How we think about our aging selves has significant consequences on our health and how we actually age. In a recent “Aging Unmasked” podcast from LeadingAge, Dr. Tracey Gendron, associate professor at Virginia Commonwealth University, suggests that one of ways we can positively influence our aging process is to think about what “elderhood” should look like. One way to do this is to observe those who are aging ahead of us and learning from their examples. Each of these individuals is an example of an aging hero.
Aging heroes are the people who you observe and say, “When I am Shirley’s age, I hope to be able to (fill in the blank), like her.” So, in this season as we observe Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, we will be lifting up some of our aging heroes who have taught us a thing or two about how to approach our own aging lives.
Aging Hero: Family
Speaking of Shirley, let me be a little more specific about what I admire. Besides the fact that she is my mom, I know others look to her and similarly reflect on the example and encouragement that she is for them.
Mom is deeply connected to family. As the current matriarch of the family, she honors the memories of those who have gone before with humor and grace. She plays the piano as did her Grandma Summers. Their duets were my favorite bedtime music and the reason I begged to play as well. We think of her Grandma Lynn as we do puzzles — even though we now use an app for that! She claims her ornery acts on her father and credits her mom for keeping spoons in a jar in the cupboard.
By the time her first grandchild was born, I was informed that she would see him at least once a month whether or not I was present — this in spite of the fact that we lived four hours apart! And basically, she did this with both of her grandchildren until they left for college. Today, grown and living even further away, she continues to stay connected. Texting. Facetime. Email. They help to support her technological learning efforts to keep their relationship strong.
If you befriend my mom, know that it is a life-long relationship. We rarely have a holiday gathering that includes only blood relatives. She has no problem including others at our table to help keep them from being alone at Easter, Christmas and Thanksgiving. Her hospitality is authentic and sincere.
Shirley continues to learn, most recently delighting in a series of new quilt techniques offered by a friend in the new quilt group she has joined. She participates in the monthly book club at church in addition to her own reading list. Mom volunteers to help others when the need is made known. She watches cooking TV shows and scans the internet for new recipes. Pinterest is a favorite source for creative ideas. She enjoys traveling and her family loves to make sure she is not traveling alone! Mom is energized by new experiences and dreams of the next adventure and place to explore.
Shirley is one of my aging heroes because she exemplifies someone who approaches each day with grace, ready to share the love that has so grounded her entire life. She lives out the values of faith that continue to shape and claim her life. Mom sets a high bar for others, but humbly knows her own growing edges and is curious to learn more. She can step out of her comfort zone. And she can welcome others into her circle of care. She knows the limits around her due to an aging body, but actively, daily, works to keep herself in shape and moving. Her laughter is as infectious as her generosity. My list can go on, but this is a blog, not a book!
We didn’t celebrate Mother’s Day or Father’s Day in our home growing up. My folks always insisted that we be sure to communicate our appreciation and love every day. No need to buy flowers or a card on a day designed to sell flowers and cards and gifts that aren’t needed. But it seems fitting as this blog is posted just before Mother’s Day for me to pause on this ordinary day and share my appreciation for her with all of you! Mom, you are an inspiration to me, to our family and many and it is a privilege to continue to learn from and with you today, and every day. Love you more than any other aging hero I know! Thanks for helping to show us all a most excellent way to enjoy life as we age!