Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Twenty lessons to live a long and happy life. (Part 2)

When they look back on life, many folks would say that their grandparents had the biggest effect on the people they became. Unending love. Kneidlach. Funny stories. Great accents. Most everything about grandparents is colorful and worthy of remembering. Well, I recently spent a few weeks with an entire oasis of grandparents, and I too learned a lot about aging and not aging. In my last blog, I discussed 10 ways to live longer and happier lives. Here are another 10 things to consider (in no special order).
Trivia class.
11. Be interested. Every day we picked up a new packed activity schedule. Two of the activities – Trivia and Women’s Discussion Group have everyone chatting. It’s important to keep seniors interested in the world around them and in the conversation. As time does its job and they get around less, hear less, and see not so well, these discussion groups keep their world from shrinking, and keep older adults relevant.
“Today in 1901 the first Nobel Prizes were awarded.” Everyone had an opinion on who should have gotten one and who shouldn’t. “Today in 1830, Emily Dickinson was born. Can anyone remember one of her poems?” And I was flabbergasted to hear two of the men recite Emily Dickinson by heart. (I couldn’t remember anything. I’d better brush up on my poetry.) The Women’s Discussion Group chatted about varied random topics, exploring all kinds of horizons – life in Thailand, parenting today, and I even got to open a discussion on life in Israel.
Staying interested is staying in the game of life.
12 . Dress up. At my mother’s senior residence, her friends dress for dinner every night. Daytime is casual, as residents flit from one activity to the next. Evenings are special, and give everyone a boost, beginning with stylish clothing. Okay, no one wears orange leggings or crazy-youth-obsessed clothes, instead, they all look like they’re going on a cruise. I checked outside for a boat. None. You know the look. Fresh, classic, dignified, like the folks themselves.

Singing hit songs.
13. Sing. Sing out!! Mostly every day, a show or a solo performer takes the stage at my mother’s residence. The songs on the program range from 1920s hits (songs these great-grandparents and I heard from our own parents and grandparents) up to the latest Broadway fare. What a delight! I was in my element. Some folks sat quietly listening, but my mom and I sang along, every song.
Singing is great for seniors and all of us. It expands our memory, it makes us happier, reduces stress, and generally improves quality of life.
In addition to the shows, my mom’s pals like to sing whenever a phrase reminds them of a song. Usually I am the one to break out into a song at the drop of a hat. (I think my kids find it annoying. Tough.) Imagine being on the receiving end of an instant-song. “Thanks so much. That makes me so happy.” And then, three ladies simultaneously chime, “Make someone happy. Make just one someone happy.” Soooo cute.
14. Share your family. We’re in a family-scattered world. Kids, friends and siblings live everywhere from Maine to Mexico. So, when someone has company, everyone in the residence has company. Everyone enjoys stopping by to say, “Hi and where are you from, how long will you be here. Your daughter is beautiful.” And I got to schmooze comfortably with everybody, because they’re used to being friendly to visitors. Win win for all.
Yiddish fun.
15. Learn a new skill. Take up a new hobby. My mother (may she live and be well until 120) worked her entire life. She never had the time or the luxury to paint or even sit over a crossword puzzle. She definitely was not the type to make jewelry. Well, now, whenever she comes to visit, she gifts her children and grandchildren with beautiful Bubby-made colored necklaces and bracelets to match all their clothing. It’s not easy for my mom to use her fingers on these small beads, but she’s great at color coordinating and has become quite creative.
She also goes to a fun-tastic Yiddish class. My mother used to speak a mean Yiddish, but time made her a bit rusty. Now every week, she and her friends learn new fun Yiddish words and try to speak again – at least for an hour on Friday afternoons.

learning new skills and languages keep those brain gears going, plus it's exciting and empowering. What's next? Bring it on.
16. Taste the memories. Most of us cherish our mother’s pinwheel cookies or roast breast of veal in our hearts. The taste remains embedden in our memory banks forever. Every week my mother attends a cooking class where the “master chef” makes different dishes from long ago and today. I sat in on two cooking sessions. The first was devoted to New York City. The dessert, of course, was cheese cake. Deeelicious. Cooking class participants enjoyed every creamy morsel, as some remembered the last time they traveled to NYC, and commented on former mayors. They even sang, “New York, New York.” At another cooking class, souvganiyot donuts came out hot from the frying pan, and the chef said, “Get ready for our Chanukah delicacy. Does anyone remember a Chanukah song?” So, they munched and they sang, and they remembered.
17. Make friends. Be a friend. Moving to a new home is scary. Moving to a new home where 200 other people already live is even scarier. In my mother’s residence, the folks are so nice, I’m sure they help newbies fit right in. Friends are important at every age, and especially for seniors and super-especially when family is far away. Friends keep us young, really. They keep us going. They care about one another. “Why weren’t you at breakfast?” “You went to the beauty parlor? You look great.” “What did the doctor say?” “How are your kids?” Friends are our pillars, our teddy bears, our sounding boards. They keep us in better health, give us emotional support, share our joys and our challenges, and are fun to be with at every age.
18. Believe. Faith has so many forms. Recognizing the good in the world, reading the Bible, chatting with G-d, formal praying. As we face the challenges of life, faith keeps us going through dark times and gives us strength in times of weakness. Believing there’s more to Life than just 24/7 life is empowering, as faith gives us a helping hand, helps us face stress, anxiety and fear.
I attended local Sabbath services with my dearest mother (until 120). The congregation sang time-honored prayers, prayed for the health of their loved ones and the welfare of the nation, read from the Torah scroll and blessed the Sabbath with wine. Faith is invigorating, and if friendship is important to seniors, friendship with Our Creator is huge.

19. Change it up. Seniors in my mother’s residence have a daily and weekly routine, but they are encouraged not to get stuck in a rut. There’s a mini-bus to the Mall to go out into the world a bit. The dinner menu varies every night (although Thursday is always dairy with ice cream. Yes!). Even something as simple as changing a seat breaks their routine and keeps them fresh – sitting at a different table for breakfast or dinner, picking a different seat at a show or at a lecture. Keep life fresh until 120.
20. Become more than yourself. Truthfully, I had another eight things I learned hanging out with my new bubby buddies, but I’d like to stop here and add a thought of my own. As we get older and spend more time worrying about our own health and well-being, sometimes our focus becomes overwhelmingly self-self-self. There are so many amazing ways that seniors can go beyond themselves and make a bigger imprint. Many seniors are probably involved in the follow ideas already, but I wanted to end with a few simple notions.
Charity, of course, is an important aspect of life – helping worthy institutions, causes, projects. Every check makes a difference to a person/organization in need. Tutoring disadvantaged children - wouldn’t it be cool if a bus of inner-city kids was brought to a senior residence twice a month so that seniors could help the kids with their reading. Wrap gifts for children in the hospital or decorate cookies that could be sold at charity events. Knitters or crochet-ers could put their skills to use making caps for premie babies or woolen caps for soldiers. Mentoring young people starting out in the world - seniors have so much life experience/ business experience/ non-profit experience they can give over. Possibilities are endless. 
No one is too old to give of himself. Everything/anything we do for others can change the world for the better, and we're never too old to be a life changer and share of ourselves. Every positive deed we do leaves our mark, “I was here.”

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