There is a fine balance between dependence and independence when approaching old age. I vote for independence. Whatever I can do for myself, I want to do it. Remembering, deciding and doing is what keeps me alert.”
This is my mother’s response to the question “What is your approach to old age?”
During the pandemic, we worked together on a book of her life stories and memories, using an online memoir-writing tool called Storyworth. Each week, the site sent Sylvia an email with a question to answer. Each week, I received her emailed response, which sparked great discussions and — me being me — a few editing suggestions. One year later, we had 52 questions answered and published in a 250-page hardcover book. Her entry about old age is among my favourites. I hope to revisit its wisdom as the decades stack up in my own life.
Recently, I watched the Netflix docuseries Live to 100: Secrets of the Blue Zones. “Blue Zones” is the term journalist Dan Buettner coined to describe five small pockets of the world with higher-than-average longevity. Buettner pinpoints nine lifestyle habits that can lead to a long and vibrant life. Among them: move naturally; have a sense of purpose; live with family or with family nearby; belong to a faith-based community. I see Mom in all of this.
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I also see her reflected in this month’s cover story, “Seniors’ Moment.” Journalist Nicole Schmidt aptly flips the narrative on our aging demographic, celebrating elders’ contributions to society — as mentors, grandparents and volunteers — rather than the looming burden on health care we usually read about.
Schmidt shares how Japan, which has the highest proportion of elderly people in the world, is adapting its transit and infrastructure to help seniors stay active and integrated for as long as possible. Perhaps not surprisingly, one of the Blue Zones is the island of Okinawa, Japan, where rates of cancer, heart disease and dementia are low, and women live longer than anywhere else.
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Mom will turn 89 in February, and she’s as independent as ever — hiring help where needed and doing the rest on her own. She still makes delicious meals for guests, keeps up on politics, hosts book club, attends church services and classical music concerts, stays in touch with a multitude of friends and family, and enjoys restful downtime on her back deck in view of flower gardens and soaring poplars.
She’s also teaching me valuable lessons in patience and trust by nudging me to let her do things for herself even if it takes longer. I can’t help but cheer on her efforts to age in place even when that poses risks and challenges.
Mom, independence has my vote too.
Jocelyn Bell is the editor and publisher of Broadview Magazine.
This story first appeared in Broadview’s January/February 2024 issue with the title “The Golden Years.”
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