Gero-Punk Reflections: Intentional Embodied Aging

By Guest Gero-Punk Essayist

Cyndi McKee


This past summer was hard. I’ve entered into autumn feeling worn-out and overwhelmed by life’s struggles. Just being a graduate student is stressful enough, but witnessing the powerplays within my university that are driving out many of the brightest stars, including my mentors, has been heart-wrenching. Other contributors to my depleted state are of my own doing, like taking on another work commitment. Still others I had no control of like the death of a furry family member, and the complicated dying and death of a friend, and helping my mother and visiting aunt navigate health problems and memory issues. In combination, these struggles feel insurmountable and my own response too often is to ignore my own self care.

When I feel overwhelmed like this, I think of my friend Marian’s words: “The best part of aging is meeting the struggles!”

When Marian first said this to me, I didn’t exactly know what she meant.

Marian is 82 and has been my friend and spiritual mentor for almost 20 years. Instead of driving she still walks to most places, she is socially active in church and community, and the last time I went to visit her, she had almost completed a 5000 piece puzzle that was displayed on her dining room table. Even after a stroke, Marian is vibrant and fully engaged in life. She’s a beautiful example of positive, graceful aging. I want to follow her example, but I worry that I’m not making the lifestyle choices now that I will need for my future.

How do I keep from feeling worn-out and overwhelmed while navigating life’s struggles?

One way is to make sure that I am nurturing all parts of myself and giving my future embodied self a foundation of well-being.  Taking care of my physical health is a big part of this process. I have had a life-long struggle with obesity.  As I reflect on the past 30 years, I am acutely embarrassed to think how long I have talked about wanting to lose weight but have continued my same habits.  With the exception of my early twenties, I have been overweight my entire adult life.

Then last fall I had one of those ah-ha moments. I was attending a Gero-Punk Salon where we were encouraged to envision our future older self.  (You too can experience this at: Future Older Selves .) We were invited to imagine our future older selves giving our current selves a message.  I imagined my older self as a slender, healthy gero-transcendent woman. But to my dismay, my older-self sadly shook her head and told me this vision was a fantasy unless I started making changes now. This was the catalyst that I needed for change and suggestions from mentors and friends have helped me to alter my relationship with food and form a commitment to exercising. It’s been an ongoing process of breaking lifelong habits and recommitting to new ones, but I’m in it for the long run.

Eating healthy and exercising is not a guarantee that I will be able to dodge disease or disability, now or in later life, but I know the lifestyle choices I make today will affect my tomorrow.  And, of course, physical wellness is just one aspect of my whole self.  Intentional embodied aging requires that I continually develop, nurture, and grow my emotional, cognitive, and spiritual self as well. Friendships and family are critical to my emotional, mental, and spiritual well being.  I believe our highest calling is “to love and be loved,” and yet, when I’m feeling worn-out and overwhelmed I tend to pull away from friends and family.  During stressful times, I will often cut-back on time with my four-year-old grandson who is my most precious source of love and joy.  My habit of pulling away is actually the exact opposite of what I need to be doing and this behavior feeds into my sense of isolation and emotional exhaustion.  Here again, I have the opportunity to intentionally create new habits of reaching out to friends and family for support instead of isolating myself.

Intentional embodied aging is a mindset of creating life-long habits that contribute to a holistic well-being plan for the future.  Intentionally developing and nurturing mind, body and spirit will increase my chances of becoming a spiritually empowered healthy older adult.  I think continued spiritual growth is, for me, the most critical piece in my aging process because my body and mind may decline in later life, but my spirit doesn’t have to.  In fact, many cultures believe that our spirits flame even brighter in Elderhood.  I’m not talking about religion, though religion often is a spiritual vehicle, but what I mean by spirituality is anything that transcends a person beyond themselves.  Developing my soul seems crucial to me and I have personally experienced transcendence through being present in nature, through love and the interconnectedness of humans and other creatures, through art and creativity, and through my own relationship with the divine.

I believe that a strong spiritual foundation will serve me well in later life. Such a foundation has certainly served my friend Marian well.  Marian has reminded me that a life worth living isn’t granted, but requires embracing life’s struggles with grace and inner strength that comes from intentional work toward embodiment. It’s a lesson that I aspire to remind myself of often.

Cyndi McKee is a grandmother, wife, and graduate student

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Gero-Punk Tribute: Safe Travels, Gramma Jewell

gramma and me

Jewell Cochran Hotz

May 25, 1922 – September 6, 2015

My beloved Gramma Jewell Cochran Hotz returned to the stars in the wee hours of the morning on Sunday, September 6th. She liked the wee hours — I have many memories of her waking up before dawn to write in her journal, take her first of many walks of the day, and get things under way before others woke up.

At the time of her death, Jewell (or “Tita,” as my Grandpa Preston called her) was 93 years of age.

Of all the relationships with humans I’ve had in this life, there’s never been one that was cleaner, so completely without resentments or unsaid grievances and disappointments. So simpatico and reciprocal.

