As a younger woman, I looked around me at the hair dyes that older women were using to colour their greys and decided I would never do such a thing. People should accept the aging process gracefully, I philosophized back then, not try to fight it with hair dyes, wrinkle creams, cosmetic surgery and clothes designed for the young and sexy. The quest to grasp eternal youth seemed a vain attempt to recapture years that had come and gone. How much better it would be to accept a new stage of life with grace, dignity and resignation than attempt to disguise its presence, I thought.
Of course, the moment my brunette locks began showing signs of grey, I changed my tune fast. I was too young to go grey, I argued with my inner self as I hit my early 40s. I wasn’t ready to be classified as an old lady, which is what those grey hairs seemed to irrevocably signify. I reached for the hair dyes, root rescues and highlights, and haven’t looked back since.
I realize now how difficult it is to release the youthful, carefree spirit of the 20s and 30s and accept the worries and fears that go hand-in-hand with aging. It’s definitely a privilege to age in good health – something not everyone gets to enjoy. Why complain about sore backs, grey hair, flabby arms and wrinkled skin when others are dealing with cancer diagnoses?
“I’m a breast cancer survivor,” a new friend confessed in my kitchen recently, as we sliced veggies for crudités. My jaw dropped as she launched into an explanation of the treatment and surgery that had changed her life in recent months. Down the road, another friend who just turned 50 was celebrating a new lease on life after a year of numbing chemotherapy and radiation. “Life isn’t for sissies,” my aunt whispered as she confessed her own series of ailments, grateful to be celebrating milestones with her family rather than six feet under.
Closer to 50 now than 40, I’m acutely aware of how lucky I am to be strong and healthy. But when I catch my reflection in the mirror, I’m consistently stunned. There must be a mistake, I think to myself. The person I expect to see is 32 because that’s how I feel. The one who looks back at me is clearly 47.
I see new moms in bright summer dresses walking babies in strollers and am shocked at how young they look. That was me just the other day, my mind insists. And yet, the facts stare back at me, insisting otherwise. My oldest baby is now 19. The new mom days are far behind me.
Still, the years have added wisdom and experience to my life portfolio, something those slender new moms have not yet acquired. I have wrestled with the grief that comes with losing one parent to cancer and am watching bravely as another declines into the abyss of dementia, while trying my utmost to maintain his quality of life. On good days, I realize I’ve grown adept at managing a household. The birthday cards I receive from my children suggest I’ve done a decent job of raising a family.
I’m fit as a fiddle and confident enough to take on new challenges, no longer second-guessing my ability to succeed. I’ve earned my laugh lines and wrinkles with courage and stamina. I pray that these attributes will help me survive the years ahead, though I know for sure that whatever’s coming will challenge my limits.
I’m in the afternoon of my life, a period in which my presence attracts no wolf whistles, no lingering gazes of appreciation like it once did. I’d be lying if I claimed not to miss the attention. Still, I’m determined to enter this stage of my life with humility, grace, pride – and hair dye. I’m still far from ready to embrace the grey.