From: Elizabeth Liberman
Senior nursing student at WSU, currently taking a gerontological nursing course
When you hear the words “grey hair,” “wrinkles,” or “old age,” do you cringe? Somewhere between anti-wrinkle creams and “over the hill” cards, our society has given aging a negative connotation. I’ll be the first to admit that I was one of those people that believed in the preservation of youth. In fact, this year, I was dreading turning 22, because 22 is one year away from 23, and 23 is only 7 years away from 30, and 30 is only 60 years away from dying. It seems silly to read it on paper, but honestly, that is the way a lot of people view aging. I also always had this idea in my head that retirement involved sitting around all day, reading book after book and never remembering what it was about after I finished it, and maybe taking the occasional trip to Florida every year. If you’re like me, this sounds like a pretty boring life to look forward to. Well, let me tell you, I have never been so ecstatic about being proved wrong. Actually, I’ve never been ecstatic about being proved wrong, ever.
This semester, I took a nursing course titled Caring for the Older Adult. Part of this class involved meeting with an older adult throughout the semester to interview, to learn more about the aging process, and to understand how it affects people differently. Over the last few weeks, I have had the honor of getting to know a couple who put all of my negative views about aging to rest in a fifty-foot-deep ditch where they will never catch even the slightest glimpse of sunlight ever again. I knew I was not dealing with the “older” people I had envisioned in my mind after the very first time I called them. I introduced myself and asked when we could start meeting. I told them I had Monday, Wednesday, and Friday open. She replied, “Okay, how about next Monday?” It was Sunday. They live such an active life and have so many commitments that I had to make an appointment an entire week ahead of time! It was all uphill from there.
One of my favorite things about these two is that they do not like being called old. If you saw them, you might, like I did, think that is a little silly. They are 80 years old, of course they’re old! However, if you sat down and listened to their stories about all of the many adventures they have had all over the world, about their plans for future travels, about their dreams, their challenges, and their hopes for the future, you would come to view them the way they view themselves, the way I now see them—full of so much life, love, and happiness! The time I have spent with this couple has inspired me. I have never met two people so optimistic, so carefree, and so satisfied with their lives! Throughout the time we have spent together, unbeknownst to this couple, I have been writing down all of the advice they have given me. I call it “10 Tips for Happy Aging.”
Number ten, and possibly my favorite: hang on to heirlooms. “When your mother asks you if you want something before she throws it away, think twice before you say no. You may wish you had it to hang on your wall someday.” Number nine: “The key to being happy is finding something you truly love to do and sticking with it.” Whether this is a hobby, an activity, traveling, etc., don’t ever get so caught up in the world around you that you lose sight of your own happiness. Number eight: do not dwell on things you cannot change. When I asked them, “What has been difficult for you as you have aged?” The response I received was “I don’t think like that.” Number seven, “Good health is essential.” If you do not take care of yourself now, it will only be harder for you to do the things you love in the future. Number six: “If you put effort into your appearance, it really makes a difference. It really shows confidence and demands respect.” Number five: “Do not wait until you are financially sound to start traveling, and it is the BEST education for children!” To go along with that, number four: “Buy a camper and see the world!” Number 3: “Love life.” Have you ever heard the saying “If you love life, life will love you back”? Well I have found living proof that is true. Number two: “Never stop challenging yourself.” Both of them constantly pursue new ways to challenge their thinking and to learn new things. These are easy things like meeting with your friends every week to debate or talk about current events or attending conferences about things you are interested in. Finally, the number one piece of advice I have received is: “Life is good.” In fact, they have told me this so often during our visits that I have considered recommending it as their family slogan. I believe this to be the number one piece of advice, because after getting to know this couple, it is evident that this phrase is their guide to happiness. No matter what life throws at us, no matter what aging may to do us physically, we are given only one life. And life is good.