I am fortunate that I had the opportunity to spend time with her just this past May. My Jewell was floating far away but she occasionally hovered in close to ask me pointed and precise questions: How was my daughter Isobel? How was her father Jean-David?  I was a professor at Marylhurst University, correct? My brother is Jeremy, is that right? I am Susie’s daughter? I live in Portland?

I am not ready to write anything new about my Gramma beyond this bit that I’ve written. As many of you have read previous essays in which I’ve written about my Gramma and our relationship, I wanted to share with you that she is no longer on the planet in her embodied form.  For now, I thought I’d republish some of the previous Gramma Jewell essays, in loving tribute.


If there is a particular human being who inspired me to become a gero-punk, it is my Gramma Jewell.

My small, strong, stubborn Gramma spent most of her life dreaming on behalf of others – sometimes even living vicariously through others. Her life was never quite big enough for her, so she tried her hardest to create bigger lives for the rest of us. I was the first person on either side of my family to pursue college besides my grandpa the Geologist, and I owe this to my Gramma (as well, I’ve discovered in recent years, to my mom), as she planted the notion in me like a dormant seed for some new kind of plant, and she watched over me the best she could so that strange seed in me might grow. (When I was in college and graduate school, I would send the materials for each of my courses to my Gramma—syllabi and reading lists, even books, and copies of the papers I was writing – so that she could follow my journey, think along with me, see how her dream for me was amounting to something.)

Several years ago my grandfather died of Alzheimer’s disease and soon after his death my Gramma started having a series of small strokes and she became wobbly on her feet.  Whereas she used to divide her awake time as an old woman between taking long walks, writing letters, helping with chores, and reading, now she spends most of her time sitting in her recliner reading large print books and observing the activities unfolding around her.  Her lucidity is ever-shifting so it is of benefit to sit quietly beside her for long stretches of time so you don’t miss one of her insightful questions or statements.

A particularly gripping recollection I have of me and my Gramma is from July of 2008.  My Gramma was in bed getting ready for sleep and I was called into her room to wish her a goodnight.  I snuggled-down in bed with my Gramma, she on her back, I on my right side with my arms and legs embracing her and my body curled around her.  She asked me questions to remind herself of who I was, who my daughter Isobel was, who she herself was. She asked me questions about my work and about my life in Portland. I could tell Gramma was attempting to orient herself in time, place, and space.  Eventually, as she moved closer to sleep, she cast her mind into the remote past, when she was a girl picking apples on an orchard; when she was a young married woman and mother, raising small children and helping my grandpa with his work.

Gramma was luminous there beside me in her flannel pajamas, her teeth and face freshly washed, her hair cut exactly like mine but completely silver. The smell and feel of her skin – like a soft, almost over-ripe peach – started to unwind tight tangled balls of my own memories. I had temporal distortion—Isobel had changed so much in the past year; I certainly felt time working on me; but my Gramma seemed suspended in time. And yet not.

Another deeply embodied memory of my Gramma gets stirred almost daily when I wash the dishes. As far back into my own history as I can cast my mind, my Gramma Jewell had the practice of washing dishes in a white plastic basin, and she continued this practice until my aunt moved her and my Grandpa out of their home to live with her, followed by moving my Gramma into an assisted living facility in 2010.  After that, my Gramma didn’t need to do dishes any more and, until then, my grandparents lived in the same home for decades, in Menlo Park, California, a home without a dishwasher or other modern amenities.   For my entire life, or at least as long as I can remember, they maintained the same furniture and style of dress, they rented art from the library, and their diet was sparse and uninteresting. There were other seemingly related practices of modesty, too – they walked or took public transportation rather than drive their old car.  And during one of the California drought summers, my Gramma, so as to conserve scarce water supplies, pulled up by hand all of the lawn in the front yard until all that was left was a hard earthen surface (though now I suspect it was as much about water conservation as about preventing my grandpa, who was quite a bit older than my Gramma, from having to mow the lawn). Despite all of these indicators of a kind of carefulness and frugality, never have you met more generous folks! Nor more well-traveled. In addition to helping the rest of us live as well as we could, they used their savings to visit the Wall of China, New Zealand, the British Isles…when I was little I fantasized they’d take me with them on a trip someday.

I never had the opportunity to go on a grand global adventure with my grandparents, though I do have intense memories of walking all over Menlo Park, Palo Alto, and “The City” (San Francisco), mostly with my Gramma.  I also remember my “R-and-R” trips to visit them during my late teens and early 20’s while on break from my undergraduate and graduate studies. I always looked forward to talking with my Gramma about all the books I was reading and big ideas I was thinking about.

We weren’t just Gramma and Granddaughter, we were comrades.

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Gero-Punk Pop-Up Postponed

Alas: Unfortunately, the Gero-Punk Pop-Up scheduled for tomorrow, 8/30, 10 a.m. to noon, must be cancelled and rescheduled for a later date due to inclement weather and various participants’ illnesses. Stay-tuned for future events!

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