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'Old age' doesn't have to be feared

Published March 23. 2013 09:02AM

A friend of mine, who has always been especially close to her mother, just had the devastating experience of having to put her beloved mother in a nursing home.

"It's something I vowed never to do. She's 96 and she deserves a better ending to her life," says Alice.

Although her mother fits anyone's definition of old, she looks 30 years younger and still dresses like a glamourous movie star. Believe it or not, she went kayaking with her daughter two years ago. Unfortunately, her mind hasn't aged as gracefully as her body.

The life-changing crisis for Alice came when she had severe chest pains while making dinner. She slumped to the floor, gasping for breathe and told her mother to call for help.

"I knew right away that I was having a serious heart attack but I couldn't crawl to the phone" she said.

The concept of using a telephone is now beyond the mental ability of her mother. "I thought I would die right there on the floor,' Alice recalls.

Fortunately, a friend came to the door. Her mother answered the door but she told the friend to go away because "it's not a good time." The friend sensed something was wrong and went in to find Alice on the floor.

Alice is now recovering from open-heart surgery and can no longer be her mother's caregiver.

"Old age is so sad. Is this what we all have to look forward to?" she asks. "When I see my mother in a nursing home, I'm starting to think old age frightens me," she says.

But that's only because she is focused on what her mother is going though now, not the 93 extraordinary years her mother had before this.

So we talked for a while about our feelings about aging.

Old age, (however that is defined) doesn't frighten me. Because of the company I keep, I know it can be another rewarding stage of life.

I'm always telling readers about my remarkable dancing friends. Two of the most inspirational dancers are Mel and Louise who can out dance most of us. They do a lively polka and jitterbug, making us insist on wanting to see Mel's birth certificate.

He celebrated his 94th birthday last week. Louise just turned 75. Together, they are enjoying life like two happy kids.

"It's not all peaches and cream when you get older," Mel says, admitting he just had to stop climbing a ladder to cut his palm trees and can't handle his fishing boat as easily as he used to do.

"But there are still a lot things I can do and I enjoy every day of life," he says.

Two weeks ago while he was out dancing with much younger friends, Mel experienced chest pains and had to be taken to the hospital.

"The doctor gave me some pills and told me to keep on doing everything I've been doing because I must be doing something right," says Mel. "It's the first time I've ever had to take pills."

He and Louise were back on the dance floor a few weeks later.

My dear friend Ginger continues to be another inspiration. She's still a glamour girl at 93.

When Ginger's husband died ten years ago and macular degeneration robbed most of her vision, she could have stayed home and mourned for life as it once was. Instead, she gets dressed to the hilt and rides along with friends to community dances where she's a favorite with many of us. I want to grow up to be just like her.

I am so grateful for my happy older friends who are showing me every stage of life can be rewarding.

Some people are "old" at 42.

Others are still young as octogenarians and even nonagenarians. I consider myself blessed to know some of them.

Lately, it seems that many magazines are doing stories about what they call "successful aging."

While experts are telling us diet and exercise help determine how well we age, there are other important factors.

Successful aging depends on attitude and on how we live life, experts say.

As I look around me and see so many extraordinary older people, the thing we call "old age" doesn't seem like something to fear.

Alice is sad she can't control the last stage of her mother's life. But she is consoled by all the years she has had with her mother.

While maintaining her keen sense of adventure well into her 90s, Alice's mother always has been one of our inspirational examples of successful aging.

She is among those who have taught us, by example, not to be afraid of aging.

"Life, at any age, is what you make of it," concludes 94-year-old Mel.

His advice: "Keep dancing, keep smiling then you'll find joy at any age."

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