That’s the day I’m expected to die according to DeathClock, billed as “the Internet’s friendly reminder that life is slipping away.”
While I don’t believe my death will occur on that particular day and do hope I’ll live quite a bit longer than age 79, I find myself thinking both about the quantity and quality of the years I have left, no doubt prompted by the fact that I will turn 65 in a month.
On the short end of my projected lifeline, I think of my parents, both of whom died at age 70, my dad after a year-long battle with lung cancer (no surprise as he smoked for 50+ years) and my mom in an instant from a heart attack linked to Vioxx, the drug she was taking to help manage her arthritis (a drug reported to triple the risk of heart attack). If I die at their age, I have five years left.
On the other hand, if I live as long as my maternal grandmother and my paternal grandfather, I have 25 years left.
Either way, I hope to stay mentally, physically and emotionally healthy so that I can spend my time doing things I enjoy and making a difference in the lives of others.
So whether my death comes next year, in 2036 as predicted by DeathClock or, as I hope, years after becoming a healthy centenarian, I am determined to hear the ticking clock as a call to action rather than a countdown to my final days. I hope you are as well as I’d love to have you and all Word Sisters along for the journey.
The isolation brought on by the pandemic has taken its toll on many of us, me included. As a result, rather than seeing the glass half full as I once did, I became a list maker of tiny gripes: endless emails, bad drivers, unreturned phone calls and year-late healthcare bills topped my list.
Thankfully, it didn’t take long to realize that focusing on the negative wasn’t helpful. So I recruited a “bliss buddy” with whom I began sharing what I was grateful for: the beauty of nature, the kindness of strangers and the compassion of friends made the list often.
So did my sister Karen who, for the past 152 days, has sent me a text each morning to remind me that I am both loved and lovable. Her kind words have become the background music of my days, often uplifting my spirits before I even realize they need it.
Here are four other things I am especially grateful for this Thanksgiving:
My aunt Caroline. In February 2020, I wrote my first Word Sisters blog post. It was about my aunt and uncle, both in their 90s. He had recently been hospitalized, she had recently suffered a stroke. While he has since died, she continues to thrive, despite having lost the ability to speak clearly or use the right side of her body. The last of my mother’s siblings, she’s an amazing role model whose light continues to shine bright and who shows me that I can age with gusto despite the challenges I may face.
My health and healthcare providers. I’ve taken my physical and mental health for granted my entire life. Then, one day in August 2020, despite routinely walking 10,000 steps a day, I could barely get myself around the block. After an MRI, I was told I needed to have my hip replaced. I opted for physical therapy instead and am now able to walk to my heart’s content once again. I also opted to see a mental health therapist. Her support keeps me grounded in the here and now yet gives me hope that I can—and will—change.
My book group. I’ve been a member of my book group going on three decades. During that time, one member was murdered by her husband, another died of cancer. Most of us have lost our parents, all of us are coming to terms with our own aging. Getting together every other month means meaningful conversations with women I trust who know both my good and bad qualities and who offer their unconditional love and support.
The ability to say no. I’ve been a people pleaser my whole life, afraid of disappointing others. That sometimes meant staying on committees that drained me, meeting friends for cocktails when I didn’t want to be drinking and driving across town in rush-hour traffic when I wanted to be curled up on the couch. The pandemic lessened the things I was invited to do and made it easier to say no to things that weren’t in line with my priorities.
What are you grateful for this Thanksgiving? Please share.
At least that’s what a “How Resilient Are You?” quiz I took a decade ago indicated.
I came across the quiz the other day while purging a hanging file chockful of articles from Experience Life magazine. Featured in a September 2011 article titled “The 5 Best Ways to Build Resiliency,” my quiz results indicated that I was “highly resilient” and that I “bounce back well from life’s setbacks and can thrive even under pressure.”
My once optimistic self no longer looks on the bright side. Nor do I see difficulties as temporary. Instead, in large part due to COVID, I find myself in a perpetual state of ambiguity and uncertainty, a state sometimes even accompanied by a sense of dread.
