AgingJerry Witkovsky on Aging

As one is wont to do around birthday time (I turned 93 at the end of March), I reflected on my life. Where am I now? What have I achieved? What do I have to show for being a third of the way into my 10th decade of life?

 

Here’s what my mental inventory looked like:

 

What I don’t have

  • My wife Margaret, who passed away in 2003
  • My companion Felice, now that we are in different states
  • My car of 20 years and all the independence that goes with it
  • My condo in Deerfield, which will be sold as of May 20
  • All the stuff in the condo—clothes, art, furniture, everything
  • My bike
  • The Botanic Garden

What I have

  • Ellen and Don, my daughter and son-in-law
  • Michael and Julie, my son and daughter-in-law
  • My grandchildren
  • Deanna and all the things we are working on
  • A brain and creativity
  • I care about people
  • My health
  • I’m financially secure

I know the people and the ability to create are most important. But without all the things that had grounded me and connected me to a specific time and place, I felt I had lost who I was.

 

Who am I?

Michael, my son the psychiatrist, helped me put things in perspective. I was trying to compare the two—what I had lost versus what I had. This was a false comparison. “The things you have do not replace what you’ve lost,” he said.

What I have is family. I have myself. I have consistency.

“This is what allows you to create,” he said.

Over the next 48 hours I kept the list, adding things, trying to get clarity. Knowing that “new” wasn’t replacing “old,” but represented different experiences and opportunities, has relaxed me immensely.

 

How do you reconcile a life?

 

I was struggling. I realize now, that rather than staying quiet, I need to think my way to the next stage of life. And how exciting to be planning a next stage. The Grandparents! Write Your Stories I created with Deanna and JCC Chicago now reaches over 400 grandparents around the globe. I’m partnering with the Nursery Theatre in London to launch a new Grandparent-Grandchild Improv program. And the ideas keep coming.

 

What’s your process to embrace life?

 

It inspires a sense of joy in me that I can discuss what I’m feeling with my adult children. It’s the intellectual process of talking it that spurs creativity. It tells me I’m not afraid to think and test ideas.

It doesn’t mean I don’t feel the changes and loss.

My Friday Guys Group meets by zoom now. They are still in Deerfield. I’m in LA. They tell me I’m good to talk to. I have good ideas and at 93 I’m still helping people. They try to be supportive. And I still talk to Felice every day, albeit by telephone. She listens and offers suggestions to fix things which is a natural response.

I deeply miss walking through the rose garden and along the paths at The Chicago Botanic Garden, sitting out on the deck overlooking the pond, and watching the swans.

 

But I’m not looking to be fixed.

I’m trying to understand. It’s my son the psychiatrist who understood. “You’re trying to accept the reality of what you have. And that’s okay.”