My generation knows how to age in style, we prefer to be flamboyant than invisible

When my father died, it was sudden. Heart attack. No warning. When time passed and I was trying to fill dad’s shoes, my heartbroken beloved mother looked at the floor and whispered, “We’re in trouble, aren’t we?” I didn’t understand, so she clarified, ‘How am I going to pay for everything?’ I explained to her that I was there for her but that she was fine financially. But what she meant was that she had never dealt with a bank, insurance company, gas or electric. My father had done all that.

There was a setback. When I was little, on the rare occasions my mom left me and dad alone, the only thing he could cook for lunch and dinner was coconut ice cream. Mind you, I can still taste that gnarly sweet dough, so in terms of memorable feasts, fair play for him.

Although not all old people age the same way, I have seen many whose decline resembled that of my mother. Until his death in the late 80s, his world shrunk considerably. I tried so hard to encourage her, but she avoided even the smallest challenges. Some of my watching friends predicted that when we ourselves grew old, we would be exactly the same.

I’m not so sure. For starters, this traditional lifelong division of labor often meant that when one partner died, the other simply couldn’t cope. In contrast, most of us have lived alone. It was no longer the norm for us to move from the parental home to the marital home. After college, I shared with groups of friends, and in my thirties, I did a long stint alone. Indeed, the number of single-person households in the UK is large and continues to grow. Now, I’m not saying my generation has struck the right balance. Far from there! But it helped me learn how to handle a faucet. And much more.

Of course, 20 years from now many of us adults don’t know if we will have enough money or if there will be enough care resources for everyone. We don’t know if we’ll be crippled or demented. But the majority of baby boomers, in numbers, are almost certain to redefine old age, in part because even though we complain about our youth-centric culture, we still tend to align ourselves with a younger generation. Unlike my parents, who shackled seamlessly through each decade in both dress and action, we’ve dragged our youth with us our entire lives. And we hesitate to let go. In other words: I can’t see my friends – if they’re still composed mentis – lined up in an old person’s common room, doing as they’re told.

Even the fact that we are now working longer tends to stretch middle age. And even though we came late to the digital party, we are closing that gap. Just watch daytime TV – jam-packed with advertisements for online dating sites for the over 50s. Sure, they mingle with those in the easy-to-access showers, but we confused the marketers, you see – they can’t decide whether to help us bathe or fuck.

Many trips have also shaped us. At any moment I can remember elephants in the African bush, chaotic roundabouts in Delhi, icebergs in the Arctic. It sounds like a cliché, but visiting other lands and cultures has broadened my horizons. So even when my world shrinks, I will start from a considerably larger base.

We are also more demanding. Perhaps because baby boomers have long been spoiled—we never experienced the hardships my parents endured—we expect more from life. And we’re less intimidated too. A white medical coat doesn’t make me blank or acquiescent. No, I’m going straight to Dr. Google so I can steer the poor consultant with some pointed questions.

And in simple terms, we will not wear the uniform of the old. Because we don’t have a “look” defined now. Take hairstyles. Decades ago, at age 60, women had a perm. End of. Unless you were classy, ​​in which case you cut it short. Today, everything is permitted. I have long hair and I don’t plan on cutting it yet. And while I find the lilac and green streaks a rather obvious rebellion, I applaud the individuality. I’d rather be seen as flamboyant than invisible.

So this is how I imagine my geriatric self, provided I always keep my marbles on. If my husband dies first, I’m more likely to travel to Varanasi to scatter his ashes than find the courage to rescind his standing orders. I wear red when I go out and kimonos when I’m indoors. And vintage shoes. When I’m in the hospital, curled up in bed discussing pills, I’ll refer to my iPad 29 and look up the meds they put me on – then message my friends so that they’re smuggling gin. Of course, I’ll probably end up in a good pickle. But it won’t be the same pickle as my mother’s. I hope it will have more bite.