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Warmest Regards: Waltzing through later life

On our wedding night I gave my husband a photo I took years ago.

It’s a photo of a farmer and his wife walking down a dirt path while carrying a bushel basket of just picked produce. It would be too heavy for one person to carry so they each took an end and carried it together.

That scene also spoke to me about what I wanted in life. I wanted to grow old with my partner with both of us working together to manage a heavy load.

David loved the photo and what it represented.

Truth be told, at the time I was 69 and neither of us could picture getting too old to manage doing what once came easily.

Through the years we kept thinking “old age” was a place we knew nothing about because we persisted in thinking “old” was an age we had yet to reach.

No matter how many candles were on our birthday cake we believed we were far from old.

We were older, yes. But not old. We called ourselves “older folks,” thinking it was our way of joking.

I’m not sure when reality caught up with us but it was certainly a jolt when we realized neither of us could begin to do what we did so easily a few years ago.

But in our minds we shrugged off what we could no longer do because there was so much we could do. I was happy with kayaking, swimming and dancing so I could ignore the little things I could not longer do. As long as I could be active little things didn’t matter.

I’ve always said when I am active doing the things I love I feel like I’m 30. When I get an injury and can’t so much as take long walks I feel like I’m 105.

How we feel about aging has much to do with how healthy we are.

I love my physical therapist because he shows me ways I can help myself heal faster and treat my body better.

He’s fond of saying, “Move, more, move. Never stop moving. The sofa is not your friend.”

But sometimes, out of the blue, a physical problem stops us in our tracks.

For David, that happened when he was diagnosed with bladder cancer. While he sailed through the treatment, side effects dominate what we can do.

With no warning, our lives have changed. Instead of dancing and kayaking, we are grounded, at least temporarily.

I compare it to roller skating down a hill with great glee - until we slam into a concrete wall.

It takes great physical and mental adjustment to accept abrupt change while maintaining a strong, positive attitude.

Remember the book “Tuesdays with Morrie” by Mitch Albom? It became an international best seller and continues to influence the attitudes of readers.

Now, Morrie’s son, Rob Schwartz took some of his father’s work and expanded it into “The Wisdom of Morrie: Living and aging creatively and joyfully.”

“You might protest your aging inwardly and suffer it silently and complainingly. But at some time and in some way you will have to come to terms with your aging in later life as a chronological fact you cannot avoid. How you interpret this and what you do about it may influence how well you age,” Morrie wrote.

I don’t believe the book is as ”feel good” a read as Tuesdays with Morrie.

Well, how “feel good” can one get when they are talking about accepting the problems of aging as a fact of life? But it does offer some concrete ways to travel that road we will all travel if we are fortunate enough to live a long life.

I’m learning from those around me who are doing well traveling that road.

One thing they stress is to avoid the isolation that often comes when you are no longer active, especially if you are living alone.

They found joining a friendship group, church group, or even a grief support group can pick up your spirits. Even a once a month outing can give us something to look forward to.

Plus we can learn so much from others.

One simple thing I just learned is the importance of keeping a light on night. When my friend got up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom she fell in the darken room. We are not as sure footed when we are older. Now she has a broken nose and two black eyes.

I used that story to change my husband’s mind about insisting on a dark bedroom with no nightlights.

One woman who lost her husband a year ago said she was having a hard time with lack of companionship until she found her answer: A cute little dog she named Joy.

“A dog really does bring so much joy,” she said. “Who else can get excited just to see us?”

“And if you want to meet people, walking your dog will accomplish that,” she said.

Before she got a dog she didn’t know anyone on the street. Now she amazes me with how much she has learned about her neighbors.

I like the way The Wisdom of Morrie refers to advanced age as “later life.” Not old, just later life.

I do hope we can keep waltzing through it.

Contact Pattie Mihalik at newsgirl@comcast.net.