July 05–Always fund your IRA and 401k. Don’t set your expectations of other people too high because you will always be disappointed. Discover your passion in life and pursue it.
According to whom, you ask?
These words of wisdom are being handed down to younger generations from aging area residents who speak from a lifetime of experiences. Not only will you get good, solid advice from these folks, you’ll also learn that growing old isn’t so bad, after all. In fact, they’re having a blast.
Rock on, seniors.
Nancy Hall doesn’t mind growing old. At 63, she says she is more at peace with herself than she’s ever been. She seriously likes who she is, she says.
“I never look back — always look forward,” says Hall of Signal Mountain. “I will always choose happiness in any situation. My motto is ‘No one is going to rain on my parade.’ I had a dear friend who died with cancer. He called me one day and read a quote to me from a 10-year-old journal: ‘Misery is inevitable, happiness is a choice.”‘He lived his last days that way.”
In a recent issue of AARP The Magazine, celebrities Jane Fonda, 77, and Lily Tomlin, 75, stars of the Netflix comedy “Grace and Frankie,” talk about growing old in the article “What I Know Now.”
“(They) reveal what they’ve learned about getting older and the wisdom that goes hand in hand with aging,” says Rachel Bernstein of Coburn Communications. “In the interview, Jane and Lily share secrets about their loved ones, past regrets, and share that despite their physical changes, their work ethic has remained the same.”
“You’re born, you peak at midlife, then you decline into age,” Fonda told AARP. “But for most people, life is more of an upward evolution. Research suggest that older people feel happier and less hostile, and that life gets easier.”
Fonda says a monumental regret of hers are the infamous photographs of her posing on antiaircraft guns in North Vietnam in 1972. Dubbed “Hanoi Jane” after the photos were released, Fonda says it was a huge mistake.
“I’m not someone who dwells on regrets, but it was a terrible mistake sitting on the antiaircraft. It was wrong,” she says.
For Tomlin, being 75 “is not bad,” but there are new concerns in life.
“What did Pablo Casals say? In his 90s, he still gave the same answer when someone asked why he continued to practice cello every day. He said, ‘I’m beginning to notice some improvement.’ At this stage in my life, I understand that completely,” Tomlin says.
“At some point, you’re closer to the end of your life than the beginning, and that can be scary. When I was around 4 years old, I was visiting my grandmother when a little girl died. This was rural Kentucky, and they’d lay the body out in the house. We went over and saw the little girl in a coffin, and she looked like a big doll, with a fluffy dress and her hair in curls. Everyone was just oohing and aahing over her. Death didn’t make sense to me then, and it doesn’t make any more sense now.”
Still sexy, Fonda admits to having health issues — new knees and a fake hip. A former exercise guru, Fonda says her body is no longer willing to participate in the routine workouts. “But I have a better brain, a better outlook on life and a greater sense of well being,” she says.
And neither plan to retire.
“I’ll never say, ‘Ladies and gentlemen, this is my last performance,'” Tomlin says.
“Retirement? No. It’s a foreign concept to me,” Fonda says.
Happy Powell, 57, hasn’t yet reached retirement age, but he has cut down the hours he works each week. The married father with two daughters and four grandchildren, Powell says he never dreamed as a young man that he would be as fortunate as he is today, noting that he has a happy home, responsible adult children and grandchildren he adores.
“My business career was successful, which shocked me and probably my parents as well,” he says. “(Wife) Laurie and I have been able to travel extensively after the kids flew the coop nine years ago.”
Several years ago, he moved to Signal Mountain after selling his insurance business in Athens, Tenn., shedding his coat and tie for jeans.
“I made the decision to do this to reduce stress and maybe stay in better physical condition,” he says. “I have a cattle farm that requires a lot of physical work.”
As a young man, Powell was extremely athletic, playing tennis, badminton, swimming and running. He gave up a lot of that, though, to focus on his career.
But age has had its effects.
“The most difficult thing about aging for me has been that I have to slow down,” he says. “I was always a hard charger, but I find if I charge too hard now I end up hurt or sick with a much slower recovery time.”
