Perhaps it’s only a sign that I’m getting older, but I’ve been thinking more and more about longevity. It’s not so much that I fear death (although who of us can say we don’t fear it at all?), as it is that I’d kind of like to know how the remaining years of my life will unfold. I accept that few of us can know the future, but wouldn’t it be good to have a positive vision for the final decades of our lives?
So often, old age is seen only as a time of decline, depression and loneliness. Call me a pollyanna if you like, but that’s not how I plan to spend my final years. Yesterday, I read a story about the death of Dr. Leila Denmark at age 114, a remarkable life span. But what really caught my attention was this detail in her obituary: she was a pediatrician who kept office hours five days a week into her 103rd year. And recently I’ve been dipping into John Robbins’ study of some of the world’s healthiest and longest-lived peoples, Healthy At 100. It’s an important book wherein Robbins brings together scientific studies of communities where people live much longer and healthier than most of us, and I’ll have more to say about it in a later post.
Today however, I want to salute longevity much closer to home: that of my own mother. I’ve just returned from a quick trip too Minnesota where my family celebrated my mother’s 90th birthday. It was a great occasion, not only because of my mother’s age, but because she continues to be so alive. Although my mother’s health isn’t perfect,
Photos: Top– my mother at home last fall. Above–celebrating her 90th with eight great grandchildren.
it is amazingly good: she lives alone, cares for herself, drives, has many friends, keeps up with her four children, five grandchildren and eight great grandchildren, loves to travel and stays well-informed on current events. As anyone who knows her will attest, it’s a pleasure to be in her company. I admire my mother, not only because she is my mother, but because in the course of living out her life she has mellowed and grown. As we’ve gotten older, our relationship has only gotten better. And maybe that’s my point, perhaps it just takes time for stress and contention to melt away, and for the fundamentally important aspects of life too emerge. Had my mother died twenty years ago, our relationship would never have had the opportunity to evolve as it has.
For those of you who dread getting older, I say, consider the positives. Yes, change comes, and we have to adjust. But why shouldn’t the last stage of our lives be the most intense and meaningful? Maybe in our final years we can learn the lessons we’ve always resisted. Maybe we’ll learn to fully appreciate each moment, to love our friends and family members as they are, and rather than seeking always more, to be content with exactly what we already have. Wouldn’t those be wonderful blessings?
I can’t tell exactly how my relationship with my mother will further evolve, but I don’t think the story is complete by any means. When I was chatting with my sister about plans for my mother’s birthday, I joked, “maybe we should just skip the 90th birthday and start making plans now for her 100th.” While one never knows, I think it’s likely my mother will be here to celebrate her 100th year. Her mother lived to be nearly 101, and my mother seems to be healthier than her mother was. As for me, I plan to keep working, to keep blogging, to exercise, to eat mostly pretty well and to hope for the best. Excuse me now, but I’m off to the gym!
N.B. Some of you may have received an earlier version of this post a few days ago. I apologize, I mistakenly hit the “publish” button before the post was finished.
My mother (second from the left) was 22 when this photo was taken on the front steps of my parents house in Pasadena, Ca. On the left is my father (holding me). On the right are my aunt Alice and uncle Gil holding cousins Joan and Jim.