Will I be able to join my sisters in Los Angeles for Thanksgiving and Christmas? Will I be able to travel outside the United States while I’m still healthy enough to do so? When am I going to retire and where am I going to live?
Who the heck knows. I sure don’t. And I’m tired of trying to figure it all out.
I’m also angry more often than I used to be, sometimes for no apparent reason.
And once highly social, I’ve become a bit of a hermit. Many of my family members, friends and colleagues have as well.
Fed up with feeling alone and adrift, I’ve been working on being more positive and getting back in touch with that resilient me of a decade ago. She can’t be that far away. In fact, I know she’s not as there are days, even weeks, when she’s ever-present rather than elusive.
Books such as Positivity by Barbara Fredrickson have helped. So have books on resilience, four of which I discovered had been sitting unread on my shelf for years.
So now, when something goes wrong—like when I rolled my car into a parked car at my friend Pam’s husband’s funeral causing more than $3,000 worth of damage (even though I and the owner of the other vehicle could barely see the scratch)—I try to find the silver lining. In this case, it was being treated kindly by the owner of the car I’d damaged and by the friend who stayed by my side until I found him and told him what I’d done.
I’m also paying attention to my positivity ratio. According to Fredrickson’s research, we need three positive experiences to balance out each negative one. Normally those positive experiences would be part of my everyday life—a compliment on a new sweater, a hug when meeting a friend for coffee, a thank you for volunteering.
But being as I’m still not venturing out any more than necessary, those experiences are harder to come by. So instead, I make a point of calling at least one person a day and of sending at least seven cards a week. While the conversations sometimes last only a few minutes, they definitely brighten my day. So do the cards I send. I take pleasure in finding just the right one and in writing a heartfelt message or including a silly joke.
I’m also striving to view my challenges as opportunities to learn and grow. That’s not always easy, in large part because I’m more of a “judger” who asks questions such as “Who’s to blame?” or “What’s wrong?” rather than a “learner” who seeks to grow by asking neutral, non-judgmental questions such as “What can this experience teach me?” or “Given my choices, what do I most want to do?”
But my favorite question, the one I’ve found to be most helpful is one I learned from Arianna Huffington who chose “resilience” as her word of the year. The question?
“How can I not just bounce back, but bounce forward?”
While I’m stilling working on my answer, I am growing more resilient—and bouncing a bit higher—every day. For that, I am grateful.
Several years back, while serving on the board of the Vital Aging Network, I helped develop Aging With Gusto, a program designed to help people develop more positive views of aging and live their own lives with gusto.
Research shows that people with more positive views of aging live an average of 7.5 years longer than those with more negative views. What’s more, people who perceive their elder selves as a burden to others tend to view their lives as less valuable, which in turn increases their risk of depression and social isolation, both of which have proven to be “silent killers” for older adults.
I felt like I was doing pretty well when it came to living with gusto—I was working less and enjoying life more—but then COVID came along and all my gusto got up and went away-o.
So did the me I knew…and liked.
That me juggled a lot of things at once, effortlessly kept track of deadlines, friends’ birthdays and bill due-dates. She walked 10,000 steps a day, volunteered often, went to yoga on Saturday mornings and loved getting together with friends, even if it meant driving across town in rush-hour traffic.
She also traveled. In 2019, she spent February and March in Panama, May in New York City and much of that summer and fall at a rustic fishing resort near the Canadian border. In 2021, she was set to spend March and April with her sister and her family in Los Angeles, but that trip was cut short due to COVID. So were other travel plans.
And now, roughly 18 months later, I’m no longer she.
My hair, which I used to color blonde, is now gray. My face has new wrinkles. My skin, once taut, is now crepe-y. And while I know these changes took time to develop, it feels like these changes occurred practically overnight while I was quarantining due to COVID.
