Quality of Life: Reflecting on the gifts of a 90th birthday celebration

Quality of LifeWe recently celebrated my mother’s 90th birthday. I found myself wondering during her birthday party, “What is it, besides good genes, that keeps Mom going like the Energizer Bunny?” As I pondered this, I discovered that Mom’s life can provide an excellent roadmap for living life to the fullest. One characteristic that stands out is that she is always optimistic. (Unlike her oldest daughter, who is very much the pessimist, perpetually looking for what could go wrong in any given situation.) She always looks on the bright side, pointing out the positives in life whenever she can.

She has lived through many events, good and bad, and possesses the wisdom that comes from those experiences. She was born just prior to the start of the Great Depression and lived through the infamous 1937 flood that decimated many of the small Indiana towns that sit on the banks of the Ohio River. (Her family lost everything, but thankfully, nobody was hurt.) She participated in scrap drives during World War II, and lost friends who served in the military.

During her life, she had several careers (in addition to being a mom), including dental assistant, teacher’s aide and “courthouse lady” (working in several government offices in our home county), and she has weathered three different kinds of cancer. I guess you could say Mom is a survivor.

She has always recognized the importance of pursuing hobbies. She nurtures her own creativity, along with the creativity of others. When we were growing up, Mom always had art projects of one kind or another in progress. We fashioned beautiful “flower” arrangements, made from tiny beads and florist wire. We made Christmas decorations out of old Reader’s Digest magazines, and wreaths concocted of various greens and pinecones. Mom was a trailblazing pioneer of the use of papier-mache, silk flowers and a glue gun. During holiday time, our house glowed with shiny, handmade ornaments and spilled glitter that resulted from those efforts. Later in life, Mom dabbled in ceramics and now enjoys painting in her free time.

Mom is a good writer and has always urged us to practice our writing skills. She used her own writing expertise to enter contests, winning an automobile in 1960 — a Plymouth Valiant — for crafting the best advertising jingle for a Proctor & Gamble detergent product. She has a great sense of humor and over the years has written dozens of song parodies and poems to the delight of family and friends.

Mom has always taken care of herself and has stayed active. She loves gardening and goes to the YMCA to work out at least twice a week. She only uses one machine at the Y, but she gets out of the house and keeps moving. She also walks regularly at the condo complex where she lives. She moves better than some people half her age.

Mom stays engaged and interested in the people in her life. She also pays close attention to what is happening in the world, reading the newspaper regularly and mastering crossword puzzles on a daily basis.

She is a woman of faith who for years served her church and the community in the small town where we used to live. She has continued to find purpose in life, long after her retirement from a 9-to-5 job.

What was most evident when we celebrated Mom’s birthday was the abundance of love in her life. She was surrounded by the people she loves and those who love her. There were family members from near and far, and also friends from many eras of her life who gathered to honor her and the many qualities that have kept her vibrant and vital throughout the years.

You really can’t ask for more than that in life. She has been, and continues to be, an outstanding example and role model of how to live a full, and long, life.•

Jonna Kane MacDougall is assistant dean for external affairs and alumni relations at Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law. A professional career/life coach, MacDougall can be contacted at 317-775-1804 or [email protected] Opinions expressed are those of the author.

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