Will I live to be 80? (And do I want to?)

uxorialMay 19, 2007

Will I live to be 80?

I recently picked a new primary care doctor. After two visits and exhaustive lab tests, he said I was doing "fairly well" for my age.

A little concerned about that comment, I couldn't resist asking him, "Do you think I'll live to be 80?"

He asked, "Do you smoke tobacco, or drink beer or wine?"

"Oh no," I replied. "I'm not doing drugs, either!"

Then he asked, "Do you eat rib-eye steaks and barbecued ribs?"

I said, "No, my former doctor said that all red meat is very unhealthy!"

"Do you spend a lot of time in the sun, like playing golf, sailing, hiking, or bicycling?"

"No, I don't," I said.

He asked, "Do you gamble, drive fast cars, or have a lot of sex?"

"No," I said.

He looked at me and said, "Then, why do you even give a $#!t?"


All kidding aside though, why would I want to live to be 80 or 90 years old? I have no children to care for me or keep me company when I'm old. My spouse will probably die before I do, even though he's nine years younger. I have few friends my own age, and all of them have health problems. I'm the second youngest of eight children, and all of my siblings either currently smoke or did at one time, so they will likely die before I do.

My father will turn 87 next month, and he's in pretty good shape for his age. But he's also the last one living in his family. All of his siblings and their spouses are deceased. Since his last sibling died a few months ago, he's started referring to himself as an orphan. And to top it all off, his decades-younger wife nearly died earlier this month from meningitis. Needless to say, he was very upset, as "it wasn't supposed to work out this way." In other words, everyone figured that he would die first because he's so much older than she is. Even though my father has eight living children, we were all wondering who would take care of him if his wife died.

All of this has me pondering my own mortality. I've always taken very good care of myself (never smoked, always wear sunscreen, have never used drugs, eat a reasonable diet to keep my cholesterol down, don't let myself get over a certain weight, etc.) so that I will live a long healthy life. And it looks like I'll probably end up an "orphan" just like my father.

OK, I'm getting off the computer now to spend the day in the sun, eat a big steak, drink a couple glasses of wine, and drive really fast to a casino.


-- Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in an attractive and well preserved body, but rather to skid in sideways, chocolate in one hand, martini in the other, body thoroughly used up, totally worn out and screaming "Woo-hoo! What a ride!"

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Based on the experience of observing the elderly in my family, old age is what you make of it. My maternal grandmother died at 89, the same age my maternal grandfather was. Except my grandmother was more than 20 year younger than my grandfather, so she outlived him by over 2 decades. She thoroughly enjoyed every minute. She was the last of her generation in her family, but she made friends everywhere she went. She was like that her entire life, from what I remember. The life of the party. Always up for a game of Bingo, Gin Rummy, or a swim. Real joie de vivre. She died a few days after learning her daughter, my mother, had died, as my mother predicted would happen.

My paternal grandmother lived to be 94. Last in that generation in her family. With the exception of her children, she really wasn't close to anyone (grandchildren included). Her siblings were her best friends. Once they were gone, she wasn't interested in new friends. She was ready to die, she spoke of it often to my father.

My father is only 68, but I am sure he would enjoy living to 100. Life of the party, makes new friends everyday, always busy, etc. When my mother died he kept busy with friends, and now has a girlfriend. Even without her I'm sure he would be fine.

My MIL's best friends are her siblings. For the 10+ years I have known her I have never known her to have another friend. She is a kind, caring person, but she is 70 going on 90. Talks about how she shouldn't bother with knee surgery because she "won't be around much longer". She is in great health, but talks like she is on death's door. If she were to outlive all her siblings it would not be good. Luckily she is one of the oldest, so that is unlikely.

Some people do great over 90, even if all their family and old friends are gone. They rebuild, no matter how old they are. They are resilient. Some people just aren't like that.

