My Blog

October 22, 2015

On Our Elderly Mothers and Longevity

Reading Al's newspapers, Montaigne and Plato's Lives and, of course Jack Reacher

Reading Al’s newspapers, Montaigne and Plato’s Lives and, of course Jack Reacher

What is it about humans that we have this desperate need to live longer? The Good Lord put something in us that is so strong that we cling to life as though it were the last doughnut in the box at Sunday school. Even cockroaches hang on to their miserable little lives, scurrying for the corners when the lights come on. Okay, maybe not so miserable if they live in Al’s car, cruising the countryside and seeing the world.

But all God’s creatures want to live forever. Why? We should want to get to Heaven! The sooner the better. Those of us that are Baby Boomers are going to face battles over Kavorkian Right-to-Die legislation. Do we want the right to end our lives when we are in pain? Or facing Alzheimers? Or on a down-hill slide like the girl who went to Oregon to die? Or merely no longer useful? The warehousing of the elderly is a question we will all have to address as we face it ourselves.

At 96, Mom insists that she is going to make it to 100. Considering her current health, not taking any pills or medication and still tottering to the pool twice a week, that is only four years away. She could make it.

Mom attributes her longevity to having attended Miss Harris’s School for Girls in Miami. Their classes were held in open-air classrooms, screened, but open to the Florida breezes, winter and summer. Oh, not summer. They were only open from Fall, usually Thanksgiving for the late arrivals from the North, to Easter, when the snowbirds returned to their Yankee homes, including my mother and her sisters.

Mom wants someone to do a study of the girls who attended Miss Harris’s to determine the effect of out-door classrooms on health and longevity. She is certain that the study would prove that she and her classmates have outlived their contemporaries because of their invigorating out-of-doors beginnings. I wonder what would have happened if they had tried out-door classrooms in a wintry Utica, New York, her home the rest of the year.

If she were closer to the University of Miami, I guarantee she would toddle down to the Education Department and try to convince some benighted grad student to take on the project as a doctoral dissertation. She claims being closed up in air-conditioned buildings is making our children –and us–unhealthy, a concept with which I heartily agree.

I attribute her longevity to two things: genes and exercise. Her father was a very physically fit fifty when she was born, having married my grandmother when she was half his age. He died in his eighties, she lived into her nineties, although suffering from a stroke and paralysis. Not an end to which I would look forward. Heredity, I believe, has more influence than outdoor living.

Activity and exercise are also a determining factor. Mom has been swimming since she was a youngster. She competed in high school (having moved from Miss Harris’s to public school with the advent of the Depression), and even tried out for the 1932 Olympic U.S. swim team. To her eternal regret, she missed a spot on the team by a tenth of a second. Now, she competes in the Senior Olympics.

Still winning medals.

Still winning medals.

Mom winning gold medals at the Senior Olympics in 2005

Mom winning gold medals at the Senior Olympics in 2005

She still continues to swim today, although no longer daily, and in a heated pool. Dogged and determined, doing the backstroke, since her breathing is gasping and ragged at best, she puts in half a mile, 15 laps. To the terror of the lifeguards, and mine, she clonks her head or bashes her arm on the pool edge at each turn since she can’t tell when she is close.

Mom says the swimming makes her feel invigorated. Except that now I can barely get a bite of sandwich into her before she collapses into bed and falls asleep. But she is going to make it to 100. As a caregiver that image is not one I want to contemplate—diapers, drool, and tottering to the pool forever.

Elderly Mothers , , , , , , , , , ,
About Caroline Castillo Crimm
Retired Professor Emeritus from Sam Houston State University, interested in writing novels and speaking about topics such as the history of Latin American. Would like to share the AMAZING world of the 18th century in Northern New Spain, that's Spanish Texas and Mexico!
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