Shedding Years: Growing Older, Feeling Youngerby Phyllis Greene
With the publication of It Must Have Been Moonglow: Reflections on the First Years of Widowhood, Phyllis Greene became a first-time author at the age of eighty-two, and her book became a runaway success. The responses of her readers have “helped me shed years,” she writes, adding that she is younger now than she was two years ago.
In Shedding Years, Phyllis Greene explores the joys and challenges of the senior years with all the warmth, humor, poignancy, and hard-won insight that made It Must Have Been Moonglow a national favorite. Humbled and moved by the hundreds of letters and e-mails she has received from those who read her first book, confused by the advantages of the new communications technology, nostalgic over the snippets and mementos she keeps to prove that “the me that was is the me that is,” Phyllis Greene offers a refreshing and uplifting look at the rewards of day-to-day life for the fastest-growing segment of our population.
“I feel liberated to be at a point in my life when I know I am beyond changing what has been,” she writes, urging her readers to “persevere with joy.” In this wonderful book, Phyllis Greene shares the miracle of how we can all shed years by immersing ourselves in the glorious world around us.
'When I was eighty, I wrote a book called It Must Have Been Moonglow: Reflections on the First Years of Widowhood, and began to shed years. I shed them in the writing; I shed them in the many responses I received; I shed them as I went on book tours and met my readers of like mind and like age. I got younger sitting at my computer. I got younger walking to the mailbox.I got younger waiting in airports! After six months, I was feeling downright giddy—if not exactly girlish.
I still look the same—with the same wrinkles, with more white in my gray hair—and I’m still sometimes a little unsteady on my feet. But I don’t feel the same. I feel good, stimulated, and rewarded. Young."
- Random House Publishing Group
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- 5.04(w) x 7.42(h) x 0.73(d)
Read an Excerpt
The President of the United States has asked me to get on with the business of living. It is something I have been asking of myself as well; so, at least, we are in political agreement on that score. I am, ideologically, so far to his left that I am not even in the same room with him; but I am, indeed, in the same country. I have been with him since the World Trade Center disaster, and I salute him. So often we have heard members of the clergy say, “. . . and pray for our president,” and I have not even really heard the words. On the six-month anniversary of that terrible day of 9/11, as I was falling asleep, I thought of the tremendous burden that is with George W. Bush daily, hourly, every minute—the responsibility for all of us in this world of turmoil—and I did pray for him, in a very personal way.
With a long history of being a cooperative person, I want to do as the president asks. It's the “getting on” part that I am still unsure about. Since publishing It Must Have Been Moonglow, however, I have received some remarkable advice from readers whose courage, stamina, and empathy have pointed me in the direction of another book. What their correspondence has done for me has helped me shed years. I am younger at eighty-two than I was at eighty. If putting my life on paper and making friends in the process is rejuvenating, then I see a large investment in ink-jet printer refills, and much to write before I sleep.
One evening at a dinner table, I heard about a woman who, at age sixty-five, decided that she was simply going to stop counting birthdays ahead and would count them backward. Thus, when she turnedsixty-six she chose, instead, to be sixty-four. She started back down. She kept this up for a number of years, calculating her age in her own unique way, not only to her friends and acquaintances, but to the bureau of motor vehicles. With each change of age, she changed her hair color, too. How long this went on, how well she got away with it—whether it is a slightly exaggerated story—I am not sure. But it shows a pretty good attitude.
For some reason, I remember being forty-two as the best age to be. When I stop to examine why that is the year I choose, it must be that my children were fourteen, twelve, and eight; I was no longer wrapped up in domestic dailiness and could find a place for myself in the greater community; my husband knew where he was in his career and where he was going; life's problems were present, but they were solvable. So now that I am eighty-two, and if the counting-back theory from sixty-five can work, I'll be ninety-seven when I turn forty-two. There are worse goals to have.
I had an aunt who was so full of love that it spilled out of her—to old friends everywhere, to friends she had just met, to relatives with whom she corresponded voluminously, and, most especially, to her sister's firstborn: me. And to my children. She remembered each and every birthday by telling each child, whatever birthday it was, that they had reached the best age that anyone could be: two, ten, fifteen, thirty. Just reach that year and it will be a wonderful year. When I turned eighty, I missed her especially. Would she think that was the best year? “Yes,” I can tell her. “Yes, in many ways.”
I feel liberated to be at a point in my life when I know I am beyond changing what has been. For good or bad, I have done what I have done, have chosen whatever I chose, have lived how I have lived. (Of course, I still have to do my best until 2016, when I celebrate that forty-second birthday!) That is a freeing feeling. We do not have to dwell on the past. It is too late for “what ifs.” We can be thankful for who we have become, whoever we are; know that we have made the journey the best way we knew how; forget the stumbles; and continue to turn the wheel of our life.
Loneliness Is Not Just for Widows Anymore
In the general miasma of sadness that lies over the country, loneliness is not confined only to widows and widowers; and yet, to each widow or widower there is a specific trigger that evokes a special sadness, as I have learned from the readers of It Must Have Been Moonglow.
In the months after the book appeared, hundreds of poignant e-mails and snail mails arrived. On so many days, I wept as I read of courageous caretaking, of utter and abject despair, of a desire to cope so as not to burden the children, of struggles to find grief relief. Every person who wrote seemed to find some small comfort in knowing that there are so many of us on this journey together.
What I heard most often was that we were GeorgeandLouise or JackandMolly or BillandMary. There must be many American Bobs; I heard from JoanandBob and MarthaandBob and EricaandBob. A lot of widows were missing their Bobs; maybe they felt particularly compelled to write me because they knew how much I was missing mine.
The most frequent comment was, “You made me feel so normal.” Or variations: “You must have been living in my house” or “living in my mind”; or “wow, it sounds like my life” and “I could almost write a similar book. It would be titled Stardust.” I'm glad they didn't: these correspondents are so articulate and eloquent that they could well have been published before I even thought about making a book from my journal maunderings!
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