Aging Gracefully focuses on varied experiences of growing older in Larimer County Colorado. The blog entries are brought to you by the Partnership for Age-Friendly Communities and feature personal stories written by local residents.
We hope this season finds you busily preparing for the upcoming holiday festivities, planning to be among friends and family, and successfully wending your way through the maze of shopping, wrapping and packaging. Christmas is a time for traditions; we all have some special ones to observe or remember. Our team hopes that your traditions enrich and comfort you.
But a new year is on the horizon, and we wish to keep our Graceful Aging blog going strong in 2018. Even if you have submitted a piece before, we invite you to share with our readers your personal experiences with aging, be they fulfilling or otherwise. These stories help connect us with each other and ease our way through the aging process. You do not need to be a polished writer to submit an article; you only need to be willing to share your story with others. Check the blog archive for examples of previous submissions.
If you are interested in writing for this blog, please contact Barbara Fleming, firstname.lastname@example.org, to get the details. We look forward to hearing from you.
When Adam, my first grandchild, arrived in March 1989, I began a tradition. Every year on or about his birthday, I wrote him a letter, usually four or five pages, describing a little about what was going on in his immediate family, his extended family, and in the state, nation and world. When he turned one, I wrote him another letter. I did this because I’d always been curious to know first hand what had been happening in my family and in the world as I grew up. I tried to include details and small incidents that were at risk for being lost to time.
Fifteen months later, when Adam’s sister, Amy, arrived, I wrote a letter for her. And as the years went by and the grandkid kid count climbed to eleven a decade later, I did the same for each of them on or around their birthdays every year.
When Brenna, number twelve, the final arrival, showed up, of course she began getting annual letters as well.
I did not share these letters with my grandchildren. Instead I put each letter into a folder and stored it away on my bookshelf. I don’t remember just when I decided that when each child turned twelve, I would give them the folder and the flow of letters would end for that grandchild. There are now eleven folders in the hands of my grandchildren. Maybe they read their letters, and maybe they didn’t. Perhaps some of them ended up in the trash. I’ve never asked, so I don’t know their fate. Perhaps some of the folders hung around until the kids got old enough and decided it might be fun to read the letters. It doesn’t really matter.
Brenna turned twelve a week ago and I’m about to write the final letter to go in her folder. I remember wondering, somewhere along the way, whether I’d even be around to complete her letter collection. Looks like I made it so here goes.
A few words from Brenna’s final letter.
On July 2, 2017, you turned 12 years old which means that this will be the last of the letters I’ve been writing to you every year since you were born. I will give them all to you when you come this summer. You have been living in Tokyo since you were two, so I worried a bit about how you might fit in surrounded by all those cousins, ages 17 to 27, who gathered for a big party in Fort Collins. I didn’t need to worry. It took you about two minutes to join in the fun and games. You loved hanging out with your five girl cousins and they thought you were something special, which you are.
Your visit was short, but you managed to pack lots into a few days and you went home knowing a whole lot of relatives you’d only seen in photos. You stopped in Hawaii with your mom to attend a tennis camp. You are athletic, love to act, play the violin, and your dad says you don’t have a shy bone in your body. He predicts that you will be an entertainer.
The letter goes on to describe what her immediate and extended family is up to these days, a bit about the political situation in the U.S. and my hope that she will return this summer for some more tennis coaching. These letters are easy to write and hopefully will have some meaning for the recipients at some time in the future.
Libby James is a local author of several children’s books. She writes for the North Forty News and is an award-winning runner.
I don’t believe in kowtowing to the years I’ve accumulated in my life, and I refuse to estimate or be fearful of the number of years remaining. Whether or not those attitudes fit with the common use of the term “aging gracefully” I don’t know. I believe too many folks are concerned with how they appear to others to be aging rather than how they personally feel about the process and its effects on their health and life activities.
For years, I worked with a woman who dealt with life so gracefully it depressed me to be around her. I felt sadness at my own lack of the quality until I observed her more closely. She never attempted anything new, refused to recall or relate any negative experiences in her life, didn’t take personal or professional risks, and reacted to stressful situations by pretending they didn’t exist. I never saw her revel in Eureka! moments. At that point, in my forties, I experienced an epiphany. Gracefulness with life, if that’s what she was displaying, was not for me.
