Choosing Life Despite The Challenges of Aging

By Steven Grossman, MD.

When asked to make the debut post in the Commonwealth Care Group Blog, I sat down to think what might be comforting, motivational and "real" for members of the CCG family. I concluded that telling the story of a real family member, one who has experienced loss and changed circumstances, but has learned to find meaning again, may be just the remedy.

And so it goes. Mrs. "G", my dear Mom, is 88 years old. Her husband, my dear Dad, passed five years ago after 63 years of marriage. They met in college and married after graduation.  Throughout their lifetime, they raised two "perfect" sons, worked and volunteered, traveled and played many sports and games together.  Their life was always full, packed with new activities, old and new friends, and the excitement of just being with one another.

In 2009, Mr. “G” developed heart failure over the course of a few weeks and passed away on the eve of what would have no doubt been a traumatic aortic valve replacement surgery. His beloved wife had lost her truest companion, and his adoring family attempted that delicate balance of celebrating life while mourning loss. 

Mom and Dad were an inseparable couple.  Always up and dressed (see video below - - who plays golf dressed like that?!) for any adventure that may arise.  Whether it was just going to the market, exploring the opening of a new local business, taking classes at the university, volunteering at an "old age home", or providing support to their religious affiliation, they were always an adorable twosome.  It had been this way from the beginning. A lifelong love affair.  They doted over one another, bought gifts for each other, joked and laughed, hugged and kissed one another, and danced in the kitchen. A couple who truly loved each other dearly.  And now, one of them had departed. Even at 87 years old and six decades together, it was a tearful, painful goodbye. How would anything ever feel right or good or happy again for my Mom?

The reason for this tale is simple. Mom had always been a remarkable person. One who was blessed with the ability to find the good in everyone. One who would wake up smiling. In her world, the glass was always really, really “full”. But now, she had every reason to climb into a deep hole and lament her loss. But she didn't. Not for a moment. Instead (and in hindsight, predictably) she chose to live despite this loss.

How did she do it? Her first decision was to exercise. Walk for an hour each morning with friends. She knew, as we all do, that exercise makes us feel better and she committed to it. What else? Play "bridge" three times a week to keep her mind active and to maintain her bonds with lifelong friends (both married and widowed). After all, she grew up in that town, and was so fortunate to have friends from her early childhood days. They depended on her, and she needed them. A new play at the playhouse, “let's go!” The symphony is performing next week, “Sounds fun!” The art gallery has a new exhibit, “looks terrific!” 

Every Friday night she and her buddies head to a local restaurant for a “cheap” dinner where the waitresses and staff have adopted them as grandparents. This has afforded them an extended group of young friends who keep them up-to-date with technology and current events. I'll always remember my Mom asking me to “take a selfie” with her for the first time! They have carefully chosen locations close to their homes so that the winter weather will not keep them in. They carpool to feel safe, and rarely let anything stand in the way of “living”

On Sundays, rain or shine, it’s a matinee movie with brunch before or dinner after. It doesn't matter whether it’s an animated kids movie, a foreign film with subtitles, or a must see blockbuster, they are there. Senior citizen rates keep it affordable, and the owner of their local theatre frequently gives them free drinks and popcorn vouchers. Every day is by careful design, busy. 

This has been her choice. To live despite her loss and new limitations. Appropriately, to do so was the same advice she and my Dad gave me when my wife died 14 years ago of cancer in her 40's.

Is it always easy?

Of course not. 

Does she require a bit of extra help around the house these days?

Yep.

Does she have periods of deep sadness, profound loneliness, and reminiscence?

Certainly. But she has chosen to live positively despite all that might stand in her way... to fully enjoy the wonderful possibilities each day still holds. 

My Mom is, of course, very special. But so are all of you. And having endured my own devastating loss, I too, after a time, began to heed my Mom's advice many years earlier, to seek out positive people and opportunities to continue to enjoy each day. To be mindful of this singularly unique moment. We all have felt the frailty of life in such losses and know intimately that tomorrow may never come. 

And so I commend to all of the members of the Commonwealth Care Group family who may be suffering: try choosing “to live”. You are not alone, nor forgotten. Don't let loss, sadness, changed circumstances and new challenges rob you of your will to live fully because your family, friends, and all of us rely on you to serve as the wonderful examples of courage and strength you are.