My grandparents are a rarity; at ages 90 and 94, they are still a force to be reckoned with. They reside in, as the website describes it, “an active adult community” in Delray Beach, Florida. They are physically less active than they used to be—my grandfather struggles with his new reality, Parkinson’s disease, and my grandmother can no longer walk without a cane— yet they take these unfortunate life changes and work with them as best they can. I went to Florida last weekend to spend some time with the two of them. While I sat with my grandmother in her newly remodeled kitchen (it’s never too late to change things up a bit), her phone continued to ring off the hook. Exasperated, she showed me her calendar — handwritten were tons of doctor’s appointments but more importantly, social events. This is what keeps them going, along with their love for their family and friends. We may be decades apart, but the lessons I learned from how my grandparents live are applicable to all of us, at any age.
1. It’s never too late to make a new best friend.
When my grandparents moved from New York to Florida into their senior community, they didn’t know anyone else who lived there. So, they joined the Snowbirds Club, (aptly named because its members are East Coasters who flew down south for winter) and my grandmother met Shirley, now one of her closest friends. Together they can joke about the “joys” of being old and have found that they compliment each other well—my grandmother is the headstrong one of the two, and Shirley is her more laid back sidekick. They take turns hosting the 90-year-old version of a pregame—coffee and cake at one of their places before they go out for the evening. They love to share in each other’s lives and they are there to help each other out. Shirley’s husband, Bob, has become their designated driver whenever needed since my grandfather is no longer able to drive. Together, Big Bob, Shirley’s husband, and my grandfather, Little Bob, as they refer to the two, have also formed a great friendship. When the ladies left to setup the big square dance (more on that next), the Bobs were teamed up to manage the nametags.
2. There is great reward in taking on leadership positions.
My grandmother, now 94, can no longer do-si-do the way she did 10 years ago when she first began planning the annual Snowbird’s Club Square Dance. However, this hasn’t stopped her from not only attending, but also running the show! She had worked for months, collecting and depositing all the payment checks, keeping a running list of guests, hiring the square dancing caller and his flashy dancers, organizing the food and preparing for the day of setup. Her phone was ringing non-stop and she was as busy as any event planner! Having that responsibility and the reward of an event well done (their numbers have gone up by 40 people since last year’s event was a success!) makes her useful and a valuable person in her community. And it’s also fun—her and Shirley went out and bought matching shirts just for the occasion!
3. Treat yo’ self.
Okay, she doesn’t say “yo’” self, but my grandma is a proponent of the occasional treat. Her vice – KFC. She told me that once a month, her and Shirley go to KFC, pick up a bucket, and feast! These special occasions make life all the better; they are something to look forward to and a break from your everyday routine.
4. You don’t need to be rich to be happy.
My mother told me that they used to call my grandfather the “happiest poor man in the world.” My grandparents both worked hard their entire lives, often working multiple jobs, night shifts, whatever it took to support their family of five. The apartment they raised my mom, aunt and uncle in is shockingly small; it would be a great setting for a reality show. Five people, forced to share one bathroom! I still can’t fathom how they lived in that tiny apartment in Queens, NY. My grandfather had many hobbies though; he loved to play tennis, to dance, to listen to Frank Sinatra and to let loose with a couple of drinks! He knows how to make the most of life, regardless of wealth.
5. Make Saturday night “Date Night.”
Growing up, I knew every Saturday night meant that my mom and dad were heading out. The babysitter would come and it was one of the rare occasions where pizza was a frontrunner as a dinner option. My mother learned this from her mother. My grandparents too, went out, just the two of them sans kids, every Saturday night. As my grandmother told me, this tradition was what helped sustain their married for all these years. They looked forward to their evenings together and never lost their romantic connection in the craziness of daily life.
6. You should make your bed and get dressed every day.
As a freelance/unemployed writer, I have fallen victim to the days of not wanting to get out of bed and put on pants. And, it is usually on those days that I tend to feel a bit down and scared about my future. My grandmother however, told me that every day, her and my grandfather both make their bed together. Then, they get dressed. It’s a daily ritual; something that signifies a new day and that life is happening. No time to stay in bed and let the day pass on by.
7. Humor keeps you going.
When you get to their age, life isn’t always easy. Cancer, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s—
they are either living with it, or know someone who is. It can all get pretty depressing if you don’t have a sense of humor about it. Shirley and my grandmother joke often, be it about their falling body parts, their active social lives or their attempts to take a selfie on Shirley’s flip-phone. They embody the adage “laughter is the best medicine.” I’ve seen the myriad of pill bottles that are meticulously sorted into my grandparent’s organized daily pillboxes and I can attest that yes, laughter is by far the best medicine they have.