I’m a bumbler. I trip over life, smack face-first into it, and get bruised by it. Occasionally, it slaps me down. But, since that revelation, I have endeavored not to be embarrassed or discouraged by my pratfalls along the way. Instead, I strive to learn new things, meet new people, and challenge my own attitudes and opinions. I don’t always succeed, but I have learned that my critics have to carry the weight of their negativity – I don’t have to. Aging gracefully? Depends on the definition. What comprises aging? What denotes graceful?
As the years of my life have increased, so have the opportunities and joys I’ve garnered. I adopted my adult daughter, my only child, as a single woman at the age of sixty-nine, and we’re greatly blessed to share our lives. At seventy-one, I became a grandmother for the first time and have been awed to see my wee imp grow in body, mind, and spirit. At age seventy-four, in addition to my short fiction and poetry in local anthologies, I published my first book and now have six to my credit with more to come.
The inevitable culmination of aging is, of course, dying. Will I do that gracefully? I declare – people think I’m joking, but I’m not – that I don’t believe in dying; it’s a waste of time. It had better catch me by surprise between one step and the next, because I still have so much living to do that I’ll fight it if I can. In my mind, I add days to my life for all the things I still look forward to – a fantastical grace period I gift myself. It works much better than ruing time’s passage and counting down to The End.
Nancy L. (Nan) Reed's love of words inspired her to write from an early age: short stories, novels, memory snippets, scripts, and poetry. Her latest
book is Conversations Between Two Great Friends, 2017. She calls Colorado the perfect place to live and is Musing at nancylreed.com about writing, designing a tiny house specifically for a wordsmith, and other subjects bizarre and intriguing. She encourages everyone with words to share to put pen to paper.
Imagine that you are surrounded by a tall fence and a locked gate. You can look through the fence and gate and recognize familiar activities and interests that you once had. Consider this boxed-in perception as a concept of aging for some persons. What can you do to set yourself free from the box when you retire?
The solution is to push against the gate to discover that you can budge it. Keep pushing as a way to set yourself free. When you reach retirement age—whatever it is for each of us—do not focus on your age but on other options open to you. I knew a woman who whenever we met would say announce her age. She restricted her life by focusing on her age.
The word retirement is unfortunate when applied to the interval between ending a career and death. To some individuals it connotes an end, not a transition. We need to find another word to replace “retirement.” My entry is “the discovery years.”
Even without having dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, older people process mentally more slowly than they once did. “Where did I put my keys?” “Is that engagement today or tomorrow?” “I used to know his telephone number, but now I can’t remember.”
Despite a little slippage in recall, you can retrieve what you have forgotten by searching diligently, but this effort is both time-consuming and frustrating. Instead, consult the calendar or day-planner to find the notation of a date, or call your luncheon companion to ask, “Is our lunch today or tomorrow?” Enter phone numbers that you use frequently into your personal notebook. Note upcoming events on a calendar and consult it every morning.
Consider the problem of misplaced keys. Putting the keys in a variety of places when returning home can cause the problem. By always placing the keys in the same location you solve the problem.
Use crossword puzzles in newspapers or books to stimulate your brain. When you feel frustrated set the puzzle aside for a short time. When you come back to it, the needed word may burst from your mind. You have regained what had seemed too hard or impossible to retrieve.
Make an effort to play games with friends. Invite them for coffee and games, such as Scrabble or Monopoly. Compete to win. Stretch your mind. Strive to be a champion.
Try to reduce the amount of time you are alone at home. Being with others provides another channel to keep your mind involved. Try to be with optimists.
Dancing, swimming, table tennis, exercise classes, and other physical activities are helpful. Walk near your home once or twice a day. Use a bus service if it is available. You are in charge of you. Make certain things happen rather than wait for someone else to suggest an activity. When you initiate an activity involving others, you are helping them as well as yourself.