And the changes aren’t just on the surface. Last summer, after walking became so painful I stopped doing it any more than was absolutely necessary, I was told I need hip replacement surgery. With elective surgeries advised against at the time, I’ve put it off, which is why, when friends invited me to walk with them (one of the few things that felt safe enough to do), I declined.
Instead, my friends and I did a few Zoom calls. Then, because looking presentable wasn’t high on our lists, we talked on the phone. Eventually even that got to be too much, in part because many of us were dealing with some big stuff. Not used to being together 24/7, my partner and I were struggling to get along. One of my sisters and her husband almost lost their business. One friend had pancreatic cancer. Another had a husband with a brain tumor and a son who nearly died from alcohol poisoning.
Living through—and aging—during a pandemic has caused so many of us to reprioritize. As a result, rather than traveling and enjoying many of the other out-and-about activities that we enjoyed pre-pandemic—we are busy taking care our relationships, our livelihoods, our health and the health of our loved ones. No one can blame us; it’s the right thing to do.
But the pandemic has made everything more difficult, more urgent, more immediate. And more solitary. In the process of caring for ourselves and our loved ones, we risk isolating ourselves from support we may desperately need. Doing so can be costly: one study says isolation increases the risk of death by 29 percent, another that loneliness is as lethal as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.
So, I’m working on reclaiming my Aging-with-Gusto mindset by being more proactive in maintaining my own social connections: I’m calling at least one friend or family member each day and sending at least five cards each week. While these are small things, I know from being on the receiving end that they can make a difference. Plus, it’s one thing I can do no matter what is happening with COVID. I call it Gusto Lite, but at least it’s a start.
What are you doing to age with gusto? Please share.
In my mind, this conjures up an old lady parenting two young spirited teens who are placed at a disadvantage. An old lady who could not possibly understand their children’s struggles and desires. An old lady completely out of touch with today’s slang, music, and dress.
I do admit I asked Crystel what ‘Shawty’ meant a couple of weeks ago when she was cheering on Juan and friends who were competing at a Nordic ski meet. I stuck to my tried and true, “Go Spartans! Woo-hoo!!!”
Juan and Crystel are joining with four others to hold a high school graduation party. I was a bit taken aback when discussing appropriate music for the party (preferring an absence of certain words). The six soon-to-be graduates looked back and forth at each other and quickly decided that my playlist of 60’s, 70’s, and 80’s music would be best.
Jody is 58 years old. Unless we’re standing next to other parents at sports events, we usually don’t notice our age difference. Then, Wow those parents look so young, might pop into our heads.
Another time it might occur is when other families are especially active going here and there: winter carnival, parades, ice castles, weekend trips. Jody and I just look at each other and shake our heads. We have no interest. We don’t take it as a sign of slowing down. We have always been that way. Sorry kids. That’s why you have chosen aunts and uncles. Crystel and her Uncle Marty participated in the ALARC ice dive this year on January 1st.
You can find Jody and me volunteering at Juan and Crystel’s school, sports, and scout events. We’re active in the police reserves and often host get-togethers at our house or swimming pool.
The kids never seem embarrassed that we are old. There are so many other ways that I’ve mortified them. Showing up at school unannounced to sit with them in their classroom and walk from one class to another to understand why my student couldn’t make it to the next class without being tardy. Walking into the men’s bathroom to check on my son. In my defense, I did text him and tell him that if he didn’t come out in five minutes that I was coming in. This was at a Taylor Swift concert.
Jody and I believe it’s important to make sure your children have a heartbeat. Cliff jumping, zip gliding, and mountain climbing in Guatemala, helicopter rides over the Grand Canyon and Mount Rushmore, swimming with dolphins, hot air balloon ride, dog sledding, horse riding, mountain snowmobiling and skiing and more. If we can do it at our age, then they can, too.
At an earlier age, you could find Jody and me sky diving, inline and running marathons, distance biking, and completing the Tough Mudder. Jody continues to run marathons. The kids had their first sky dive on Crystel’s 18th birthday. They’ve yet to complete a marathon. The old people still got it.