On the verge of her 75th birthday,
Andrea Gilats woke up one morning last May to a revelation. “That impending birthday sparked a sudden leap of consciousness in me,” said the author, educator, artist and yoga instructor. “I realized I was about to enter true old age, and I felt shocked and scared.

“I began reading books on aging,” said Gilats, a longtime Macalester-Groveland resident who now lives in downtown Saint Paul. “I realized that I wanted to write about my personal experience of aging. So for the past two months I’ve been working on a memoir that’s tentatively titled, Intimations of My Mortality: A Memoir from the Edge of Old Age.

retirees
Saint Paul author, educator, artist and yoga instructor Andrea Gilats. Photo by Brad Stauffer

“For over a decade, I’ve been interested in how we age and how we can savor our later lives,” said Gilats, who retired in 2012 after 34 years working at the University of Minnesota. “The final program I developed at the U was Encore Transitions: Preparing for Post-Career Life.”

Gilats’ first memoir, After Effects: A Memoir of Complicated Grief, about the death of her husband from cancer in 1998, is due out next year from the University of Minnesota Press. “The COVID-19 pandemic has led to unprecedented loss of life, and I’m hoping my memoir can serve as both respite and helpmate for people who are suffering,” she said. Similarly, she hopes her next memoir will show people how aging can bring with it great accomplishments and fulfillment.

Gilats has been awarded a Next Step Grant from the Minnesota State Arts Board’s Metropolitan Regional Arts Council. With it, she is creating a website to promote her books and share excerpts from her works in progress.

 

Giving voice to what one has to offer is important, especially for women at her stage of life, Gilats said. “This is one of the things that’s missing as we all get older, after the conclusion of our careers and parenting,” she said. “We end up in silence. Not only do we not hear each other’s voices, the voices are not being handed down to future generations. Our thoughts and opinions and knowledge from our experiences need to be heard and valued.”

Giving voice to what one has to offer is important, especially for women at her stage of life, Gilats said. “This is one of the things that’s missing as we all get older after the conclusion of our careers and parenting,” she said. “We end up in silence. Not only do we not hear each other’s voices, the voices are not being handed down to future generations. Our thoughts and opinions and knowledge from our experiences need to be heard and valued.”

 

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Gilats founded and spent 20 years as the director of the U of M’s Split Rock Arts Program, an annual series of workshops in the literary and visual arts. During those years, she created her own art, including paintings and knitted shawls portraying the world’s continents. Her shawls of Africa and Central America were exhibited at the U of M’s Goldstein Museum of Design and were auctioned off in a fundraiser for the Wellstone Center and Neighborhood House.

By 2010, Gilats had become a yoga instructor, which led to the writing of her first book, Restoring Flexibility: A Gentle Yoga-Based Practice to Increase Mobility at Any Age. She led hundreds of yoga classes for people ages 45 to 98 at such locales as the West Seventh Community Center and the Wilder Foundation’s Center for Aging.

“Old age is not a disease,” she said. “Far from it. Most of us do pretty darn well on this journey, and I want to share with readers how I’m faring. There’s so much to share in later life. And especially now, when we’re socially isolated, that sharing is truly life giving.”

Gilats worked on After Effects: A Memoir of Complicated Grief for the past three years. “It chronicles my 20-year struggle with prolonged grief disorder, a journey that ultimately resulted in a profound reconsideration of what it means to be happy in a life without my beloved partner,” she said. “I also came to know that writing was my calling.

“This past spring and early summer, as I was reading and making notes for my memoir about aging, it occurred to me that a favorite verse from William Wordsworth’s poem about aging, ‘Intimations of My Immortality,’ would make an ideal structure.” The verse, she said, “struck a deep chord in me. From these lines I created seven chapter titles: My Radiance is No Longer Bright, Faith Looks Through Death, Nothing Can Bring Back the Hour, What Remains, My Philosophic Mind, Intimations of Mortality and Splendor in the Grass.

“I’m using those chapter titles as a kind of guide or outline, and telling my life stories of how it feels as I begin a new journey, the journey of old age, one of the most rewarding times of life, but also one of the most complicated,” Gilats said.

“Old age is not a disease,” she said. “Far from it. Most of us do pretty darn well on this journey, and I want to share with readers how I’m faring. There’s so much to share in later life. And especially now, when we’re socially isolated, that sharing is truly life giving.”

—Anne Murphy

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