She’s nearly ninety-nine

Every so often I think about death, especially when I’m with a group of friends that started out one size and ended up smaller. I have one friend – her name is Eleanor — who by virtue of her age should remind me of death but never does.  In fact, she seems immortal. 

I’ve written about Eleanor before, but that was way back when she was 94 or 95 and now she’s 98 and 1/2, which she routinely rounds up to “going on 99.” 

Recently, I interviewed her to learn her secrets of aging as they relate to a healthy mental state.

As a guide I used a sort of memoir, “On the Brink of Everything Grace, Gravity and Getting Old,” by Parker J. Palmer, who looks back on his life in such areas as work and vocation, staying engaged with the world, and staying engaged, creatively, with the young.

Work and vocation.  Eleanor’s list is too long to include here. Her careers range from journalist to costume designer to drama teacher. She’s a founder of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) and still actively involved. Recently, she hosted a buffet for thirty of the organization’s leaders who were in town for a conference.

When I first met her, we were both enrolled in a writing program through the University of Washington.  She was ninety. She has taken at least one writing course every year since then.

Creative time with younger people. Palmer suggests that as we age we benefit from spending creative time with people younger than we are.  Eleanor is a writer and she hosts a writers’ critique group twice a month (with dinner). At “going on 99,” whether it’s in courses or in the writers’ group, she has no choice but to spend creative time with folks much younger than she is.

Engaging with the world. Eleanor is way ahead of most retirees in this category. “I get out of the house every day and announce my age constantly. I talk to everyone, everywhere.” Her local librarian saves books for her.  She’s well known by the tech staff at the Microsoft store near her home. The woman who hands out free food samples at Costco attended her last birthday party.  “Successful aging is really being genuinely interested in other people. I feel like everyone is a sibling or maybe I’m their surrogate mother.”

But wait, there’s more. She says she has “unbridled curiosity, pays attention to the moment,” though she’s “often undisciplined and unfocused.” She explains the latter, saying, “I grew up wild in a family of eight children, which shaped who I am now. As a child, day and night I was attentive to tangible and intangible details, always alert to the potential for conflict.”

Besides having good genes – her doctor describes her as an outlier – and an outgoing nature, Eleanor attributes her long life to sleeping eight hours a night, taking no medicine, having curiosity, reading avidly, and questioning authority, especially doctors.  

Because I believe Eleanor is immortal,  I look forward to finding out whether her “secrets” list changes once she reaches 100.

About stillalife

I retired June 30, 2010 after working for 40 years in the field of education and most recently doing school public relations/community outreach in a mid-size urban school district. I wrote for superintendents and school board members. Now I'm writing for me and I hope for you. In this blog, I offer my own views coupled with the latest research on how to preserve our physical and mental health as we age, delve into issues most of us over 50 can relate to like noticing wrinkles and forgetting where we left our keys, discuss the pros and cons of different ways to engage our minds and bodies after we leave the workplace, and throw in an occasional book review, all peppered with a touch of humor, irony, and just plain silliness. Also, I'm on the third draft of my second novel since retirement.
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7 Responses to She’s nearly ninety-nine

  1. This is so inspiring! So you gonna come to CA one of these days? We’re just about to start a big remodel, so Chez Weltman will be closed to visitors till probably close to the end of the year, but then after that … you know I only invite people I really really like a lot. Life is way too long and short to have annoying guests.


  2. Marilyn Pedersen says:

    I would love to meet Eleanor! Such an inspiration! Thanks for sharing, Ann.

  3. Darlene Bishop says:

    Wonderful account of Eleanor’s life and her amazing strength even as she approaches 100, to help those in need and I’m so impressed she doesn’t take any medicine—good for her.

  4. travelnwrite says:

    I’ve felt for several years – thanks to our coffee klatches – that I know Eleanor. Now I know her even better. . .she is a jewel!

  5. Eleanor does have the key to a worthwhile and stimulating old age, that’s clear. She reminds me of my grandmother in her curiosity and real engagement with people — even in hospital, close to death, her room was always bustling with people who just liked being with her! I do hope to follow in her footsteps … but we all have different ways to be old.

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