My two grandmothers, my aunts, and my mom lived full, active lives into their late 80s and beyond.
I noticed four common traits they shared.
Now I'm in my 50s, I try every day to remember the example they set for me.
When I was younger, I thought it was normal for an 80-year-old grandma to spend her week driving to estate sales, looking for swag to stock her weekend flea-market booth. And later, for my 82-year-old mom to buy a two-story townhouse with all the bedrooms upstairs.
Not only was it not normal, but people found it incredible. The women in my family — both grandmas, my aunts, and my mom — had no intention of planning their days around doctor visits. They had merchandise to sell, walks to take, and trips to plan.
Embrace each day
The women in my family tended to rise early, make their beds every morning, and fix their faces and hair. My mom had a weekly appointment at the beauty shop all her adult life.
Structure was important, and so was a schedule. After my grandmother rented a stall at a nearby flea market, she had her first business cards printed at age 80. She was proud to have a new hobby that gave her something to do all week. Her favorite finds were discounted gems such as diamond rings, crystal vases, and vintage glassware.
Pursue a specific interest
Recently, my 86-year-old aunt set up an easel. She paints near a big window where she can watch for her favorite visitors — groundhogs she named Ralph Waldo and Henry David — while she works. She worked in an art gallery before she retired and now finds painting relaxing.
Another aunt who lived to almost 90 was an avid birdwatcher who'd spend hours outside, listening to birdcalls and identifying different species. She eventually had a yearly visitor, a red summer tanager she named Mr. T, who would take bread from her hand. He came for seven consecutive summers.
Keep your head up
Though they'd all lived through poverty and hardship, the prevailing belief was that things would always work out.
My fraternal grandmother came to the United States as a child with her family, who didn't speak the language and had little money in their pockets. My maternal grandmother had 11 kids, lived on a cotton farm, and lost her husband — and his paycheck — before her youngest kids were grown.
Failure wasn't an option. Mindset was.
When my aunt beat cancer in her 60s, she made daily gratitude a priority. Now in her 80s, she lives alone, walks to the library, and still takes road trips. Energy flows where attention goes. Focus on the good.
Engage with those around you
I noticed an agelessness about the women in my family. While their hair might've been gray, their hearts and minds were not.
They had friends of all ages and were interested in others' stories. My mom did volunteer work that put her in contact with homeless people and felons on a weekly basis. One day, a guy came in who'd just been released from prison. He started to tell her what he'd been in for when she stopped him. "That doesn't matter," she said. "That's in the past. Today is a new day." I've never forgotten that. Instead of responding with fear or judgment, she saw potential. And I'll bet somewhere, that guy still remembers the kind gray-haired lady who encouraged him to keep going.
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