Looking back, Powell says he regrets “what I put my parents through in my teen years.” He says knowing what he knows now, he would have had a better attitude as a teen and college student.
Diane Pitzl, 65, of Chattanooga, has had heart-wrenching experiences on the road to aging, beginning with her husband’s diagnosis of early onset Alzheimer’s in early 2000.
“He was diagnosed when I was in my late 40s, and I became a widow at the age of 54,” she says. “I had always thought we would enjoy retirement years by traveling and possibly doing short-term missions work through our church.
People told me after his death that I would reinvent myself. I would say that the journey has been more a rediscovery of myself, and I have learned I am stronger than I thought.”
The mother of two adult daughters, Pitzl says she was educated as a speech and language pathologist, but chose to be a stay-at-home mom after the birth of her first daughter in 1973.
“I don’t have many regrets,” she says. “Through caring for my husband, I learned to let go of the past. Life tosses us curve balls, and we cannot control those things. The way in which we respond to them determines whether we live with regrets or not.”
And her own good health has been a blessing.
“It takes longer to recover from a tiring day, and it takes a few steps to get going after sitting,” Pitzl says. “I have experienced some bouts of loneliness as a widow that I would not have had my husband not died. I don’t let myself focus on loneliness, though.”
Hall, retired from Tennessee Early Intervention with Families, says she has become more outspoken since retiring.
“I find I am not inhibited at all in sharing my liberal views. When you don’t have a job, you don’t worry about repercussions.”
But she hasn’t been standing still, having started a couple of “cottage industries” utilizing her talents.
“My husband says I always have a five-ring circus going,” she says. “I like to multitask. I knit, crochet and landscape. I participate in a market once a week where I sell my work and I’m developing an Etsy account.”
Staying busy is the key to staying mentally active, she says. And though she’s not thrilled with her current weight and inevitable “age spots,” she’s accepted that her rich dark hair has turned gray and her skin now has wrinkles. However, a health issue has been a game-changer.
“I was diagnosed with asthma two years ago and that’s not good since I love landscaping,” she says.
But life experiences make you who you are, Hall says.
“My years working as a director of an inner-city program helped me to understand the complexities of poverty and form a deep respect for those in the grips of it. My years working with children with disabilities and their parents made me understand the resiliency of the human spirit, and the gifts and lessons the disabled can offer us,” she says. “My years of traveling all over the world with my European husband (Dr. Thor Hall, a theologian and former University of Tennessee at Chattanooga professor) taught me to respect and admire other religions and cultures.”
Pitzl says that, if she had a chance to change anything about her past, it would be in the way she and her husband raised their daughters.
“During the years we were rearing them, we thought we had positive goals and values we were instilling in them. As I look back, I see that we were actually putting out fires more than pursuing goals.”
And, like Hall, Pitzl says she’s OK with the physical appearance of aging, but she has tried not to let the years affect her mind too severely.
“I try to do the best I can with what I have to work with, but I see wrinkles and gray hair as a sign of wisdom and a life well-lived,” she says. “It’s a process, but it’s a great feeling. At the age of 65, I went back to school in pursuit of a master’s in ministry degree.”
Her advice for young people? Follow your dream.
“Discover your passion in life and pursue it so that when you are old and not as involved in the lives of the children, you will know who you are. Don’t dwell on the past, successes or failures, because you can’t change it. Don’t look to the future and wish your life away. You cannot change your age or what comes with it. Learn to embrace where you are and be content.”
While growing older has its rewards, particularly the freedom to travel, Powell says it’s the younger generations who make things happen.
“They have more energy and look better physically,” he says. “I think the older you are, the more invisible you become. It doesn’t bother me because I know I have a different role to play as the patriarch of my family — helping with grandkids, giving advice when asked, setting a good example for the next generation, and just listening.”
And what advice does he offer to younger generations?
“Always fund your IRA and 401k,” he says.
One of the lessons Hall passes on to younger generations is not to set your expectations of other people too high, she says.
“You will always be disappointed. You alone are responsible for your own happiness.”
Contact Karen Nazor Hill at email@example.com or 423-757-6396.
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