By Tina Sloan
After twenty-six years playing a nurse- Lillian Raines- on the soap opera Guiding Light, I learned a great deal about surviving the pitfalls of growing older in front of the world. From depleted storylines, to transitioning from diva to a grandmother, I finally decided to embrace aging and to stop fighting a battle I simply couldn’t win! It was hard to face the fact that there was no answer, no fountain of youth and no perfect cure for aging except to accept the changes.
Ah, yes, the changes of aging: shedding the high sexy heels and putting on the low black flats, noticing out of the blue the saggy, saggy arms which forced me to abandon strapless dresses - to pack them all up to send to my niece while sobbing shamelessly as I put one youthful dress after another into the UPS box. Packing up a lifetime of memories, memories of Hawaiian nights and romantic days and sending them all into her life and away from mine. Then the moment of admitting the wrinkles lining mouth and eyes and cheeks meant I needed to put on makeup before I ventured out to mail a letter because as luck would have it, the minute I stepped outside looking like an old coconut—unkempt with dirty hair and no makeup, wearing yoga pants and a tee shirt—I bumped into The One Who Got Away. I was on my way to the gym when I ran into him. He of course looked impeccable in his khaki pants and lavender tailored shirt tucked in. I was completely disheveled, and when I spotted him I instantly turned and walked into the nearest deli for fear he would see me. Standing there breathless by the cantaloupes, I felt like I was in a bad detective novel. What had my life become? Of course he headed straight towards me; he had seen me. I started to walk quickly towards the back of the store when I heard his voice, “Tina? I thought it was you, but I wasn’t sure. How are you?”
I was trapped. I tried to be carefree. “Never better,” I replied unconvincingly, and after a few moments of stilted conversation, I escaped. But there was no getting around it; he had caught me looking my worst. I had no doubt he had walked out of the deli and instantly called his wife to celebrate the fact he had married her and not me.
Then there are the moments of forgetfulness hidden by laughing at one’s “forgetfulness,” the aches and pains after a round of tennis or golf or just a long walk or a game of bridge, the great sadness of losing our best pals, the determination to stay in the game, the joy of our grandchildren, the white hair, the tummy right out there for the world to see, the love of gardening and being in nature, the romance of one’s husband when he moves back into the house full-time after he retires, the bruising on the skin as the skin gets thinner. These are all life as it moves on and we can embrace it or run from it. If we run, it means face lifts and arm lifts and hair coloring and dieting - if we embrace it, it means we keep engaging with life and not trying to live what was. What was won’t come again, so it is time to embrace What is, and get on with the life that we are lucky enough to have.
For twenty-six years, Tina Sloan played the role of nurse Lillian Raines on Guiding Light, which aired its final episode in 2009 after a seventy-two-year run on radio and television. Sloan has appeared on many other television shows, including Search for Tomorrow, Law & Order: SVU, and in a variety of feature films, including The Brave One and Changing Lanes. She is currently shooting two feature films and touring nationally in her acclaimed one-woman show, “Changing Shoes.” She lives in New York. Her new book is called CHANGING SHOES: Getting Older – Not Old – With Style, Humor and Grace (Gotham Books, Sept 16, 2010)