What Keep You Going When You’re Almost 100?!
Picture a cozy living room with turquoise walls warmed softly by a gas stove in the corner and the flickering green, red, orange, and blue lights of a small Christmas in the front of the room. In another corner, a TV quietly projects the drama of a Spanish “novella”, one of the Latin soap operas which make General Hospital look restrained. Quietly seated around the room are 9 elderly residents of this humble but welcoming old folks home.
Rebecca is there with her younger sister, Julia, twenty year her junior, visiting Ceci, the woman who took care of Julia for the first 18 years of her life. Ceci is now 96 and even though she is the oldest person at the group home they call her Sgt. Pepper because she fusses over the other residents, making sure that Rosa’s food is landing in her mouths and not her lap or redirecting Norma, who paces around the room, from knocking into the stove. Ceci is not a soft touch. For example, when Maria, asks for 100
th time that day why her husband, who she believes is supposed to be taking her to the pharmacy, has not arrived, Ceci brutally reminds her “Your husband is not coming, he’s dead!”
Indeed Ceci is bossy. However, it is clear to us that she is happier now than she has been for years. This is mostly because of Marta and her husband Alberto, her amazing caretakers. They receive ongoing support from Josy, their 25 year old daughter, when she isn’t performing with the choral group at college and and their 21 year old son Nacho who is studying to be a veterinarian. While tending to Isabella, who is bed ridden with a feeding tube, Marta relates that these folks are her teachers. “They remind me that we cannot be distracted by possessions, we have to live our lives in the moment. Because there comes a time when we no longer have options and everything is stripped away.”
It’s a sobering thought, but Marta says it with a twinkle in her eye and a gentle caress of Isabella’s face. It keeps Marta grateful and her spirits light.
Rebecca asked Ceci, who has lost all of her 4 daughters and two of her sons, a question she asks all of the elders she encounters-“What keeps you going?” Not surprisingly, Ceci answered “being engaged, and doing things that give you structure and a sense of accomplishment.” For example, helping Marta with the meals is really important to Ceci. If she can’t help out, she gets restless and bored.
We also noticed the effect that spontaneous positive exchanges had on Ceci and the other residents. For example, when Alberto played some salsa music, Ceci and a couple of the ladies merrily joined Julia in a little cha cha cha. Ceci also lit up when Gaspar, one of the stray kittens that the family had rescued, sat in her lap or when the two little dogs, Lupe and Martin, came trotting into the room.
We are reminded of Barbara Fredrickson’s work positive emotions-the tremendous impact that experiencing more positivity has on our lives. As we saw with Ceci, some of the things that naturally triggered that positivity were animals, helping others, feeling useful, music, and laughter. Fredrickson identifies other keys avenues such as engaging with nature, resting and taking care of ourselves, and perhaps particularly relevant as we get older, finding meaning and purpose both in the lives that we have led and in our day to day experience.
Click on this image to download this month’s handout on positive emotions and ways that you can experience more of them. We share it with you as an expression of our own gratitude toward you, knowing that if you are receiving this it is because somehow we were blessed to have connected with you and we are richer for having done so.
Many, many blessings to you and your family as this year comes to a close and we prepare for a new year ahead.
With heartfelt appreciation, Rebecca & Gioia
Using collage, drawing, or clay, make symbols for the things that you happy, bring you joy and peace, and make you feel grateful and alive.