Tuesday, January 15, 2013

6 Steps to Aging Well

Our family's far from perfect.  Trust me, we have our moments like any other family!  But I can't begin to tell you how much I admire my parents for the choices they've made together in recent years.  Now heading into their mid-80s, these decisions made over time have been thoughtfully considered, they've been wise, and they've been carried out before their hands were forced by illness, accident, or some sort of crisis. 

As they've aged, my parents have claimed their right and their responsibility to make as many of their own choices as they possibly could.

These decisions have been their own, not orchestrated by others.  They've been able to simplify their lives, allowing themselves the sweet satisfaction of living with independence and safety, despite some physical limitations.  And they've given themselves and those they love the gift of peace of mind, knowing that their legal, financial, medical, and end of life decisions have been carefully made and thoroughly documented. 
In the process, they've left all of us who love and care about them breathing a deep sigh of relief. 
I can only hope that their example will prompt us all to take care of business while we can, to utilize the power to make choices while we're able to.  By doing so, we leave a legacy of loving thoughtfulness, of genuine consideration to those around us.  By choosing smart options, we free the next generation from being forced into making on the fly decisions in the middle of chaos or grief.  We keep those we love from being stuck with logistical nightmares, endless red tape, and heartbreaking snap judgement calls that have the potential to severely mar a legacy or fracture a family.

1.  Paring Down Possessions
When they were in their early 60s, my parents decided to transition to a smaller home in a more pleasant location.  Month after month, from attic to basement, room by room, they methodically sorted through their stuff, chose what to keep, and got rid of everything that wasn't going to be needed in the next season, even as they prepared the family home for sale. 

And they never looked back at the 1950s maple dining room set they left behind.
2.  Taking Care of Business
Mom writes, 'I think that we had started out a long time ago to set things in a way that we would not be leaving everything to you and your sister to do when we passed away. I think that is when we first decided to find out more information about the funeral parlor, cemetery, trust etc. ... it is something that really takes a great deal of time and energy!

They've done a stupendous job in taking care of any and all end of life legal, medical, and financial business.  And my sister and I have all the data we'll ever need, encased in meticulously typed booklets that will guide us through the mind-numbing logistics we'll encounter when our parents won't be here any more. 

And we'll have the honor of carrying out every detail in the precise way they've planned.

3.  Hiring a Cleaning Lady
A well cared for home has always been prized, and when the logistics to making that happen became more and more difficult, my parents stepped out on a limb and hired a very competent woman to come in a few times a month.  This was a big decision and not one that was made lightly.  It has been an ongoing investment that has paid big dividends and frees them up to use their energy enjoying the birds at the feeder, reading good books, listening to their favorite music, talking on the phone with people they care about, watching documentaries on TV, and reading endless emails from friends. 

And the house never looked better.

4.  Moving Their Bedroom Downstairs
This was another long time coming decision, and one I was more than relieved to see come to pass.  Visions of one or both of them careening down the carpeted stairs and ending up with serious injuries was a concern to us all.  Their choice to allow us to move their bedroom onto the first floor has turned out to be a super smart move.  The smaller room meant they had to give up a rather large dresser, but now their out of season clothes remain upstairs and there's plenty of room for everything that's needed in an easy to navigate space that includes a wonderful chair, perfect for napping. 

And they love one floor living.   

5.   Shopping Online
Images of my mom flying off her feet in an icy parking lot while her cane hung uselessly on a shopping cart handle prompted the choice to use Stop & Shop's Peapod for the majority of their food shopping.  Convenient and not terribly expensive, their supermarket needs are taken care of by a simple online ordering process and a delivery routine that's second to none.  No more exhaustion after navigating a huge supermarket and then hauling heavy groceries in and out of the cart and the car.  More valuable energy to use elsewhere.

And much to Mom's delight, they take coupons!

6.  Living Out Their Faith
Gone are the days when my parents appeared at the church every time the doors were open.  They have served faithfully, and continue to do so in quiet, unassuming ways, even if they might not get out every Sunday morning at 9am.  No one prays with such deep clarity and gentle authority like my dad does.  When he talks to God about his family, I know that we're in good hands, on earth and in heaven.  And I hear that mom has a huge following of younger women that she mentors and shepherds with her gentle spirit and warm presence. 

In the end, it was never about dispensing wisdom at board meetings or being the first one in the door at every Sunday service.  It is all about loving well. 

And that they continue to do.


  1. What a wonderfully humbling and touching article. Their children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren have had their lives sculpted and fashioned by their ceaseless love and caring hands.

    How fitting that their retirement years (now numbering close to 20) have been replete with love and admiration by so many. I was especially touched by the closing section about how they show concern for the spiritual direction of others.

    Long ago are the days where I'd switch around their names into "Grandpama" and "Grandmapa" (still cannot remember who was called each name), but I continue to - and ever will be - grateful for the example they have shown me, their loving grandson.

  2. Very thought provoking post. My husband and I are in our 50s, but I don't think it's too early for us to start thinking about how we hope to live our lives in our 60s, 70s and 80s, if the Lord grants us that much time.
    I appreciate the reminder about making choices and the great advice you gave.

  3. For sure, Elizabeth! It's never too early to consider the seasons ahead, without getting obsessed or crazy about it.

    As Jonathan has so well written, our family is reaping the rewards of my parents' wise, care-filled decisions.

  4. They have gone to great lengths to make sure that their girls are not left with a mess on their hands later on. It takes a lot of thought to do that ahead of time, and a lot of love and concern for their family.

  5. You know that I could kiss the ground they walk on and then arise and call them blessed for showing their love in this substantial way, K ...

  6. Linda,
    You know I appreciate all the hard work our parents have done to declutter and throw things out, but you have to admit that my basement and attic are more fun to rummage through than yours are!

  7. Ah ... and you just CAN'T WAIT til I come and spend the weekend with you to 'help' you carve a few paths through it all!


    Love you, dear sister!!!!

  8. I'm here from the "Works For Me Wednesday" links. These are very helpful and I can commend them, as we have watched our own parents age and prepare for those days in the future for ourselves as well.

  9. To retain our ability to choose, to make our decisions, to claim our dignity and independence as long as possible ... isn't that what we all want?

    Good to hear that your parents have done the same, Barbara!

  10. One more thing I'd add for those looking ahead to retirement years: cultivate a hobby or interest that you can pursue then. My mother and step-father worked full time, and when they faced retirement were bored to tears because they had never cultivated any outside interests.

  11. Our son-in-law's grandfather was my inspiration for this topic. He thought everything out, had everything prepared and easy for his children and grandchildren when he passed into Glory at almost 100 years old. My husband and I are already talking about some of these subjects. I'm hoping we can put a lot of them into reality in the not-too-far future. Thank you for this sweet and sensitive post.

  12. Yes, Barb, cultivating hobbies, interests, opportunities to serve others ... these are the things that make those later years most meaningful.

    And frankly talking about these subjects well ahead of time is probably key to living this season well. Thanks, Lou Ann for bringing up the whole communication angle!


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