MY 76-YEAR-OLD grandmother, “Nana,” may be the most active Facebook friend I have. Every day, as sure as the sun will rise, I’m guaranteed anecdotes of Nana’s activity via my social media newsfeed. Although she’s still learning to navigate the online world and our interactions often involve lessons about using her smartphone, she’s nonetheless glued to her “pocket-computer” in a manner reminiscent of a high-school cheerleader.
Nana’s status updates depict adventures including: dancing at her favorite restaurant with friends half her age; taking joyrides on the yachts of her wealthy friends; signing up for timeshare presentations in exchange for free stays and gambling credits at Circus Circus; enjoying singles cruises; sharing photos of the new Lexus she “spoiled” herself with; and gallivanting in Seal Beach with Pumpkin, her 12-year-old Dachshund.
Nana also shares everything she sees online (e.g., “Dogs Carrying Umbrellas,” and “18 Hilarious Selfies That Will Make You LOL”) and partakes in every viral quiz she can find (e.g., “Which Dog Fits Your Personality,” “How Good Are You At Kissing?” and “Who Is Your Celebrity Doppelgänger?”). In the spirit of getting to know my grandmother, her answers were Rottweiler, 14/10, and Emma Watson, respectively.
My Nana has always been a social eccentric in terms of her extracurricular activities. However, I believe her recent thrill-seeking behavior may have increased after the sudden death of her husband, my “Papa,” in 2011.
There is no “proper” way to grieve, and each person handles loss uniquely. However, this article’s purpose is not to examine the grieving process. Rather, my intention is to highlight the manner in which a “senior” in my life treats her day-to-day operations with gusto and constant energy. Although Nana has struggled emotionally since losing her life partner of 50 years, as far as I can tell, she hasn’t allowed her grieving to stop her from living life to the fullest. Her teenage-like excitement for life is nothing new, nor is her enthusiasm for socializing and partaking in novel activities. In fact, Nana was just as lively prior to the loss of my grandfather as she is today. Nana and Papa traveled the world, cruised the seven-seas, and indulged in life’s delicacies (all while keeping their eyes out for a good deal).
The picture that I used to have of a grandmother in her mid-late 70’s involved a woman in a wooden rocking chair with a ball of yarn on her right, three cats on her left, and a glass bowl of hard, stale candies on the living room table. Thanks to our technological ability to unite loved ones living on opposite sides of the world, connect those young and old on shared media platforms, advances in medicine and scientific understanding, changing philosophies about aging, and my Nana’s thirst for life, I have experienced a paradigm shift regarding personal expectations for my future self and the manner in which I view seniors today. Although “70 is the new 40” sounds cliche, I’m certain that Nana and others like her are giving merit to this expression.
Gone are the days where life expectancies are limited to double digits and being a “senior” translates to waiting around in a retirement home for the grim reaper to swiftly take us away from our failing bodies and monotonous end-of-life routines. My Nana is living proof that aging is what you make of it. If thrill-seeking, social outings, and fun is what one seeks, then adventure is waiting around the corner with open arms. This new wave of youthful exuberance among seniors, filled with 80 year-olds finishing marathons and grandparents skydiving as birthday presents to themselves, has set the stage for a brighter, more lively future for generations to come.
Adam Chester lives in Los Angeles with his wife Kelly and is in graduate school working towards his Doctorate in Clinical Psychology.