It’s a glorious spring day and after a quick garden tour Di and I settle into cups of tea on the back terrace, overlooking the valley. Our paths have crossed for many years and already I know that our conversation will be a rich and enjoyable one. In seeking out positive and very different examples of people living well in their later years I knew Di had to be on my list.
She has written books about Elderhood and conducts workshops around transitions in later life, the most recent being held in Italy. Her mind is alive with creative insights into ageing. https://dipercy.com
This is a recent friendship. But on a few occasions we have met I have been drawn to her thoughtful, calm presence and her wisdom.
As we settle into our outdoor nest I know this will be special…..
Di comes prepared and has crafted her story so it flows like a gentle stream of thoughts. There’s form and shape to the conversation. What are the influences on who I am today? What did I learn from the experience? I smile.
Di says she is “racing towards 70” and finds herself thinking forward into the years ahead rather than retreating from them. She is stylish, articulate and with a warm engaging smile. I sit back and listen.
Her childhood was spent in a largely dysfunctional family setting that provided financial certainty but a general climate of stress and unhappiness. When the mood changed in the family she learned how to “get out of the way.” Growing up in this setting taught her a keen sense of observation and ways of self- protection in a stressful and volatile family climate.
Di had her daughter at the age of 18 and says “ Kim is the heart of my life.” Di raised her daughter as a single parent, after her brief marriage collapsed. This life experience taught her practical ways to navigate the world of work, parenting and survival. She learned at a young age that life was not just about creativity and vision. It was hard work. These life lessons shaped her resilience and independence. Di talks about the restorative power of music and singing to heal. “Music saved my life” she says and it continues to be a nourishing, rejuvenating influence in her life. She touches a nerve in my own experience of music as a healing power and I think of the quote that I came across some years ago- “Music is moral law. It gives soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, charm and gaiety to life and to everything.” Plato, I think.
When interviewing people I try not to intervene in the story and disrupt the flow. But so much of what Di talks about connects with my experience too and I have to acknowledge this. I understand what she is saying at a deep level. Being hyper-alert to changes in family temperature and cultivating self reliance and a rich internal world. But back to the story……..
Di remarried and after a long and eventful life together, her husband became ill and died last year.
Di says on her website…………
Transitions are part of the rhythm of life. Sometimes we try to avoid them or rush through in haste to arrive somewhere new. Then we miss the power and potential of transition, the in-between stage. That is the time of initiation.
She quietly reflects on the changes made since May last year, following her husband’s death –packing up and selling the family farm and livestock. Sorting through her husband’s life time of belongings, remembering shared memories and walking in the shadow of grief. There’s a weariness in her eyes when she describes this recent major event in her life. Glimpses of a future life also emerge and Di talks about also seeing a new direction in her work, the opportunity to grow, adventure and reshape her life.
I ask her about her professional life. How has she arrived at this place of thinking about transitions, elderhood and the next stage of her life’s work? She says that writing is a large part of her work at this time. Writing is an immersive, consuming activity and she is redrafting her book on Elderhood. Di has been interviewed for podcasts talking about her work and ideas. She also takes people on pilgrimages of guided self-discovery in nature.
Di has worked as a counsellor and psychotherapist, a corporate consultant, board member, mentor and lecturer. But now her own transitions intertwine with her work in helping others navigate their own journey into Elderhood. As the gentle spring sun shines on our conversation I look at Di and see a fragility but also the grace and willingness to engage in our conversation.
I ask her these questions
What do you like about life at this age?
I’m doing what I love. I work with people whom I like. What’s important has shifted. I’m not as driven as I used to be and I don’t feel compelled to have to achieve and do things. Life is more relaxed. I’m an introvert and enjoy my time alone. There’s a difference between loneliness and being alone.
What are the challenges you face at this age?
The changes in physicality surprise me at times! Physical health and fitness is the biggest challenge. Writing is a sedentary activity and without the farm to keep me active my fitness has gone down-hill. Our conversation travels into stand-up desks, walking and hiking and various efforts to try and increase our fitness levels.
What are the things that are still on your bucket list?
Di says, I’m not so comfortable with the idea of bucket lists but I have things I definitely would like to do. I want to claim my mischievousness, the twinkle in my eye and see the funny side of things. I want to develop my writing, publish my two books and develop a more creative approach to my public speaking. But there’s no rush. I tend to leap rather than taking a step at a time. I have to keep telling myself that I still have 30 years ahead of me….give or take a few!
I also want to travel but it’s not so much about the place. Travel for me is about meeting like-minded people. Recently my time spent in Italy at the conference was so wonderful. I want to do more of this kind of travel.
I’m also drawn to Ireland. I want to immerse myself in the world of Irish people and the wilderness of Ireland.
What are the key messages you would give to others about ageing well?
Di does not hesitate. “ find beauty” she says. Beauty is not an attractive face or a new outfit. There’s beauty all around you – in nature, in what people can do or say, in reading, music, poetry. Beauty energises. Its impossible to feel anger/ angst or depression when you see beauty in the world around you.
I mention how photography has been a way for me to see differently. I see so many things around me that are simple and beautiful. I notice a leaf, the texture of a tree trunk, the shape of a vase or urn.
Di is reminded of a quote from Pascal “ Always keep something of beauty in your mind.” And also “Beauty is a harmonious relationship between something in our nature and the quality of the object which delights us.”
My time with Di has been a joyful insight into her world. I sense there is so much more and our brief hour has danced across the surface of many bigger issues. Pearls are often used as a metaphor for wisdom. Having spent an hour with Di, I resort to this sometimes overused image. ..because it works! I have been in the presence of a rare pearl. A woman who has done the work, she knows herself, she has finely tuned communication skills and a lust for life that is finding new expression. There’s a fragility as she works with her own transitions but there’s also a polish, calm and depth that draws people to her. Di’s work is hugely important as we redefine ageing, peel away ageist stereotypes and create a new way of thinking about people living their later years. Di isn’t hugely comfortable with being called a Thought Leader, but I see her work as disrupting our mental models of ageing and challenging people to engage fully in the transition to Elderhood.
To quote from Di’s website…….
There’s a life stage beyond childhood and adulthood more rich and noble than old age where we can become whole and free.
A time that gives meaning and purpose to the decades that shape the last third of our lives.
A time of gathering our inner gifts, our life wisdom, and sharing it.
A time to respond to the yearnings of our soul.
A time to enter a transformation as profound as the caterpillar becoming the butterfly.
Elderhood calls to us all, but is chosen by few.
Earlier this year, Di traveled to San Francisco and spoke to New Dimensions Radio about the life transition of ‘Becoming an Elder: Practicing the Wisdom Arts’. The podcast is available on her site https://dipercy.com