    Bookmark   May 19, 2007 at 11:42PM
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I think Sue has it exactly right -- old age is what you make it. My 89 year-old MIL recently returned from 3 weeks in Australia and New Zealand, and she has already put a deposit on a Black Sea cruise for next May. She moved here 2 1/2 years ago to be near us (my DH is her only child), and she is having a terrific time. She views her life here as her next adventure, and while she stays in touch with her old friends, she doesn't look back and regret that we asked her to move. She's so busy with activities at the retirement center and her new friends that we need to book her in advance if we want to make sure she's available (but she is always there for us if we need her for some reason). I view her as a role model for us all (as do all my friends and many of my acquaintances -- when she was gone, our pharmacist told me she missed seeing her, since my MIL is always cheery and fun). My MIL always says she wants to "die healthy", and I hope she does.

One of my grandmothers died at 100, the other at 96. I think they both enjoyed their lives until the 2 years or so before their deaths, when their poor health made living less enjoyable. One of my grandfathers lived to his mid-80's and enjoyed his life (friends, relatives, golfing, cards) until he died. Sadly, my other grandfather and my parents all died in their 70's and never got to think about whether or not they were enjoying their 80's .

So, as Sue suggested, it depends on how resilient one is and also, I think, how upbeat one is.

    Bookmark   May 20, 2007 at 7:30AM
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My father enjoyed himself and died two days after playing golf, at the age of 93, just weeks before his 94th birthday. And he shot par on the small 9-hole course near his home the week before. But my mother lived for 6 years after Dad, and died 13 days before her 96th birthday, and she was honestly miserable every day.

I work for an elder social services non-profit, and I agree with both Kathy and Sue. Those last few years are very tough. And sometimes personal outlook and resiliency aren't enough to make life all rosy and peachy-keen.

But I have also been having much the same mental discussion with myself that Kathy mentions. And I am not sure that I worry about preserving myself down to the last day. I'm going along with Kathy to the casino!

    Bookmark   May 20, 2007 at 9:07AM
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This subject is very much on my mind these days. My mother was just diagnosed with cancer (early stage but poor survival outlook), and we are just starting the process of moving her from the area where she has lived for virtually all of her adult life to the city where we live.

Though she's only in her early 70's, her health is poor and she seems so much older. I'm worried that she won't be the alert, upbeat, funny and fun-loving person she's always been, and that we are all in for a long slow decline that will be terribly hard on her and on my family. I want her to enjoy the rest of her life to the fullest extent possible, but I'm so confused how to help make this happen.

I love the skid in sideways sentiment. But can you really do this when you're in pain?

    Bookmark   May 20, 2007 at 12:21PM
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I am so sorry to learn of your mother's cancer. I'm not sure I can offer you much advice, but I will tell you that lots of people live with cancer for many years and have relatively normal lives for most of that time. (I run a nonprofit for kids with life-threatening illnesses, so I have learned a lot about cancer survivors in the last few years.) I will also tell you that when it comes to the last chapter of your mother's life, it can be a sad but meaningful and positive time. When my dad was diagnosed with cancer, we brought him here to live with us while he took treatment. Once it was clear the treatment was no longer working, he opted to remain here rather than go back to where he had lived for 52 years. He was with us for only 10 weeks, but he and I had many opportunities for good conversations (he was mentally with it until the end). I feel fortunate that we were able to share that time and that I was able to give him a "good death". It was certainly challenging (I had started a new job 10 days before his diagnosis and I have a kid with special needs), but I am very glad I did it.

    Bookmark   May 20, 2007 at 5:02PM
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Thanks Brachl -- It's nice to hear from someone who has walked in these shoes. (I also have a child with special needs) When my father was diagnosed with cancer about three years ago, he was very fortunate to be alert and not in too much pain until the last few weeks, and we were able to share some wonderful and very positive times; I'm hoping for the same with my mother, though her doctors have told her not to expect that. I'll probably head over to the CareGivers forum in the not too distant future...

    Bookmark   May 20, 2007 at 8:38PM
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Feel free to e-mail me at brachl@bellsouth.net if you want to "talk" some more. My mother died of leukemia about 2 years before my dad died. She was diagnosed, refused all treatment, and died 8 days later in her own bed with my father, her children, & her sister at her side. She did not suffer, and we were very grateful for that. It is hard to have two parents suffer with cancer within a short time; it was definitely challenging for my sibs and me. But both my parents died where they wanted to and without much suffering, and I will always be glad of that.

