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My 90-year-old stepmother lives in a nursing home now. Paul and I visited her this past weekend. It’s depressing to see a once active person slumped in a wheelchair, her mind and body brought down by Parkinson’s disease.

We don’t have a lot of choice as to what our final days will be like. No one wants to end up like my stepmother. She certainly didn’t. But beyond the uncontrollable, how do we make our final years count?

While I have a ways to go before I hit “old age,” (I turn 58 this week), I do think a lot about what I want those years to be like. Why do some people remain vital and continue on in their sunset years as they have their entire lives? Part of it depends on luck and genetics, which determine whether your body and mind remain functional. 

But given reasonable health, pursuing a passion or continuing to engage in meaningful work helps us stay alive in the fullest sense of the word. We have to remain curious. We have to stay in love with life.

The following duet between Tony Bennett, who is 86, and 70-year-old Aretha Franklin, illustrates that point beautifully. At first glance the song seems to be about love and maintaining a relationship with another person, but they could also be singing about staying in love with life.