Assemble a jigsaw puzzle. Although it may be painfully slow, think of the pride you have when you say, “I put this puzzle together myself even though it has five hundred pieces!”
Learn something new such as embroidery, knitting, crocheting or tatting. Learn computer skills or a new language. Try gardening. Paint, or learn to make pottery. Try a different book genre.
Just because you are older does not mean you have to shy away from anything new. I heard of a man who baked his first pie after he retired. It takes courage to attempt something never tried before. The retirement years are a genuine part of life. Do not accept the idea that when your career ends, life also ends. Your retirement years will be many more than your ancestors had. Use these years to your advantage.
Another realm of life is volunteerism. If you still drive, Meals-on-Wheels needs drivers. Public libraries may need helpers to shelve books or read to children. Churches and schools may need volunteers. You could volunteer in a hospital, guiding patients and visitors. Many new adventures await you! Many agencies could not survive if all helpers were paid. Volunteers enable agencies to continue serving the community.
The way to keep youthful regardless of your chronological age is to dare to try something new. Have a reason to get up in the morning. Retirement years can be the time of discovery and excitement. I knew a woman who began piano lessons as a senior just for the fun of learning something new. If your career developed something special in you, share it with others--being a graphic artist, teaching photography, or whatever your talent is. An accountant can help taxpayers with income taxes. Executives can help a new business grow. Share your hobby or travel stories.
Never say, “I am too old to do that!” If a toddler could express his feelings in words by saying, “I can’t walk very well. I’ll quit trying. Sitting is good enough for me,” we would regard that attitude as abnormal, lacking enthusiasm and optimism. Have a normal toddler’s zest for living..
Visit a senior center and request a list of the month’s activities and programs. The variety may surprise you by offering interesting programs. Visit museum, which offer culture, history, and information.
Consider writing your life for relatives and friends, not for publication but to create a meaningful memoir for your descendants to read. Describe a house from your past and your childhood toys and games. Describe your school. Did you have ride a bus? These details will be precious to your descendants.
If you are near a college or university with courses in special education, you might enroll to learn sign language or transcribing braille. Volunteer to run errands or shop for groceries for the homebound. Volunteer to transport patients to dialysis or cancer treatments.
I wish you countless adventures with spectacular experiences as you travel through the years of discovery.
Dr. Grace D. Napier (emerita professor of Special Education, University of Northern Colorado) was born blind in 1922, enjoys reading and writing, has written five books and has used ten dog guides over seventy-five years.
“Arrive home at EXACTLY 5:30” was the mandate from my husband, Bob, on October 29, 1990. As I pulled into our driveway the garage door opened. There sat a beautiful blue 1991 Mazda Miata with a big red bow tied on it. Our son, Jay, Bob and my mother-in-law, Elsie, were belting out “Happy Birthday.”
“What a great idea,” I thought. “He arranged with the Mazda dealer to let him borrow it for the night to take me out to dinner for my 47th birthday!”
It took all three singers to convince me that it was mine.
The next day I drove it to the Science Museum of Virginia where I worked. I could not stop looking at it. All day I peeped out a window overlooking the parking lot to make sure it was still there. I told everyone I was going to keep it forever.
In 1991 our son Jay’s baseball team won the Virginia State Little League Championship. The team was flown to Florida to compete in the Southeast Regional Tournament. Bob decided to take the Miata on its first long road trip. Bob is six foot three inches tall; getting in and out of it was not easy. Adding two tall, skinny preteen boys was even harder, but Jay and his friend Ethan found riding in it to be much more fun than losing their first game.
After retirement we spent seven years living on the Outer Banks but continued visiting our Richmond friends. Of course I went back and forth in the Miata. During one visit I was driving my friend Kathy home. When I saw a “No Left Turn” sign I decided to ignore it. Only when I bumped over a curb and ended up in an empty parking lot did I realize that the road was at a 45-degree angle. We got to her house although I knew something major was wrong, and Kathy’s glasses had flown off her face and disappeared. The right front wheel was badly damaged. Bob had to drive four hours from the beach to rescue me the next day. Two years later, as I was lowering the convertible top, I noticed a glint of something metal. Under the hinge on the driver’s side I discovered the missing eyeglasses, intact.
