I have realized, growing older, that although we gain in years and wisdom, we also gain in losses. My oldest aunt is wonderfully alive at 95 years and is lovingly cared for by her sons, but she has had to live through the deaths of her only sister (my Mom) and all of her five brothers, even her “baby brother” who was twelve years younger than her. She lost her parents decades ago, and her beloved husband just a few years ago. Her health is pretty good, thankfully. Other elderly folk lose their physical abilities and their health earlier. These are all difficult losses which affect our view of the world and our view of self.
I watched a series of YouTube videos by Niklas Ekstedt, a famous Swedish Chef who investigated the areas of the world that have the oldest living people. These areas are called “Blue Zones.” The link on the chef’s name, above, takes you to the episode he filmed in Japan. I won’t give away all the secrets, but in my summation after watching the series, the most important factors were staying productive (giving back to society or family in some way, or staying active), and participating in a social community. The latter could be having a large family or one with strong connections, or it could be a bowling league, a church community, or a close-knit neighborhood.
I surmise that in our modern age, both the productivity and the community factors could be something formed from social connections and activity on the internet–as long as those connections and activities are positive and build one up. I do know that since I was diagnosed with cancer that social connections were increasingly forced to those on social media, email, phone-calls and snail-mail. I’m thankful for every one of them. People I haven’t seen in decades are sending care packages and messages of love and support. On the internet I’ve found a good friend through one Facebook group, and immense support from the many members of another.
I admit that when I viewed the Ekstedt videos of the physically productive men and women in their eighties and nineties, and the wrinkled centenarians sagely offering advice through sparkling eyes, I thought to myself that because of my diagnosis, I have little chance of making it that long. But I am here now, and I could be alive for a couple more decades! I am not giving up. Not one person knows how long their lives will last. Every day really can be viewed as a gift.
These are the ultimate gains, are they not? The good memories are precious. It is helpful and healthy to reframe or reimagine the way we look difficult things. It is too easy to get focused on the losses and to be dragged down. It is too easy for fear to take hold. My late husband’s Mom was increasingly ill in her final years, but despite the tragic losses in her life, she told me that she could not let herself get down, that there were still so many blessings in and throughout her life. I will strive to be more like her. It won’t be easy, I know. Grieving needs to happen, it is not something that truly ends until we have passed on. But her words are full of wisdom and grace.