Growing Older: It’s Better than the Alternative

Aging. I’ve been doing it my whole life, but it’s only since turning 60 that I’ve become mindful of it. I wish I’d started earlier.

If I had paid attention, I’d have stayed out of the sun, stuck with yoga, journaled more consistently, spent more time in therapy and consumed less alcohol. I’d also have spent more time with family and friends and worked more diligently at developing resilience.

For most of my adult life, I planned, in as much as one can, that I would live to at least 90 and die peacefully in my sleep, just the way the grandmother I adored did. (She’s pictured here just months shy of her 91st birthday.)

But then, my parents died: my dad in 1997 after a year-long battle with lung cancer, and my mom in 2000 in an instant due to a stroke. They were both only 70. I was in my early 40s.

That’s when I began to realize that I, too, could die at 70. Ever since, I’ve been reminding myself that if I do, I only have 25 … 20 … 15 … 10 … 9 … 8 … 7 … years left. And if that wasn’t bad enough, along comes the pandemic, making my thoughts of death even more omnipresent.

Even if I live longer than my parents, and I sure hope I do, life expectancy isn’t what it used to be. According to an article in the April AARP Bulletin, U.S. life expectancy “plunged” in the first half of 2020, primarily due to COVID-19. As a result, we Americans can expect to live a full year less now than we could have expected in 2019.[1]

The numbers are worse for African Americans and expected to worsen for all Americans as the number of COVID-19 deaths continues to rise.

But just because death is inevitable doesn’t mean that I (or any of us) should go gently into it.

That’s why I started reading about aging, including a book a found both enlightening and engaging: Successful Aging: A Neuroscientist Explores the Power of and Potential of Our Lives by Daniel Levitin.

Via it, I learned that a woman’s chances of getting Alzheimer’s disease now exceed her chances of getting breast cancer.[2] Also that two-thirds of overall risk of getting the disease is based on one’s genes, with the remaining one-third associated with environmental factors such as a history of depression or head injuries.

While Alzheimer’s doesn’t run in my family and my only head injury was when I was knocked out by a football in my early 20s, I have already undergone a Mini-Cog test during which I was I asked to remember and repeat the names of three common objects, name the president of the US and draw a clock face showing the correct time as specified by the doctor who examined me. (This was harder than I thought it would be as it’s been years since I’ve used an analog clock.)

Thankfully, my doctor had no concerns. But I do. Every time I can’t remember a person’s name or forget my coffee cup in the microwave, I wonder if it’s a sign of cognitive impairment.

I hope not. But I also realize that I might be the last to know.

Either way, the timeline of my life is getting shorter: today’s average life expectancy is 77.8 years.[3] And with the pandemic front and center, the possibility of an earlier-than-hoped-for death looms large. While I could let that depress me, instead, it’s motivating me to pay more attention to both my physical and mental health and to put family and friends ahead of work.

How about you? What, if any, changes are you making in order to enjoy the years that lie ahead and increase your own chances of aging successfully?


[1] AARP Bulletin, April 2021.

[2] Successful Aging: A Neuroscientist Explores the Power of and Potential of Our Lives by Daniel Levitin.

[3] AARP Bulletin, April 2021.

Love Finds a Way in COVID-Times

Picture a wedding. What comes to mind? White dresses, bridesmaids in matching colors, extensive guest lists, showers, bachelor/bachelorette parties, walking up the aisle, flowers and music, elaborate receptions with carefully chosen (and usually expensive) food and drink, cake, first dances, honeymoons. Gifts. Lots of gifts—at showers, for bridesmaids and groomsmen, party favors for wedding guests, and gifts for the newly married couple. Of course, this vision wasn’t always so.

During WWII many couples, including my parents, improvised their weddings. Mom and Dad rescheduled twice and finally got married on the third try. Their wedding resembled the small, intimate weddings that have become common during COVID-Times. 

For some, the simplicity has been freeing. Too often weddings take on a life of their own. The couple can become performers of a script they didn’t wholeheartedly choose. 

This spring when our sons marry, they will have the essentials: love and commitment. Close friends and family standing by to support them. Meaningful vows. A pleasing setting and celebratory food. Joy. Everything they need.

Although my parents didn’t live to see their grandsons marry, there’s a pleasing symmetry in these small COVID-style weddings. When the times call for it, love finds a way.

Our Dog Is Vegan, Too

Sadie outside screen door expecting to be let inside with her stick after failing to bring it through the dog door.

She’s following in Crystel’s footsteps who has been a vegan for over three years. Sadie helps till the soil, then comes the planting of the seeds. All last summer and winter she brought kale into the house, ripping the greenery to shreds before chewing on the stem. When Jody is making salads, Sadie waits for her portion.

Our dog Buddy used to be Trouble. Sadie is the real terror.

Crystel can no longer put a flat of seedlings on the bottom shelf of her greenhouse. Sadie thinks she’s the gardener. She’ll take out the tray. Nose the organic clump from the cell pot into its former soil mixture. She was put out when Crystel eliminated the bottom ledge. Sitting on her haunches, whining at the greenhouse.

