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.
Ronnie Citron-Fink said:
So hard as our parents get older. My in-laws are in their 90’s. They’ve slowed down to a crawl, but my father-in-law still drives! Very scary.
Aretha and Tony…doesn’t get much better than that.
Yes, the driving thing is a hard one to give up, I imagine. All the more reason to live somewhere where the car is not an absolute necessity.
Leslie in Portland, Oregon said:
Happy Birthday, Judith, you Spring Chicken!!
You beautifully express the answer to your question in your next-to-last paragraph. For me, learning how to respond in a life-affirming way to accumulating loss, as the people who have been among the closest to me have died, has become the most challenging part of staying in love with life.
On a related note: I just finished Chasing Matisse and thought of you as I read the portions describing the Morocco Matisse loved (especially pp.172-195. Check it out, if you can, before your upcoming trip!
Thank you Leslie for the birthday wishes and the book recommendation! Accumulating loss is very hard. I experienced my biggest losses early in life — though I know there will be more to come. But even in the process of grieving, I think/hope that finding joy and beauty in the little things will help.
Heather in Arles said:
I was so touched by this Judith. By the music, by your thoughts and reasoning. A wonderful gift to us for your Birthday. With all of my heart, I am wishing you a wonderful one and a fantastic year ahead…it certainly is going to get off to quite a start!
In love with life is the challenge. To me that means to keep following your passion, which you should never retire from. Who came up with the concept and term “retirement”? We need to delete it from our vocabulary. Thanks for sharing music duet and Happy Belated Birthday.
Agreed, Mary Lou. One wants to continue being and feeling useful in the world. Thanks for the birthday wishes, older son arrives today with 9 other musicians and he’s staying on to help with a belated celebration.
D. A. Wolf said:
Also joining the chorus to wish you a happy birthday. (The video is wonderful.)
As you say, we can hope for good genetics and a healthy dose of luck, and beyond that – do what we can to remain engaged. I find that when the generations intermix (as they do in Europe more readily), that’s helpful to all involved. Kids love the tender tales of their (much) elders, the elders can assist with kids and teens and that keeps them feeling vital and connected. it’s a win-win-win all the way around.
Something I wish we would try to recapture, if we could.
Judith A. Ross said:
I like this, D.A. It will be interesting to witness this in Morocco in a few weeks. My son, who is there with the Peace Corps had a host family there who had a 100-year-old grandmother living with them. He treated her to her first slice of homemade pizza!
Perhaps the current trend of adult children coming home to live with their parents will provide the positive side effect of making intergenerational mixing more common here in the states.
Kathy Gottberg said:
Hi Judith… you’re just barely beating me to 58! I will join you on my birthday next month. I too am saddened when I see older people like your stepmother in such debilitated condition. My mother was very similar although she went through much of the same in her 70s rather than her 90s. My father however, having seen what my mother went through, took a very different approach and showed me and the rest of my family that sometimes we DO have some choices about how we will end up. That is what I am choosing to focus on as I age…. For anyone who is interested in what I learned from my dad–here is a blog post that details the story… http://smartliving365.com/five-lessons-i-learned-from-dad-and-other-thoughts-about-fathers-day/ I also believe it is important to approach aging as though we can contribute to some of it in a healthier way (both mentally and physically.) Of course there is no magic bullet and stuff happens for sure…the big thing is to appreciate every single day we have and life our lives to the fullest. Thanks again for a thought-provoking post and “Happy Birthday!”
Judith A. Ross said:
Kathy, Thanks for sharing that link. You have some terrific advice in there. The point about maintaining a close circle of relationships really resonated with me. Friendships, especially require care and attention or else they fade away. I also liked your point about a willingness to share. Being a tightwad isn’t just about money, those who are stingy about sharing themselves are also not good candidates for friendship in my book.