We are kind of odd in my family when it comes to our expectations about aging. Although my father died very young, at 60, my sibs and I think we’re going to live into healthy old age. At 80, Mother is going strong (to say the very least). My father’s parents made it into their mid-80s with little fuss. They had what Andrew Weil and other gurus of aging allude to as a precipitous decline: a few months of serious illness before dying. For my mother’s mother it was similar. Although Sena (whom I have blogged about earlier) had some very serious mental difficulties, she lived into her mid-80s, in the care of my grandfather most of that time.
And he’s the one, the source of our insouciance. At 75 he was still running the sawmill on Mt. Lemmon and one day was carried off the back of the logging truck by a stiff wind. Broken neck. (And, perhaps more dangerous than the incident itself, there was the long drive down the mountain with my grandmother at the wheel while he tried to hold his head still.) At the hospital the doctor said, “Why Mr. Zimmerman, you should be dead.” At 95 he started his flannel shirt on fire while warming himself over the burners on the stove. Third-degree burns over part of his back and a birthday celebrated in St. Mary’s burn unit. A few years later he fell off the roof of the shed in his backyard. No real damage. At 101 he broke his hip in a more pedestrian manner but did walk again. He died at 104 after a massive stroke, with a killer living will in place that meant no fuss, no muss. When it came to his own sense of aging, I don’t think his horizon ever shifted. Old was somewhere out there, just over the next hill.
Family lore has it that granddaddy’s father died at 100 falling out of a tree. (Nope, no more details, but he was not looney, as they say, and was up that tree for some good reason.) So we’re hoping those are the genes we got. Well, really we’re assuming those are the genes we got. Live strong, live long, don’t be afraid to climb onto the roof or into trees because you are old. Ironically, my brother is president of a quickly growing senior living company and I see him bringing these same expectations to the company’s programming. As much as it is the fashion in the senior living industry to tout physical wellness and brain fitness programs, he has created a particularly sophisticated and savvy suite of programs and does not think they should be limited to those types who are obviously hale and hearty. If somewhere in their lives that go-get-’em spirit (marking them out as the roof/tree climbers in our exaggerated familial experience) has abated, residents in his communities, mostly through these programs, are encouraged to re-discover it. Why not, for goodness sakes?