    Bookmark   May 20, 2007 at 8:55PM
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I ponder the same question all too often. Both of my parents are dead and my only sibling is 10 years older than me. I don't have a husband or children. I live alone and don't have a lot of close friends. My mother died of Alzheimer's, and I am afraid if I get it, no one will even be there to "put me away". I am very afraid of being "old and alone".

I think the answer is to find a cause that will give your life purpose. I am on my way today to sign up to volunteer for PAWS (pets are worth saving). I plan on using my remaining years rescuing animals. I would also like to help out in poor and underdeveloped countries in my later years. I have not done anything in my life that truly gives something back to the world. I think when I am older and starting to "use up" my assets, what greater joy than to know that I helped someone to survive. I think that is the secret to living a happy, not lonely, old age.

    Bookmark   May 21, 2007 at 7:48AM
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Sweeby, I'm sorry about your mother's diagnosis. She is very lucky to have you looking out for her. I often think about how sad it would be to have to relocate from the place I love when I hit a "certain age." But to have a loving family member to go to makes a tremendous difference.

I would love to live into my 90's if I am in decent enough health. My great grandmother lived on her own in her house until she was 98. Most of my family is quite long-lived. My grandmother was the youngest of her immediate family to die, at 85 years old.

I think the key is to find a place to live that is conducive to being a certain age, and to do so while one is still young and mobile. Maybe a retirement village with single floor living, public transportation nearby, etc. But it's hard for people to make that leap while they are still young enough to develop roots in their new setting. I think that's the challenge.

    Bookmark   May 22, 2007 at 7:57AM
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My mom lived for only six weeks after her colon cancer diagnosis. It was the hardest most bittersweet time of her life, but yet my sister, brother, and I had some of the most loving times with her. We got to say all those things we needed to.

    Bookmark   May 22, 2007 at 10:19AM
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Sorry for not getting back to this thread for a while--it's been busy at my place!

sue36--I totally agree that old age is what you make of it, and I intend to make the most of it as long as I'm healthy enough. I wish I had someone like your maternal grandmother as an example. But unfortunately, all the "old" people in my family have always been, well, just old. My grandparents were in their 70s or 80s when I was a little girl, and they all passed away when I was a teenager. As far as I remember, they never did anything except sit around the house. My mother was the same way. Her life revolved around her children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren. She had no hobbies, never went anwywhere by herself or with friends, rarely talked with her neighbors, and spent most of the day reading magazines and watching TV. Her lifestyle was sedentary because of health problems, and she spent the last two years of her life in a nursing home. My siblings and I tried to get her involved in activities there, but she refused.

brachl--Wow, your MIL sounds like a terrific and energetic lady! How wonderful that you are able to spend time with her and have her near you. She is a great role model.

fairegold--I know you've dealt with this issue first hand, and I'm happy to hear that you're planning to live life to the fullest just like your father did. I'm sorry to hear that your mother was miserable though. Was she like that her entire life, or just after your dad died?

sweeby--My thoughts will be with you as you get your mother settled into her new location. I know exactly what you mean about worrying about her not being alert, upbeat, and fun loving. My mom was that way until she had a stroke. She had always been the life of the party at family gatherings. The stroke took away her mobility, most of her speech functions, and her ability to live alone and care for herself. It was a steady decline, both mentally and physically, from that point until she died. It was very hard on her and on everyone around her, but we are thankful that she wasn't in a lot of pain. Try to stay positive about your mother's condition--miracles happen all the time. (Nobody expected my father's wife to come out of her menigitis coma, but she did and is expected to fully recover.) Hang in there, and keep us posted on how you're doing.

donna--I agree, finding a cause may be the key. Like you, I haven't done anything that really gives something back (unless planting trees counts!). I've been thinking about getting involved in some kind of volunteer activity, but I just haven't made it a priority. Rescuing animals is a noble cause, but I don't think I could handle the heartache. I would want to take them all home!

