The Gift of Years: Growing Older Gracefully

Recently Linda and I attended a class taught by our friend and  retired Methodist minister, Sue Gibson.  The class was based on the book The Gift of Years: Growing Older Gracefully by Joan Chittister.

Although this was a book about growing older I found many of the lessons thought-provoking for those of any age.

“Old age is not when we stop growing. It is exactly the time to grow in new ways. That period in which we set out to make sense of all the growing we have already done. It is the softening season when everything in us is meant to achieve its sweetest, richest, most unique self.”

Lifelong learning

Living life to the fullest means active aging. One thing that can make the difference between healthy and unhealthy aging is lifelong learning. According to the Harvard University Longitudinal Study of Adult Development, continued learning determines “the degree to which life will be satisfying to us.” It also determines the degree to which we will be interesting, valuable, life-giving to others. Learning projects that keep elders’ minds active also expands their horizons. Additional it gives them them opportunities to be in community with others on retreats, study groups, or in online e-courses.

In a series of short, bright, and snappy chapters, Chittister provides a tour of other elements of growing older gracefully. As I listened to the audiobook I found myself thinking of songs that seemed appropriate for the topic at hand. Each week I posted these songs on a new website, Sue’s Classroom. You can click the hyperlink to the left or click on “Sue’s Classroom” from the menu at the top of this page to see these selections.

Growing Older in the United States Today

Growing older in the United States today really means, according to the latest statistics and research findings.

• By 2020, 18 percent of the country will be over 65.

• In 2005, only 7 percent of those between 75 and 84, and only 25 percent of those over 84, need help with personal care.

• Decrepitude and incapacitation that come with age are, on average, only about the last three months of life. Even then, mental clarity is more likely to remain to the end. “Clearly, life does not end till it ends.”

• Only 5 percent of those over 65 are in special-care institutions. And 80 percent of the rest of the older population have no limitations in managing the rigors of daily living.

• Old age is no longer a custodial care proposition. “Grandma does not ‘live in’ anymore. She is far more likely to live alone, in her own home or apartment, drive a car into her eighties, and volunteer at the library.”

• Old brains are no less intellectually competent than young brains. “Scientists have discovered that older people, while not as quick computationally as younger people, do think just as well as the young, but differently — with more depth, with more reflection, with more philosophical awareness.”

Tips For Growing Older Gracefully

Our 60s 70s and 80s can be some of the most satisfying years of our lives. For sure our physical health isn’t what it used to be. However, if we choose to see them there are many blessings. Consider just the following three examples:


We have more time. We can use this time to study, pursue leisure activities, volunteer, deepen our spirituality, etc.


Our lifetime of experiences give us the ability to think differently — with more depth, more reflection, more philosophical awareness.


Stay busy. Cultivate relationships both old and new. Find opportunities to volunteer. Check on others who may be shut ins and would enjoy the companionship as well as meals, etc.


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4 Responses to The Gift of Years: Growing Older Gracefully

  1. Brenda says:

    Food for thought, and music for contemplation. Thanks, Brad!

  2. Kathy Wilkinson says:

    You inspired me to read the whole book. Just checked it out of the library.

  3. Barbara Baldwin says:

    Thank you Brad for this thoughtful post and the remarks on Joan’s book. I look forward to reading the book. Aging is so different now with good health and the availability of great healthcare. My step mother is 95 and we’re looking forward to playing golf with her on her birthday in July……She is a blessing to us.

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