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The Aging Lesson I Learned From My Great GrandMother

Kim Friedman Landau 1 1

Lifestyle Kuel Life Contributor: Kim Friedman Landau

There must have been more light than usual during one of my nocturnal visits to the bathroom. As I glanced in the mirror, groggy from my slumber, something about my image seemed different, causing me to pause and stare.

Does my neck really have that much loose skin and wrinkles?? While watching my elders and now my peers age, I have always been smugly pleased with the fact that I do not have any excess fat on my neck or a “double chin”. The rest of me is inevitably becoming more rounded with age, but my neck has mostly remained angular. I do notice that when my face is in repose, the skin is droopier around the mouth and chin, so I just delete any pictures of me looking like that and try to smile a lot! My fingers reached up to the skin folds on my neck and gave them some gentle pulls. It wasn’t a trick of the light or my grogginess – much of the elasticity and muscle tone loss has been plain to see right under my nose yet obscured from my consciousness! I was horrified, yet a sense of something deeper than that started niggling in my brain and led me to find the same phenomena occurring on the back of my hands.

A feeling of resignation soon followed and after five minutes of a self-thrown “pity party”, the sweet memory of my maternal great grandmother, Mama, flowed through me and helped soothe away those pesky wrinkles in my psyche. Mama was quite the fierce woman, a single mom and feminist way ahead of her time; divorcing her husband and taking a lover in her native Russia during the late 1800’s. We heard stories about her selling cigarettes to the Cossacks to support her family and she came to the USA on her own with her three small children.

The Mama I knew as a little girl was a wizened old woman with some form of dementia who lived in a rooming house. She had a fridge in her room always filled with her homemade jello waiting for us to gobble up when we visited. The dementia made her even more eccentric than she probably was already and I have clear memories of her taking the clunky rotary telephone, putting it in a pillow case, sewing it shut and hiding it under the bed before leaving her room to go out.

More importantly, however, is that Mama was warm and loving towards us and fully embraced her role as the elderly matriarch with all that entailed including aged, wrinkled and non-elasticized skin! She would sit and encourage us to play with that skin on the back of her hands. We could raise the folds and they would stay in place for a while as we giggled with glee.

I loved making “walls” with the lifted skin pretending I was building a castle. 

It obviously did not hurt her, and she would delight in the fact that her withering hands were such a source of entertainment for us. Mama’s whole life seemed to be about bucking norms – she was a woman who tackled challenges in her own way, and it is just now that I can see her clearly as an admirable role model. Toward the end of her journey, she had no shame, denial, nor rejection of her aging body. Instead, she embraced the laws of nature and turned it all into fun for her great grandchildren. Mama died at age 95 when I was still a young girl, leaving her wisdom to sit dormant and not understand by me for a long time.

The years and generations passed and here I am at age 63 looking in the mirror and seeing the very same signs of aging that Mama shared with us as children. That image during the night threw me right back to her little room and the castles I created on her hands. What lessons Mama is teaching me now, so long after her death! I could artistically wrap scarves around my neck, like the ones I admire on other women, but they make me feel like I am choking. Wearing turtleneck shirts all year would obscure the evidence, but that would probably revive the hot flashes I left behind several years ago. A dermatologist would happily give me collagen injections and sell me some fancy cream while promising to abolish my dreaded “turkey neck”.

I support every woman for tackling this chapter of her life however she chooses, yet none of these paths feel right for me.

Just as letting my hair grow naturally gray is completely comfortable for me, I am going to ignore the obvious signs of aging that my neck is offering. I plan on honoring my great grandmother Mama and the next time we see our two years old grandson I will delight in showing him how to build his very own castles on my hands.

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About the author:

Kim Friedman Landau is a 63 year old retired medical social worker who lives in Boston.  She is an avid bicyclist, walker, crafter, cook, volunteer, partner, mother, sister, friend and now writer. After having cancer at age 51, Kim decided that life was a journey to be treated as an ongoing series of adventures. She is having a blast trying new things and exploring new ways to grow as a person. Blogging about what she is always learning is her latest joy.