As the calendars turn to a new year in our lives, longevity is often on our minds. A year ago, my grandfather was in the hospital with a blocked coronary artery – it was the first time he had ever been a patient in a hospital!
Next to a man who has lived 97 extremely healthy years, one can’t help thinking about the nature of longevity. As I wait to hear more about your thoughts for our site in 2009, I wanted to share with you what I wrote as I sat by his side in the hospital, a year ago…
A nurse came in to see my grandfather just before his surgery, looked at his chart (born in 1911), and marveled at his age. She asked him how he lived so long. He thought for a moment and said, “Well, I suppose it’s because I always loved what I was doing.” Then he asked her, “Do you love what you’re doing?” She paused, looked down, and said, “You caught me – I don’t.”
My grandfather had several careers – he switched probably once every ten years on average. Every time he had learned all he could, and taken that business as far as he could go, he moved on. And he was able to get through the time “in between” jobs because he was smart with his money: investing wisely (and conservatively), minimizing debt, and not buying things he didn’t need.
What did my grandfather do? Well, I’m sure I’ll miss about half of his jobs, but from what I remember, he: worked in a grocery store, owned one of the first self-serve hardware stores, was a fireman and helped create the first aid car in Seattle, was a private detective for small businesses, was a pilot in the Marines in World War II, was a business consultant, and was hired to gracefully take several businesses out of business. After all that, he started up a Savings and Loan with two others who didn’t know anything about banking either, and brought it to such success that he was flying his own Cessna to other areas where they were set up franchises. He retired at the bank when he was 65 (about ten years before the S & L scandals in the 80s). After retiring he consulted with several businesses, and spent about five years bringing profit to three of my cousins’ businesses.
My grandfather is still working, even here in the hospital. He’s not overworking, but he still participates in several different charity organizations, all of whom rely on his input and expertise. It makes him feel needed, it keeps him mentally sharp, it gives the people he works with some continuity as he has often been with the organization for 50 or 75 years, and he is able to do something good for other people.
Essentially, he has surrounded himself by good, interesting people. So he has always had lots of people to live for – both family and friends. He has worked hard but has always liked what he did. And he has taken good care of his health, by eating fresh fruits and vegetables from his gardens, getting lots of exercise (walking and working in the garden), regularly visiting a doctor for check-ups, and nurturing himself when ill. He’s also never smoked nor over-consumed alcohol.
In the hospital there is a great deal of emphasis on being in touch with your pain, and reducing it whenever possible. When your body has pain, it is generally an indicator that something is wrong. Pain also puts your body through a lot of stress – not just physical pain, but also emotional pain. By contrast, happiness and contentedness are indicators of good health – both emotional and physical. Not only are they related to longevity, but they are related to quality of life. And so we must focus on emotional and physical health.
We often forget that when a close loved one takes good care of himself, we all benefit by his quality of life and longevity. I’ve spent so many wonderful hours with my grandfather (you may find that obvious by now!). My second cousin will be having a baby in January. That baby will be my grandfather’s great great grandson. Five living generations. Can you imagine bouncing a great great grandchild on your knee? Or watching your great granddaughter marry the man she loves? Or having a life-changing conversation with your granddaughter? All as you pass on your memories to all of them. These are good motivations to live well and happily throughout our lives.
Update: My grandfather’s heart was fixed with a relatively simple procedure, and while the time in the hospital took a while to recover from fully, now he is doing well. Since we moved to Seattle, I have had lunch with him once a week, and we have had such a wonderful time. Oh, and that great, great grandson was born last January. Here they are this Christmas – spanning 97 years and 5 generations!