Family Affair

The Joyful Aches and Pains of Aging

I wouldn't know how good it feels to feel good if I didn't feel bad sometimes

Photograph by Retrofile/Getty Images

At middle age, I have a few aches and pains. Not the occasional hurting feet or sore muscles from a tough workout, but aches and pains that have become a part of my everyday life. Aches and pains that crept up on me, reminding me that I'm 53 first thing in the morning when I'm getting out of bed and can no longer jump up and get moving like I did just a few years ago.

No one ever promised me I'd feel good all the time as I get older. I was given ample warning about these developments, even if I never believed these things would happen to me.

I remember watching commercials when I was young for things like Doan's pills, Geritol, Dr. Scholl's foot pads, Alka-Seltzer (I can't believe I ate the whole thing!). When I was a teenager, I laughed at adults who said no to things like pizza or chocolate or orange juice, because these foods didn't "agree" with them. There were older people, parents, grandparents and their friends, complaining about a slipped disc or tennis elbow or a bunion—a bunion! I thought that was the funniest word. It sounded so … old.

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I shouldn't have laughed. Because it happens to everyone, sooner or later. Sooner or later, we all feel terrible for one reason or another.

It's not just physical pains that we have to manage. By middle age, most of us have experienced emotional and psychic pain on a level we never could have imagined when we were twentysomething. From enormous disappointments to the deaths of people we love, life has thrown must of us under the bus at one time or another. I used to giggle when my mother would cry at commercials for Mother's Day cards or when she heard certain songs on the radio, but now I get it—I cry too.

Getting older means leaving so many things behind me, shedding selves that are no longer relevant to my life. See you later, hot young college girl. Bye-bye, energetic young mom. Adios, ambitious young professional. A fond farewell to that cute butt, perky boobs, pretty feet and bouncy hair. Ta-ta sky-high heels and short skirts, tight jeans and tank tops. It's painful, but necessary—a metaphoric and actual purging of my closet.

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And yet, there's something about the aches and pains, both body and soul, that is oddly comforting. While they are pokes and pulls that keep "I'm getting older" on repeat in my head, they are also reminders of all I've done, everyone I've loved, everyday I've lived. My neck hurts, but I'm still here. I miss the people I've loved who have died, but I love more and more people. My youth is long gone, but I get to grow old with my husband. My energy may be lower, but I'm not in as much of a rush.

I wouldn't know how good it feels to feel good if I didn't feel bad sometimes. That's the pain—and joy—of aging.

Tags: well being