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Living vs. Existing: Thoughts on My Favorite Octogenarian


Today, I am thinking about my amazing Aunt Mary, who was born on this date in 1910.  She lived to be 102, and stayed on her farm until age 101, when she moved into an assisted living facility.  I still remember her 100th birthday party at “the farm.”  When my twin sister, who is a teacher, told her young students that she was going to her aunt’s 100th birthday party, one of her students asked, “Is she STILL alive?”

Oh, yes!  At this 100th birthday party, she was quite alive.  She was in top form, greeting guests, directing lunch,  telling jokes, clarifying historical family facts, playing whist, and taking time to speak with every guest with special attention to each child who attended. She found it rather flattering that children would give up an afternoon to visit a 100 year-old lady.

Aunt Mary didn’t just make it to 102, she LIVED, and I mean LIVED to 102.  She was blessed with mental sharpness in both short and long term memory until the day she died.  She had an uncanny ability to tell jokes without cracking a smile until after the punch line.  She played cards as often as possible, with neighborly whist games running at least 3x a week at her house.  She would rise at 4:30 a.m. to say her prayers and see the sun rise in front of her big picture window.  She was known for baking the softest homemade buns and fresh strawberry or apple pie.

At her birthday bash, she felt it wasn’t right that the event was catered when she could have prepared the food herself.  “I have nothing else to do, really!”  She used a walker, and refused a wheelchair after trying one for 2 days.  “How am I supposed to get around and get things done? ” When asked at her party the secret to successful aging she gave credit to her deep faith in God, hard work, positive attitude, hearty genes, and love and support from family and friends.

Aunt Mary and I had a Teacup Bond.  When I was a child I noticed Aunt Mary had some beautiful teacups in a curio cabinet at the farm.  In the span of over 50 years I never saw anyone open that cabinet.  When visiting her when she was in her 90s, I drummed up the courage one day to ask if we could use those cups for our afternoon coffee.  They were so beautiful and I always wondered what it would be like to drink from them.  She was delighted with my request so we took the cups out of the cabinet, washed them and used them.  What a treat!  After that, every time I visited her, she made sure I had a teacup and saucer when she served the coffee.  When leaving, I would often find a tissue-wrapped gift in my purse – it was the cup and saucer from that day’s coffee. As soon as I would start to protest, she would shush me and whisper “You never know if today was our last coffee together….”

I’m glad I chose to LIVE and ask to drink from the cups, rather than just exist (and watch the cups hang in the curio cabinet.)

Today, Aunt Mary, I am lining up the teacups and you get the special one that says “Happy Birthday” on it.  I’ll make the coffee.


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