The Last Letter -by Libby James

When Adam, my first grandchild, arrived in March 1989, I began a tradition. Every year on or about his birthday, I wrote him a letter, usually four or five pages, describing a little about what was going on in his immediate family, his extended family, and in the state, nation and world. When he turned one, I wrote him another letter. I did this because I’d always been curious to know first hand what had been happening in my family and in the world as I grew up. I tried to include details and small incidents that were at risk for being lost to time.

Fifteen months later, when Adam’s sister, Amy, arrived, I wrote a letter for her. And as the years went by and the grandkid kid count climbed to eleven a decade later, I did the same for each of them on or around their birthdays every year. 

When Brenna, number twelve, the final arrival, showed up, of course she began getting annual letters as well.

I did not share these letters with my grandchildren. Instead I put each letter into a folder and stored it away on my bookshelf. I don’t remember just when I decided that when each child turned twelve, I would give them the folder and the flow of letters would end for that grandchild. There are now eleven folders in the hands of my grandchildren. Maybe they read their letters, and maybe they didn’t. Perhaps some of them ended up in the trash. I’ve never asked, so I don’t know their fate. Perhaps some of the folders hung around until the kids got old enough and decided it might be fun to read the letters. It doesn’t really matter.

Brenna turned twelve a week ago and I’m about to write the final letter to go in her folder. I remember wondering, somewhere along the way, whether I’d even be around to complete her letter collection. Looks like I made it so here goes.

A few words from Brenna’s final letter.

Dear Brenna,

On July 2, 2017, you turned 12 years old which means that this will be the last of the letters I’ve been writing to you every year since you were born. I will give them all to you when you come this summer. You have been living in Tokyo since you were two, so I worried a bit about how you might fit in surrounded by all those cousins, ages 17 to 27, who gathered for a big party in Fort Collins. I didn’t need to worry. It took you about two minutes to join in the fun and games. You loved hanging out with your five girl cousins and they thought you were something special, which you are.

Your visit was short, but you managed to pack lots into a few days and you went home knowing a whole lot of relatives you’d only seen in photos. You stopped in Hawaii with your mom to attend a tennis camp. You are athletic, love to act, play the violin, and your dad says you don’t have a shy bone in your body. He predicts that you will be an entertainer.

The letter goes on to describe what her immediate and extended family is up to these days, a bit about the political situation in the U.S. and my hope that she will return this summer for some more tennis coaching. These letters are easy to write and hopefully will have some meaning for the recipients at some time in the future. 

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 Libby James is the author of several children’s books. She writes for the North Forty News and is an award-winning runner. 

It's All in How You Define it - by Nancy Reed

I don’t believe in kowtowing to the years I’ve accumulated in my life, and I refuse to estimate or be fearful of the number of years remaining. Whether or not those attitudes fit with the common use of the term “aging gracefully” I don’t know. I believe too many folks are concerned with how they appear to others to be aging rather than how they personally feel about the process and its effects on their health and life activities. 

For years, I worked with a woman who dealt with life so gracefully it depressed me to be around her. I felt sadness at my own lack of the quality until I observed her more closely. She never attempted anything new, refused to recall or relate any negative experiences in her life, didn’t take personal or professional risks, and reacted to stressful situations by pretending they didn’t exist. I never saw her revel in Eureka! moments. At that point, in my forties, I experienced an epiphany. Gracefulness with life, if that’s what she was displaying, was not for me.

I’m a bumbler. I trip over life, smack face-first into it, and get bruised by it. Occasionally, it slaps me down. But, since that revelation, I have endeavored not to be embarrassed or discouraged by my pratfalls along the way. Instead, I strive to learn new things, meet new people, and challenge my own attitudes and opinions. I don’t always succeed, but I have learned that my critics have to carry the weight of their negativity – I don’t have to. Aging gracefully? Depends on the definition. What comprises aging? What denotes graceful?

As the years of my life have increased, so have the opportunities and joys I’ve garnered. I adopted my adult daughter, my only child, as a single woman at the age of sixty-nine, and we’re greatly blessed to share our lives. At seventy-one, I became a grandmother for the first time and have been awed to see my wee imp grow in body, mind, and spirit. At age seventy-four, in addition to my short fiction and poetry in local anthologies, I published my first book and now have six to my credit with more to come. 

The inevitable culmination of aging is, of course, dying. Will I do that gracefully? I declare – people think I’m joking, but I’m not – that I don’t believe in dying; it’s a waste of time. It had better catch me by surprise between one step and the next, because I still have so much living to do that I’ll fight it if I can. In my mind, I add days to my life for all the things I still look forward to – a fantastical grace period I gift myself. It works much better than ruing time’s passage and counting down to The End

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Nancy L. (Nan) Reed's love of words inspired her to write from an early age: short stories, novels, memory snippets, scripts, and poetry. Her latest book is Conversations Between Two Great Friends, 2017. She calls Colorado the perfect place to live and is Musing at nancylreed.com about writing, designing a tiny house specifically for a wordsmith, and other subjects bizarre and intriguing. She encourages everyone with words to share to put pen to paper.