I refused to give up my 23-tear-old Miata when we moved to Colorado. I was confident it was healthy enough to come along. Our strategy, since Bob was not sure it would make it that far, was for me to leave one hour earlier than he and Barley. By lunchtime he had caught up with me; by dinnertime he had caught up with me again. We did this for three days until we arrived safely at our new home in Fort Collins.
After the move the odometer rolled over to 200,000 miles. The Miata was invited to spend winters in a neighbor’s garage in exchange for my looking after their house while they were away. When I retrieved car in April I noticed a fluid leak. It turned out to be brake fluid, leading to an expensive repair. A week later I noticed more leaks. Mechanics found three more leaks plus seepage plus torn parts. Repairs could range from $2,000 to as much as $12,000 for a total restoration.
Time to lay my Miata to rest.
OBITUARY FOR A BLUE MIATA
The 1991 model blue Mazda Miata was born in 1990. It was a surprise gift to Fran Green from her husband, Bob, for her 47th Birthday on October 29, 1991.
It died at the age of 27 with 204,000 miles, having traveled as far south as Florida and as far north as Vermont. In 2013 after living in Richmond, Virginia, and Corolla, North Carolina, it relocated to Fort Collins, Colorado.
During its lifetime it survived a paint job, three convertible tops, and a few minor scrapes and bruises. In its old age, it could be said that it “shakes, rattles, but it still rolls.” On May 31, 2017, it rolled into Dellenbach Motors. Death was caused by a series of leaks, worn out parts, and the need for intensive medical care. Its life was sacrificed, along with a 2006 green Subaru Forester, for a 2017 blue Forester. A 2015 Subaru Forester survives it. Fran and Bob Green and Barley also survive. No service is planned at this time. May it rest in peace.
It is destined for an afterlife with a Dellenbach employee who had previously owned a red 1991 relative.
The Greens have welcomed a copper-red 2010 Miata into their family.
Moving makes you wiser. Now that the last box has been emptied, we have a few minutes to reflect on the moving experience and all it entails for the aging population. An enormous amount of emotions have been encountered by both of us.
Oh, the good-byes were painful. I planned on going back to the independent living facility after a month or two. However, it has only been a few days and I decided to make a quick phone call to tell a dear friend how much I already missed her and her husband.
Within few moments, she let me know how much things have deteriorated since our move. The dreaded rent increase letter has been received with rates increasing 3.5% monthly. Also, the hot water has been sporadic in working dependably. They have had to heat their water or wait for their much desired showers. So their feelings of frustration and unimportance have heightened.
As far as our new apartment, it has been a source of joy and frustration. I can't figure out who designs these places or what they were thinking at the time. The ceilings are 9 ft. high. I surmise to make them more soundproof. However, this means the cabinets are hung very high. They don't seem to believe in shelves in lower cabinets or under cabinet lights over the sink either. The shower head is so high, it could easily water the jolly green giant. Yet, there are times when we honestly feel like it is a wonderful gift with new appliances, granite countertops, and even a nifty, electric fireplace which creates heat and/or sets a mood.
I see the relief on my husband's face now that we can save some portion of our retirement income instead of tremendously straining our funds. I wonder if this is how teenagers feel as they leave the safety and comfort of their family's home to venture out on their own. I will never regret our decision to go into Independent living, we've learned so much about an age group we knew little about. I think we also learned so much about each other.
Old age is a relative thing. Some might consider me old at 75 (that’s three-quarters of a century, you know), but my mother made it to 97, almost to 98.
At any age, we are what our minds let us be and we do what our bodies allow. My mom still played golf in her 70s. Her art projects were a favorite hobby until she was almost 90, when her hands would no longer hold a paintbrush. She worked hard to stay engaged and socialize with her neighbors in assisted living and later with her roommate and the caregivers in the skilled nursing facility.