Sadie thinks she ought to make bigger holes than what we think is necessary. Her face a ring of dirt, her feet mud sticks. We try catching her digging so we can parent properly but she knows when she is just outside of our line of sight. She is uncanny like that. I’ve become jumpy not knowing where she is.

It was no surprise that Sadie was the first to find an Easter egg in the garden. I thought she’d eat the money before I stopped her. You owe me her look said.

On walks she trails her nose on the ground. Every few feet we excavate something out of her mouth. A leaf, a stick, a ragged dried piece of a flattened squirrel, rocks, a bird wing, pinecones, even a chewed piece of gum. While we are enjoying the surroundings, she’s picking up litter. I bring an extra bag just for her. The ends of her ears are grey. I’m convinced it is because she drags them on the ground, nosing her way down the street.

Trying to keep Sadie off the pool cover is useless. It’s her water dish after it rains. A trampoline when it’s dry, jumping and leaping, round and round. 

First egg found

I told my two 18-year olds that they were easier to parent as children than the dog. They didn’t think that was much of a compliment. They know Sadie. Helped choose her. Named her. She’s a wonderful dog. We all love her. It just makes you reconsider having kids.

Sadie is the first retriever dog that we have ever had. But, boy, leave anything out and she will eat it. Even your distance learning homework. 

She’s a COVID dog. She’ll be a year old this month. I guess you could say that she’s done her part, kept up her side of the bargain. Offering us endless distraction.

Bunny in a Basket

Weather wizards are implying a decent Easter weekend. Warm enough for plastic eggs to be hidden outside amid rapidly growing daffodils while avoiding winter piles of rabbit turds.

My husband remembers Easter egg hunting as a wonderful annual event in Indiana. Every single year while our kids were growing up he was disappointed by rain, or slush, or plain old snow and would tell them about how the Easter Bunny hid eggs and treats outside when he was a child. The stories returned when a grandchild appeared. And we watched her search for plastic eggs and her basket in snow last year. This year will be different.

Now there is a reality check-my husband’s brother and sister don’t have that same Easter memory. They remember wearing winter coats to church on Easter a number of years, other years when sleet froze the daffodils, and maybe one or two years that all came together in the way he holds as the “every year” family happening. One time we took our children to Indiana for Easter and an outdoor egg hunt. Part of the drive included iced over car windows and slipping on icy roads from Indianapolis to his hometown. Not even living bunnies were out that morning.

My father’s parents had a tradition (I was told) of giving us live critters for Easter—little chicks or bunnies or a kitten. There are pictures of me as a toddler with a skeptical face as a real, live bunny sits in a pretty basket next to me. Being rural and practical, my grandparents insisted my parents take these critters home to become future egg bearers or dinner. I never heard what happed to the kitten, but I assumed it went elsewhere because my mother hated cats. And the bunny? It’s fate was settled after biting me on the finger and chin. Again, that is what I was told, and knowing the players I believe it to be true.

One year my mother and father fully celebrated the end of the Easter Vigil with friends. That night they did hide our eggs outside. My mother planted them next to the back porch and set the chocolate bunnies next to the row of colored shells to protect future egg trees. These were not plastic eggs or plastic wrapped bunnies. She was too sick to supervise the morning hunt. My dad did what he could to pull some fun into setting dirty eggs and messed up chocolate bunnies in our baskets. After church, we headed to our grandparents for clean jellybeans and the annual disagreement about taking home live chicks. 

Eventually we moved to a city. My parents changed friends. Easter became safe fun followed by Mass where we squirmed about in new church clothes. Two states south my future husband, a time or two, searched outside for eggs and other surprises appropriately hidden.

May your holiday be peaceful. Peace for our country is all I want in my basket. Save the bunny.

Healing Thoughts

What do you say when acquaintances mention on social media that they or someone in their family has a major health issue? Often, I see some version of this phrase, “Sending you healing thoughts.” I’m curious about this trend.

In recent years prayer seems to have morphed. People used to say, “I’ll pray for you,” meaning I’ll ask God/Yahweh/Allah to intervene on your behalf. Now when trouble strikes, the default phrases often are, “Thinking of you. Sending you healing energy.” 

I wonder if the change comes from a wish to be respectful of another’s spiritual beliefs, however informal or nontraditional those might be?

Or maybe people say those things when they aren’t sure of the recipient’s religious beliefs or if old-fashioned prayer will be appreciated.

Perhaps our language of concern has changed because fewer people practice the faith they were raised in. Judging from statistics, that’s a lot of Americans. Church membership is declining.

For formerly religious people, “Sending healing thoughts” may be more accurate than saying, “You’re in my prayers.”

Or perhaps social media just doesn’t feel like the place to mention something as personal as religious beliefs.

As a no-longer-practicing Catholic, I’m likely to say, “Sending you strength.” As if I can (I have no idea how or why this would work, but I want it to). At very least, I hope my friend will hear my sympathy and concern. 

Have you noticed this shift? How do you respond when you learn an acquaintance is dealing with a health issue?