Late Life Learnings

Nothing like crises to precipitate growth or decline at any age. In later years crises tend to occur in clumps, catching us by surprise, so we are left floundering to catch our breath, hard to find a way through.

Should the trajectory of decline take hold, it can lead to the mortal end that awaits us all. Sadly, my sister Janice passed away this year, as did several other friends. May they reap their eternal rewards.

If we are to live, we might as well live life to the fullest. As age and diminishments compound, working out what “living life to the fullest” means is a constant challenge of adjustment: in relationships with families and friends, in interests and issues of importance, in ability to participate in previously valued pursuits; as well as what is affordable on a retirement income.

While challenges manifest, so do opportunities for changes in direction that can prove enriching. Not the same as before, yet age appropriate. Relaxation of the need to care for others allows us to be open to help from others. Both become more mature in the process: elderly becoming gracious receivers as younger people step up to care for them.

Gratitude and grace are endearing qualities, especially in the aged. Nothing so unattractive in an older person than bitterness, criticism, and petty picking on “the young”. Tolerance and flexibility are tasks of adolescence. Perhaps those entrenched in bitter, unpleasant ways in later life have not adolesced, or have regressed, rather than advanced to a more favoured state.

Over the three crises I’ve confronted this year, are many learnings how to continue to grow in grace and virtue. You are invited to add your own from your store of wisdom.

Hip replacement

Having already had one hip replacement, I knew what was coming for the second. Still didn’t make it any less difficult, painful or challenging, just more ready to work through to independent, pain free mobility. Pre-surgery exercise and a strict post-surgery rehabilitation regime proved really beneficial.

Friends and family were crucial to support, encouragement and perseverance through the frustrating patches towards independence. Am especially grateful for those who visited, prayed, brought gifts, flowers and meals, did shopping and phoned to help pass the time to recovery. It was a blessing to be so supported.

Of course, Netflix and Foxtel got a flogging as I trawled through offerings of interest. Netflix series The Patients of Dr Garcia was one that appealed to me, being an historical Spanish WWII drama about the resistance to Nazism, Franco’s fascism and communism.

Learnings from surgery:

Reading filled other moments as I took delight in the dozen books borrowed from the library before admission to hospital. Churchill & Orwell: the fight for freedom proved an engrossing read about the enduring legacy of freedom from courageous yet flawed men, especially in the context of today’s political pressure to control so much of our lives. Albo’s Misinformation and Disinformation Bill seems a direct lift from Orwell’s Ministry of Truth in his book 1984, which was a dystopian novel, not a manual for governance.

  • Apply oneself diligently to prescribed exercises to restore the body to full use;
  • Keep the mind active with interesting pursuits;
  • Plan company to help maintain social skills and avoid becoming depressed or demoralised; and
  • Be grateful and gracious as recipient of the care of others and for the privilege of modern medicine.

Turning 80

Turning 80 stirred reflection on my life, its worth, as well as about people who’ve shared the journey to earn my admiration and gratitude. Above all, gratitude for the privilege of living so long in good health (matching pair of metal hips aside). Deep gratitude for our service personnel who’ve fought and died for our freedom, the veterans who returned. If you can read this thank a teacher; if you can read it in English, thank a soldier.

Gratitude to the health workers, researchers, educators and the parents whose collective efforts have extended the term and quality of life in this marvellous country, so that we live around thirty years longer than 100 years ago. Great strides to be proud of!

Okay, present governments and bureaucracies may leave quite a bit to be desired: more of that in blogs to follow.

Gratitude for having survived to live a full life: to parents and family, to my late husband Evan, now 25 years departed, to my five adult children who are ever striving for good; to my ten grandchildren beginning to show sparkle and talent in diverse fields.

I’ve realised my life has been very much one of ‘loaves and fishes’ kind of significance. Just as the boy in the story in the New Testament (Matthew 14, John 6) had only five loaves of bread and two fish, with Jesus’ blessing, the crowd of over 5,000 people were miraculously fed and satisfied. We learn there was food left over, though not much more of the boy who contributed what he had.

Like the boy with the loaves, I’ve given all that I had. Survival balanced the threat of abortion, poverty, chaos, dysfunction and acrimony, against the gifts of health and intelligence. At an early age I worked out that the only way to make progress in life was to deal with the reality (however dreadful) and develop methods for being generative. My book Becoming with the Maturity Model for decision-making is an expression of that.

The surprise and delight of celebrating 80 years was to hear those who meant much to me express how I influenced their life, without my ever being aware. For so many decades I battled against adversity to get a mere toe hold on life. Positive affirmation was scarce.

Mostly, I was driven to ensure the five children we produced were provided a platform from which they could launch into the world of their choosing, with sufficient grace and competence to be effective at any level. Each honoured the effort with dedicated hard work resulting in varying levels of success in this country and overseas.

Having gained a Bachelor Commerce degree at 50, once again I set about to support scientists, engineers, academic, government, community and Aboriginal groups to realise their potential by producing strong business cases to warrant funding.

So, you get my drift: I didn’t make a fortune for myself, yet like the boy with the loaves and fishes, helped facilitate the careers and financial prospects of so many others. Along the way, the few opportunities for me to share ongoing financial rewards were dashed by greed and stupidity of others. That’s bureaucracy and business!

Learnings from turning 80

  • See to yourself first: love thy neighbour as thyself, means looking after self so you can look after others. I could have put more priority on building my own financial capital.
  • Be grateful for what we have, rather than hankering after what we fancy, however unrealistic. Express gratitude generously at the time.
  • Take joy from small things: they may be all we have. Big things are often beyond our reach.
  • Make the most of each day: it maybe the last.


Like childbirth, moving is a crisis we must work through, whether we like it or not, to produce the desired joyous outcome of new life.

Moving late in later years challenges us on so many levels. As mostly we are moving to smaller spaces (coffin ready) letting go (of houses, clothes, furniture, artefacts and equipment) becomes remote preparation for the ultimate letting go in death. Virtue in practice.

Not sadly. Much joy and freedom can be derived in release from the burden of care and maintenance of “things”. Memories that we can hold onto brighten the quiet moments. Marbles as well if we continue to work at it.

Having a clear plan and being organised is most useful when moving, especially for those who help us compensate for our diminishments. Moving so soon after surgery, I was particularly grateful for my sister Kathy and daughter Macushla who drove the packing, cleaning and purchasing of more suitable furniture and equipment to make the new place “work” for me. They did not rest until I was set up for my “future”, whatever I make of that.

Psychologically and physically, moving is hard graft. It takes time to readjust to a new setting amongst different people, to develop a fresh routine. Patience and energy are essential to any measure of success.

Learnings from moving

  • View moving as an opportunity to ‘let go’; take forward only those things you will need in the next stage of life.
  • Have a plan and be prepared to adapt to changing circumstances.
  • Understand your limitations: allow/invite others to help.
  • Be patient, yet assertive in resettlement in order to live later years to the fullest.

These are just a few ideas gleaned from my experience. I am not the entire fountain of knowledge, so would welcome comments and ideas from faithful readers from your own experience.

One thought on “Late Life Learnings

  1. Lyn Ambrose

    These are very wise words Paula and very well written. I’ve missed your blogs and am so happy you are back at your desk. I can attest to the comments about moving, after moving from a four bedroom home into a caravan for six and a half years and then moving to a one bedroom apartment after that. They are big changes but there are lots of positive outcomes. We need to remain positive that we will make it through all those changes and you have done this admirably.

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