Boxed-In Because of Aging -by Grace D. Napier

Imagine that you are surrounded by a tall fence and a locked gate. You can look through the fence and gate and recognize familiar activities and interests that you once had. Consider this boxed-in perception as a concept of aging for some persons. What can you do to set yourself free from the box when you retire?

The solution is to push against the gate to discover that you can budge it. Keep pushing as a way to set yourself free. When you reach retirement age—whatever it is for each of us—do not focus on your age but on other options open to you. I knew a woman who whenever we met would say announce her age.  She restricted her life by focusing on her age. 

The word retirement is unfortunate when applied to the interval between ending a career and death. To some individuals it connotes an end, not a transition. We need to find another word to replace “retirement.” My entry is “the discovery years.” 

Even without having dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, older people process mentally more slowly than they once did. “Where did I put my keys?” “Is that engagement today or tomorrow?” “I used to know his telephone number, but now I can’t remember.”

Despite a little slippage in recall, you can retrieve what you have forgotten by searching diligently, but this effort is both time-consuming and frustrating. Instead, consult the calendar or day-planner to find the notation of a date, or call your luncheon companion to ask, “Is our lunch today or tomorrow?” Enter phone numbers that you use frequently into your personal notebook. Note upcoming events on a calendar and consult it every morning. 

Consider the problem of misplaced keys. Putting the keys in a variety of places when returning home can cause the problem. By always placing the keys in the same location you solve the problem.

Use crossword puzzles in newspapers or books to stimulate your brain. When you feel frustrated set the puzzle aside for a short time. When you come back to it, the needed word may burst from your mind. You have regained what had seemed too hard or impossible to retrieve.

Make an effort to play games with friends. Invite them for coffee and games, such as Scrabble or Monopoly. Compete to win. Stretch your mind. Strive to be a champion.

Try to reduce the amount of time you are alone at home. Being with others provides another channel to keep your mind involved. Try to be with optimists. 

Dancing, swimming, table tennis, exercise classes, and other physical activities are helpful. Walk near your home once or twice a day. Use a bus service if it is available. You are in charge of you. Make certain things happen rather than wait for someone else to suggest an activity. When you initiate an activity involving others, you are helping them as well as yourself.

Assemble a jigsaw puzzle. Although it may be painfully slow, think of the pride you have when you say, “I put this puzzle together myself even though it has five hundred pieces!”

Learn something new such as embroidery, knitting, crocheting or tatting. Learn computer skills or a new language. Try gardening. Paint, or learn to make pottery. Try a different book genre. 

Just because you are older does not mean you have to shy away from anything new. I heard of a man who baked his first pie after he retired. It takes courage to attempt something never tried before. The retirement years are a genuine part of life. Do not accept the idea that when your career ends, life also ends. Your retirement years will be many more than your ancestors had. Use these years to your advantage.

Another realm of life is volunteerism. If you still drive, Meals-on-Wheels needs drivers. Public libraries may need helpers to shelve books or read to children. Churches and schools may need volunteers. You could volunteer in a hospital, guiding patients and visitors. Many new adventures await you! Many agencies could not survive if all helpers were paid. Volunteers enable agencies to continue serving the community.

The way to keep youthful regardless of your chronological age is to dare to try something new. Have a reason to get up in the morning. Retirement years can be the time of discovery and excitement. I knew a woman who began piano lessons as a senior just for the fun of learning something new. If your career developed something special in you, share it with others--being a graphic artist, teaching photography, or whatever your talent is.  An accountant can help taxpayers with income taxes. Executives can help a new business grow. Share your hobby ortravel stories. 

Never say, “I am too old to do that!” If a toddler could express his feelings in words by saying, “I can’t walk very well. I’ll quit trying. Sitting is good enough for me,” we would regard that attitude as abnormal, lacking enthusiasm and optimism. Have a normal toddler’s zest for living.. 

Visit a senior center and request a list of the month’s activities and programs. The variety may surprise you by offering interesting programs. Visit museum, which offer culture, history, and information.

Consider writing your life for relatives and friends, not for publication but to create a meaningful memoir for your descendants to read. Describe a house from your past and your childhood toys and games. Describe your school. Did you have ride a bus? These details will be precious to your descendants. 

If you are near a college or university with courses in special education, you might enroll to learn sign language or transcribing braille. Volunteer to run errands or shop for groceries for the homebound.  Volunteer to transport patients to dialysis or cancer treatments. 

I wish you countless adventures with spectacular experiences as you travel through the years of discovery.

BON VOYAGE!

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Dr. Grace D. Napier (emerita professor of Special Education, University of Northern Colorado) was born blind in 1922, enjoys reading and writing, has written five books and has used ten dog guides over seventy-five years.