, a woman recently wrote a message describing herself as almost 70 and feeling frustrated at being unable to find parking near her house. She expressed angst at the difficulty of carrying her groceries a long distance to her home.

In response, a young man wrote that she should be aware that life had changed in 70 years.  Expecting to be able to park near your house was unrealistic. His conclusion was that she should “get over it.”

Those comments were insensitive to me. I was born in 1947. I got an AARP card and then became eligible for Medicare Part B, both reminders that I had officially turned on to the “exit lane of life.” (I heard this wonderful term in a sermon by the Reverend Otis Moss, Jr.)

In 2013, I hit a serious health bump on the highway, a rare appendix cancer. I thought this might be the year to get off the exit to my final destination, but that was not the case. Earlier this year, at 74 years of age, I was diagnosed with arthritis in my left leg, knee, and thigh.

So I completely understood the woman’s plight. It seems one day you just don’t move as fast as you once did. Suddenly there’s an ache in a body part that you had never thought about. You don’t get out of the car as fast as you once did.

All of this made me realize that my body wasn’t quite like a car. I couldn’t get a complete overhaul, but I could get—and needed—a physical body checkup.

Here are some recommendations for making sure your body can continue to support you as you ride down your own highway of life:

  1. Get a yearly physical therapy assessment to evaluate your strength, posture, flexibility, balance, and coordination. I learned this from an Eat Well/Move Well course I took at Iona.
  2. Recognize and accept that your body is not going to return to its younger state. The only way to stay young is to die young. If you can afford it, have a personal trainer work with you on developing a plan that you can combine with virtual and in-person fitness activities. If you are a planner, you can design your own exercise plan.
  3. Help your physical therapist understand your physical and emotional environment. I took a picture of the stairs inside and outside of my house to share with my physical therapist so she could get a sense of their depth. It’s also important to define clear goals. I want to be able to walk to the Safeway a half mile from my house. As a result, my physical therapist changed from having me use the bicycle to the treadmill.
  4. Learn about the emotional and psychological impact of your physical limitations. I didn’t realize how arthritis could have side effects like fatigue or stress from the inability to perform physically as I once did. Taking a course in Yoga and Arthritis helped me to increase my mind-body connections. Make peace with what you can or cannot do.
  5. Settle into your spiritual core so that your mind will be friends with your body. Some days your physical condition may be more difficult to handle than others. Everybody is different. Meditate, pray, and find peace with yourself and recognize that you are not your diagnosis.

As you move on down the highway, have a little joy every day.

By Catherine Hargrove

Catherine Hargrove