My Grandma Golden came to visit my brother and me when she was 89 and I was in my early 20s. She was physically a bit frail, but mentally she was sharp as a tack. (Or maybe sharp as a bent nail—she was fully lucid, but always a bit of a quirky bird.)
During her visit, she regaled us with stories of her life, which I probably didn’t appreciate as much as I should have in my foolish youth. But before she left, she did offer one specific piece of advice that’s always stuck with me.
Maybe it was the sincerity with which she said it. Maybe it was because I was at a time in my life where I was making some questionable life choices. Or maybe it was because I sensed the lifetime of wisdom and experience behind it.
“If I can give you one life lesson, it’s this . . .” she said. “Never do anything you wouldn’t want to tell your kids about.”
It wasn’t what I expected, but now that I’m a parent, I appreciate that advice even more.
Too often, we often think of elderly people as out of touch or unaware of the details of modern life’s challenges, but the older I get the more I think we’ve got it wrong about our elders. Yes, some who are really getting on in years may be cognitively impaired and may not always make sense. But many still have their full wits about them and have decades of life experience and lessons to share.
I asked people to ask their friends and relatives in their 80s and 90s for their best life advice, and here’s what they had to say:
“Love one another. That’s it. Just love one another. Oh, and take good care of your teeth.” – Anne, age 92
“Always stay positive. Bad things happen to everyone, but so do good things. Focus on the good and let the bad be what it is. Don’t waste time and energy worrying about things you can’t change.” – Lynnette, age 91
“Tell your loved ones you love them every chance you get. Don’t wait for a perfect moment to do it, just do it.” – Otto, age 86
“Live each day with intention. I’ve lived a long life, but I know that each day is a gift and not guaranteed. The only things I regret are the times I hurt people I loved and the hours that I’ve wasted on stupid things.” – Joseph, age 84
“Never say you’re too old for something. Or too young, or too fat, or too busy, or too anything. It’s so easy to make excuses for not living our lives the way we want. We only get one go at this thing, so make it count.” – Liz, age 80
“Be generous with your time and attention. When you’re with your loved ones, really be with them. My best memories are times I spent with friends and family. Everything else fades away.” – Genevieve, age 90
“Stop worrying so damn much. Life happens. Deal with whatever comes, and make the most of the hand you’re dealt. Whining never changed anything for anybody.” – Hank, age 87
“While it may be true that few things in life are so good they couldn’t be better, it is equally true that few things are so bad they couldn’t be worse.” – Russ, age 90
“Don’t worry about what other people think. Nobody cares as much about what you do as you imagine they do. If you feel like dancing, get up and dance. Don’t let self-consciousness stop you from enjoying your life.” – Harriet, age 92
“Let me tell you something. Women spend their whole lives obsessing over their weight. It’s a number that means nothing. At the end of your days you’re lucky to keep weight on your bones and you laugh looking back at all the times you should have just eaten the cake. Eat the cake. Be happy. The only number that matters in the end is the number of days you were here. Don’t waste those days worrying about the size of your ass. EAT THE CAKE.” – Eileen, age 89
There you have it. I don’t know about you, but the words of these elders offered me some much-needed perspective. It’s so easy to get bogged down by the details in life, so it’s a gift to hear what people with a view from the summit have to say about the journey.
Now excuse me while I turn on some dance music, tell people I love them, and eat all the cake.