Determination and perseverance played a huge role in her life. Coming from a broken home with very little money, my mom graduated from high school at 16 and after waiting a year to meet the requirements, moved to Chicago on her own and entered nursing school.
During World War II, while my dad was in the Army, Mom worked as a civilian nurse in an Army hospital.
For most of the years my brother and I were kids, Mom and Dad farmed. My mother could handle a tractor just as easily as she could whip together the huge noon-time meal for my dad and the field hands.
She endured hip and knee replacements. At the end of 2012, when she was 94, Mom had a tiny stroke and was put on hospice. She didn’t like it when the nurses stopped her blood pressure medicine and the caregivers wouldn’t let her get up and walk, so she willed herself to get better.
In April 2013, I moved my mom from her apartment into assisted living. She became a social butterfly until February 2015 when she fell in the bathroom and fractured her good hip.
We used to consider a hip fracture the end of the road for the elderly. But even with the limitations put on her by the orthopedic surgeon Mom got better and returned to assisted living. A motorized wheelchair kept her independent.
Mom paid attention to every bit of those never-boring 2016 election shenanigans, made her choice in November, and voted. Even though she didn’t watch each game of the Cubs’ march to win the World Series, she kept with the team. Current events and the latest world crisis were always on her mind and made for energetic conversations.
All that contributes to the biggest lesson I’ve learned from my mom--we can find joy every moment of our lives, even during the hard times. I hope to follow Mom’s example as I grow older, taking pleasure in the things I can still do and letting those other things go.
I often said, “Mom’s a trooper.” I’d like that legacy for myself as well.
Pat Stoltey is a local writer of crime fiction. Her fourth novel, a historical mystery titled Wishing Caswell Dead, will be released from Five Star/Cengage in November 2017. She lives in Fort Collins with her husband, Bill, Katie Cat, and Sassy Dog.
In 1992, after raising children, teaching in public schools, and moving fifteen times because of my husband Bill’s 30 years of military service, we settled in a large Texas city and began second careers thinking we would never move again. We spent most vacations visiting our parents and our children and grandchildren in other states. We saw the difficulties our parents had as they aged and thought about how their last years might have been better in other circumstances.
When I retired in 2005, I thought about how I wanted to spend my remaining years. Gardening was my main interest; I spent many hours pursuing that interest until the Texas heat and my body told me that it was time to quit.
About that same time, our daughter’s family moved to Fort Collins. After we visited them, I talked my reluctant husband into giving up his Texas activities and friends to move close to our daughter, convinced her that her family wouldn’t be our main source of entertainment, and convinced my outdoorsman husband that Colorado had many opportunities for adventure. We became permanent Fort Collins residents in 2010.
We were welcomed at our new church and encouraged to join Fort Collins Newcomers Club. We volunteered at The Food Bank for Larimer County and joined book groups. Bill hiked, led hikes, and volunteered with The Nature Conservancy and Poudre Wilderness Volunteers. I volunteered with Poudre River Friends of the Library.
Still thinking long-term, I searched for activities I could enjoy throughout my elder years. I joined a group of women who meet twice monthly to share knitting projects. Now one of my favorite hobbies is knitting baby beanies for newborns.
I learned to play Scrabble, joining Northern Colorado Scrabble Club where I met many interesting people and learned the protocols for tournament Scrabble. No longer confident driving after dark but wanting to play several times each week, I formed daytime Scrabble groups. We now play on the first and fourth Fridays of each month for fun, and a dozen of us play in a Scrabble marathon tournament where records are kept and prizes are awarded every six months.
Perhaps the biggest challenge in the move we made was finding a home where Bill and I could age in place. We had some definite ideas about what we wanted, and our realtor pointed us to a patio home community where we could have a home built to our specifications. Because our parents found stairs and narrow doorways an obstacle to their decreased mobility, we wanted all the activities of daily living to be on one floor with wide hallways and doors. We also wanted an open floorplan with space to entertain along with yard maintenance and snow removal available and good walking trails.
We feel blessed that this challenge is now a reality and hope that we have many years ahead to enjoy our home, family, friends of all ages and the greater community.
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