paigect--You are so lucky to have such longevity in your family! I agree that location can make a big difference in how you react to old age. Many people can't (or won't) move to another area or type of housing until it's absolutely necessary. I saw that happen with my mother. She lived in the same area most of her life, but when she could no longer care for herself she had to move to a nursing home in another part of the state (near one of my sisters). She was isolated from all the people she had known for the past two decades, plus all her grandchildren and her only sister. So the only visitors she had were my sister and my brother/SIL. I visited a couple times each year, and my other sister would visit every few months, but overall she never did have any "roots" in that area. Would she have been better off at a facility in her hometown? Perhaps. She would have been closer to other family members. But it's doubtful that she would have seen many of them anyway, as they were all busy with their own lives. I think that was one of her biggest concerns--that everyone would forget about her.

    Bookmark   May 22, 2007 at 10:41AM
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It was mainly after Dad died, but her personality was basically insecure, if I had to find one word for it. So she lost her partner of almost 64 years, most all their friends had died, she was in almost constant pain from fractures of her vertebrae from osteoporosis, her eldest son's wife was not nice to her and caused a huge rift between my mother and my brother, the other two brothers visited only once in her last several years, because they "wanted to remember her the way she had been."

I moved her here to be near me, because obviously no one else would take care of her. So she didn't know anyone here. I spent three and half years being her everything. It was not easy.

    Bookmark   May 22, 2007 at 12:22PM
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I don't worry much about how long I will live because it is pointless in my opinion. The thing is to live every day to the fullest, taking care of your body and mind now.

Having children does not guarantee that there will be someone around in your old age. We volunteer at a retirement home once a week and I can't tell you how sad it is to see these folks having birthdays and special occasions with not a soul to visit them but volunteers. Some have children and grands (some great-grands) living in the same city or not too far away, yet they are absent!!

Surround yourselves with good friends and acquaintances, family, pets, or whatever brings you joy. Do for others and not dwell too much on the future. We never know whether we can have it all (health, wealth, careers, family, friends) and end up dying much younger from disease, accidents, natural disasters etc. I would rather live a wonderful, fruitful life now, savouring all around me than hang on until I am in my 90s suffering and miserable.

My condolences to all who have lost a loved one.

    Bookmark   May 22, 2007 at 1:35PM
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I only know that I want to live as long as I can live with joy and good health...am 65. When it becomes time for another to care for me then it is time to let go. Should this be next year or in ten years, I am comfortable with this. A philosphy due to losing loved ones sooner than expected and more than expected, evolving to believing life has meaning beyond what we know at hand.

I too cared for my mother during her last days with cancer. It was one of the most emotional, sad and gratifying time for both of us. She never wanted me to have to go through it, she was a nurse for years and knew what all would be. I would never trade that time we had together regardless of how difficult. There were reasons neither of us would ever know that brought us together for moments of deep memories and thoughts shared.

I also have children who tell me often they will always be here for me, am widowed, but do not want them to deal with the responsibility as my mother said she didn't to me. In reality though we have no control in the scheme of life for any of this.

With all the medical advances available our possibilities for living longer are growing. The other side is our medical care is not keeping up with the advances in terms of insurance, medicare, income, etc. Health and happiness still remains our sole responsibility. Age, or when life decides to be over will be on terms we do not choose. Today is our primary focus.

With this subject, the one thing I would suggest to all is that you have legal paperwork for all considered. I found it difficult to face, but a comfort knowing my children would not have decisions to make on their own.

One of my kids is off camping somewhere, the other is working his 60 hour week, another too far away to know what he is doing and haven't seen them for over a week. We have good lives to enjoy to the fullest and today is the day for each of us, together or on our own doing our individual thing.

I'm going outside, play in the sunshine, dig in the garden. And I may take a drive in my "fast" little car, eat some chocolate, barbeque a steak...just like you Kathy.

    Bookmark   May 25, 2007 at 9:52AM
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The closer you get to 80 the more you'll want to!

    Bookmark   May 29, 2007 at 10:45PM
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