My grandfather’s death surprised us. He was only 98.
Bernard Paul never spent a night in the hospital until he was 97. He was still getting around on his own until a week before he died. For most of his life he lived in a large four story house with a big yard that mostly he took care of himself.
We called him Bernie…not Grandpa or some derivative of that. Simply Bernie. My grandmother was Edee. That was their choice and I never asked why. It didn’t strike me as odd until many years later when I realized nobody else called their grandparents by their first names. Then I realized how cool it was.
Bernie and Edee, were professional puppeteers who were called Paul’s Puppets.
They performed at schools, stores and local TV. They even did a show at the White House for the president’s family. They owned a small cottage in Maine where they lived several months every summer. My grandparents were a great team.
After my grandmother died I had lunch with Bernie once a week at his house. I did this for almost a dozen years. These are memories I will always treasure. We talked about the news, family and his life. It was also a Master Class on Aging Well.
Bernie’s philosophy on growing old could be summed up in two points:
- Don’t think about it.
- Don’t stop doing stuff.
A couple times I asked him about his age. He dismissed the question each time. I wondered if he even knew the answer. He simply said it didn’t interest him. We also never talked about his health…usually a hot topic for older people. I’m sure he had issues, but Bernie never complained so I never asked. He rarely went to the doctor. It made him think about getting old and he didn’t like that.
Bernie also never stopped doing stuff. He had a to-do list every day and always made a point of showing me what he had accomplished since our last lunch. A lot of it involved maintaining the house and his many collections. Bernie also loved to read and usually had an article he cut from the paper or a magazine to talk about.
I was a long way from old age during our lunches, but I remember thinking that when I got there I wanted to be like Bernie. As that season of life nudges ever closer I realize just how intentional Bernie was about aging well. For example, watching TV. Bernie was old and he lived alone. Yet, his TV was never on when I arrived for lunch. Bernie only watched it in the evening and only shows that he had picked out in advance. Well into his 90’s, Bernie intentionally kept his mind engaged and his body moving. But, he didn’t start being intentional when he was old. That would have been too late.
Thankfully, that is the most enduring legacy Bernie passed on to me about aging well. If I want to enjoy the Winter of my life, I can’t wait until the snow starts falling to prepare.
Science backs this up. Big headlines in the New York Times a few weeks ago about new research that indicates people who stay active and exercise can physiologically be 30 years younger in their old age. That’s pretty amazing! Without knowing about the science, Bernie certainly lived that reality in front of his entire family.
I am grateful for his example. It inspired the path I’m on now. My first Fitbit was the greatest gift my younger self could have given to my future, older self. That’s when I started to get intentional about aging well. It’s even fun! I like the daily challenge of figuring out how I can reach 20,000 steps. It engages my mind and body and I know it’s helping me get ready for winter.
I don’t know if Bernie would have worn a Fitbit if they were around when he was. I doubt it because he was resistant to technology. Even though he lived until 2005, Bernie wasn’t very tech-savvy. He only got as far as a color TV and trash compactor…late 70’s stuff. He never owned a computer, microwave, or answering machine. He did just fine without them.
Not many of us want to think about our Winter. But, it is coming. When it arrives for me I want to be like Bernie. How about you?
We are getting close to the New Year. Be careful…New Year’s Day might just be the most dangerous day for your step goals. I’ll unpack that next week. Also on the way…should your step goals take a break for the holidays and there are three step goals you should set for 2019 (after you navigate the danger of New Year’s Day)
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