With the ushering in of a new year, some of us may have made a commitment to better health. Maybe you have promised to eat better, stop smoking, exercise more, learn meditation, etc. Do you find yourself asking, “What changes can I realistically make?” “How can I contribute to my own optimal healthy aging?”
Recently a friend commented how tired she was feeling one day as she set about assisting her mother Emma with errands. “You know what my mother said that very day? ‘I feel great. I don’t know why I have so much energy.’ How is it that my ninety-one year old mother has more energy than me at sixty?”
“Let’s ask Emma what her secret is,” I suggested. How has she seemingly captured the way to healthy aging?
Emma gladly took to the task of letting us in on her “secrets” despite her humble claims that she didn’t think she would have much of importance to say. She was perfectly coiffed and attired for our “interview” as she liked to refer to my visit. Coffee was carefully prepared along with a generous serving of tiramisu, which I noticed she abstained from.
Emma was a young woman living in a small village in Italy when two young men from Canada were touring Europe by motorcycle and as destiny would have it, crashed the bike a short distance from Emma’s family home, as witnessed by Emma’s brother. One of the men was hospitalized and the motorcycle needed repairs, leaving John to fend for himself. Emma’s family welcomed him to visit with them in their home and offered him their hospitality until the men were able to move on with their journey.
Shortly after his return to Canada, John wrote to Emma and they began a letter correspondence over the next year; he writing in English and she writing in Italian, with both needing translation to decipher the meaning. He returned to Italy a year later with a friend and visited with Emma and her family again. This time he returned to Canada and sent a letter requesting her hand in marriage. She thought it best that he come to Italy and she would make her decision then. The month was September and in October they married. It was the following January that Emma left Italy and her large extended family and the only world she knew to spend seventeen days to come to Canada by boat.
When we remark that she must have been very brave to have made the decisions she did, it is clear Emma does not think of it that way. “I was always myself. I was adventurous and independent. I was not afraid and I adjusted easily to things. I think it was my destiny.”
She refers to notes she has made as she contemplates what her secret is. “Every morning I acknowledge gratitude for what I have and I do the same every evening. It helps keep me positive. I am grateful for my good health. I grew up with good eating habits and I keep everything in moderation. I know what is good for me. I also have daughters and grand-daughters that are very good to me.”
Emma loves her neighborhood and makes a habit of walking most days. It is during these walks that she meets and greets neighbors and before long, they become friends and she is inviting them for lunch. “I like people. I seldom meet someone I don’t like. I am friendly and I like to connect with people wherever I go.”
And then there are Emma’s gardens; an oasis of lush tranquility from which she derives much pleasure, as does all her visitors. “You have to enjoy what you put in this earth.”
“You have to be realistic and see life as it is. I’ve lost very special friends who I really miss.” After John was diagnosed with ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease), Emma became a caregiver. He quickly declined to his death less than a year later. “I had to learn to take over those tasks I had never done. After a year of John being gone, the heavy burden lifted and I realized I had to make a life.”
“You need courage as you age. Maybe I always had that.” It’s that simple to Emma. There is no “secret” to a long life as she sees it. Secret or not, Emma is doing much to contribute to her healthy aging and that level of energy she has that surprises even herself. Her choices have paid huge dividends over her ninety-one years. She is an inspiration to those of us making the resolutions this year to embrace better health. She’s a hard act to follow but she’s proof that the effort is well worth it.