Over my years of being an elder law attorney, I have learned many valuable life lessons from my clients. One of them is that people age in different ways. I have learned that there are some really old 65 year olds, and some incredibly young 80, 90, and yes, 100 year olds. Yes, a lot of how we age is based on whether or not we are fortunate enough to enjoy good health which in turn is influenced in part by our genetics. But I have seen over and over that the rest is strongly influenced by attitude and how our seniors approach their lives each day. From my clients (and my family) I have learned how to do it right. As I approach a birthday of my own (and as the granddaughter of a grandmother who lived to the age of 102), I honestly can’t say I am doing it even close to completely right myself just yet, but I certainly have had wonderful examples set for me, and the bar is really high.
Perhaps it has something to do with being born in November. When I was 10, I had the privilege of befriending Miss Fanton whose 100th birthday (the same date as mine) was reported in our local newspaper. My mom and I sent her a letter, and Miss Fanton invited us to tea at her home. All I really still remember about the day is that she taught me how to play dominos. But in hindsight, I recognize her independence (she was still living alone), and generosity of spirit in reaching out to a young child and becoming her pen pal. Somewhere, I still have her letters.
Through my practice, I have had the privilege of meeting Lillian Ossipoff, whose 100th birthday is in a couple of weeks and whose generosity to community has recently been widely publicized in our local newspapers (see Sun Chronicle article). We bonded as fellow Thanksgiving babies and yard sale aficionados. I never ceased to be amazed as this teeny 90+ year old dynamo would stop by my office on her way to her daily golf game. Yes: Daily. She may now have slowed down a little bit, but clearly she is still going strong, enabling future generations of students to learn to make art which has been her lifelong passion.
And then there is Eleanor Cunningham, whose story caught my eye this morning and inspired this post. You can read it here. Some people celebrate their birthdays with cake and flowers. And other people suit up, kiss their great-great-grandchildren, and with doctor letter in hand, jump out of airplanes! For fun. Because they can. And because the thrill of continually trying new things, of being curious, of looking forward to each new day is part of what lets them be able to do it in the first place.
So, this post is dedicated to Miss Fanton, to Lil, to Mrs. Cunningham, to all of these 100 year old poster women for incredible aging, to the ladies I want to be when I grow up. You are all an inspiration and models of how to do it right, and you teach all of us so many lessons every day, maybe without even knowing it. Happy Birthday, Ladies. You go, Girls!