I remember the night my best friend and I celebrated his last night as a civilian. The next morning he would report to the Marine Corp. and later deploy to Vietnam. Over some pizza and beer at a local pub, we speculated on how long we might live. We agreed that it didn’t seem likely we would live long enough to see 2020.
In Vietnam, my friend was a helicopter pilot. Shot down, wounded, and in losing some vision he received a medical discharge and returned home. Up to the time he lost his wife two years ago, he handled life’s challenges well. However, without children or family, I have concerns.
On the other hand, my wife and I have five children, nine grandchildren including our grandson Adam who we lost, and a great granddaughter. My wife and I take care of two of our grandsons while their mom is at work. We both have families who share their lives with each other and us.
But over the years, there certainly have been difficult times. There are good and some unpleasant memories, particularly one that has haunted me nearly every day for 50 years, and that I cannot seem to shake. Nevertheless, other than a few regrets, growing old has been an awesome journey, and because of the family we have nurtured and helped to grow, I would not want to go back and change a thing.
However growing old does have its unavoidable challenges. There are things I needed to accept, learn how to manage, embrace life and move on.
One of those things is that my wife, brother, and children seldom let me do anything even though I am capable; most of the time my wife will not even let me drive the car. She says that I make her nervous.
Another, after years of my family sharing things with me and in which I would contribute, I am now, for the most part, not included. It may be because I have problems keeping up with the conversational give and take. Although my memory recall and reaction time is slow, I can think as clearly and effectively as my younger self. That coupled with some hearing loss is challenging to say the least. I have had to learn to converse and listen anew, especially where children are concerned.
Nevertheless, the greatest asset of my life is my family and the reason I expect to live to 2020 and beyond. Surrounded with loving and caring families, my unmarried brother’s outlook for a long life is also good. But I fear that the passing of my friend’s wife just may be the greatest challenge of his life, and without a family, I consider his prognosis for a long life not as good.
The Mayo Clinic’s Debbie L. Fuehrer, L.P.C.C. says that the factors for optimal aging, other than good health, are “love, productivity, creativity, companionship, learning, concern for others, and developing a hopeful outlook.” All of these benefits come with having caring, loving families that share their lives with you. So, to all young people who are willing to listen to this 76 year-old man, to grow and nurture a family is the key to a long, optimal life. It’s also life’s evolutionary purpose and its most challenging gift.