My Mother’s 96-Years-Old, Here Are 7 Things She’s Taught Me
These life lessons can help anyone at any age
By Terri Crosby
Special to Vibrant Life
We could all learn a thing or two from my mother.
There are plenty of reasons to become discouraged as we age. For me, my eyesight has gotten worse. My neck bones make interesting sounds in yoga class. And my ability to come up with a word I need isn’t as quick as it used to be.
In addition, the longer we live, the more death we witness. So it’s no wonder that the aging process is daunting for most of us.
But not for my mom.
My mother, who’s 96 years old, seems to roll with it. Somehow, she comes to terms with what life hands her. Accepting change is possibly her number one superpower. She makes peace with what is.
Mom was born to Quaker parents on a fruit farm in Barnesville, Ohio. She’s slender, about 5’6”, with glasses, short, curly auburn hair, and plenty of freckles. As a young girl, her face was accidentally splashed with lye while making soap, but luckily the burn marks passed for dark freckles on her already freckled face.
The tradition in her Quaker Meeting was to send children to boarding school, which she did. But my mom never officially graduated. She had trouble with spelling and math.
When I was growing up, she was a full-time homemaker on our farm. She wore mostly housedresses and aprons, and I remember her complaints about being (as she called it) flat-chested. She was quick to laugh, and even quicker to love babies.
Most of her closest friends have died. Both of my brothers also died, at 50 and 65 years old. But, even so, my mom didn’t grow discouraged about life or become chronically lonely or sad. Instead, she came to accept their deaths. And she enjoys the family members who remain, and makes new friends to replace those who have passed on.
She inspires everyone who knows her.
Here are seven of her secrets to living a long, healthy, vibrant life.
1. Treat Everyone Like Family
Mom believes in the goodness of people. She is kind to strangers. Kindness is her default.
When shopping, she treats the people who help her as if they are her daughters and sons, no matter their age.
She makes it clear that she loves them and appreciates them. She calls young women “honey” and looks into their eyes to thank them for helping her find what she needs. They melt.
Some of them, I’m sure, wish she was their very own grandma.
2. Approach Each Day with Enthusiasm
At age 96, my mom still approaches each day with enthusiasm. Mom cleans, does laundry, and looks after the dog. She reads large print books, makes quilts, and does needlework. She has a smartphone and calls friends, but she doesn’t text, take photos, or search anything on the internet.
Mom lives with my sister, my sister’s husband, and their adopted son Ramon. All in all, she figures that being surrounded by people to love is a good reason to wake up every morning. For her, being smack dab in the middle of a bustling household helps her look forward to the next moment, the next day, and the next year. She prefers not to take naps during family gatherings because she might miss something!
3. Say Yes Often
As a farm wife and mother, Mom worked hard physically every single day. She raised five children (six counting the 18-year-old Bulgarian refugee who came to live with us when I was in sixth grade).
We ate food from our family’s garden. Mom was a taskmaster, and when she called out, “Everybody get to the garden!” we did exactly that. Walking leisurely or reluctantly in response was not an option.
Mom knew how to can, freeze, and pickle the food we grew. Our root cellar was filled with earthy smells. We stored potatoes and squash in large wooden bins down there and ate them throughout the winter. There were also crocks of carrots packed in sand, and vats of pickles. The edges of the cave were lined with shelves of canned goods, especially applesauce and tomatoes.
When my dad needed her to drive the tractor for baling hay, she said yes. When there was an abundance of milk from grandpa’s cow, she didn’t waste a drop. She handed us the churn and directed us to make butter. She taught me how to make potato soup (with a milk base), or pudding (which also required plenty of milk).
Most weeks, she baked seven loaves of homemade bread, plus hamburger or hot dog buns, cinnamon rolls, and more. She did everything required to keep a thriving family on its feet using the fewest pennies possible.
She said yes to being frugal, yes to hard work, yes to healthy food, and yes to disciplining her children with firm boundaries and lots of love.
4. Know That It's Never Too Late to Have Fun
Mom was my dad’s caregiver for years. He was in pain—and was not the easiest person to be around. This was difficult for her, and sometimes she lost patience with him.
But after he died, Mom changed. She let go of what she had always done, how she had always been.
She enjoyed the freedom of not having to be a fulltime caretaker. Now there was no one to answer to, no one else to feed, and no reason to stay home.
For the first time in her life, she did as she pleased. It was a delight to watch her decide how to spend her time. She was 88 years old when she started flying—to New Zealand, Florida, and North Carolina. She also hitched rides with friends and relatives to visit classmates and family members she hadn’t seen for years.
It didn’t matter that she was pushing ninety and that she had worked hard her whole life and then cared for her ailing husband. She knew it is never too late to have fun.
5. Stay Awhile
Mom is known for purchasing one-way tickets for travel.
She came to visit me in early December of 2019 and stayed through Spring, almost four months. My friend Ellen wilted at the thought of having anyone visit for months, let alone her mother. But because I know Mom likes to stay a while, I invited her to come for as long as she wanted. There was no doubt in my mind that even a long visit would be delightful. This was the second time she had arrived on my doorstep for an extended stay.
We drove to the coast side of North Carolina for a visit with her youngest (and only remaining) sibling, her sister Bert.
Then we traveled on to Washington, D.C. “to see flowers,” a favorite pastime of Mom’s, in this case the cherry blossoms in full bloom at the tidal basin.
We spent our days sight-seeing by Metro rail all over the city. She had never stood in front of the White House. She really took that in. She lingered in front of America’s most famous residence for a long time.
For the rest of our time together, I worked from home and had a flexible schedule. When I did Zoom sessions with clients or worked on the book I was writing, Mom took up her quilting projects, read, or puttered around the house dusting and cleaning. She talked on the phone to friends in Iowa. Sometimes she napped. We cooked together, went on easy hikes and day trips on weekends, and drove the Blue Ridge Parkway to enjoy the breathtaking views. Around Christmas, we took in concerts and holiday lights, and did plenty of shopping.
Being self-employed, it has been natural for me to spend time at home. With Mom visiting, I made it a point to get out of the house so she wouldn’t be bored. Having her as an excuse to stop working and take breaks for a little fun was helpful and healthy for me. Mom was always ready for an adventure!
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6. Be Tickled by Human Nature
As George Bernard Shaw says, “You don’t stop laughing when you grow old, you grow old when you stop laughing.” Mom takes this idea to heart. She laughs out loud often, with her whole body. Mom’s sense of humor carries her.
At the start of her most recent stay with me, she was looking forward to her own spacious bedroom. But an unforeseen event changed all that.
My housemate had moved out prior to her arrival. A few days after Mom settled comfortably into her accommodations, he called. Could he please—pretty please—move back in? His girlfriend had ousted him and he had nowhere to go.
There you have it—so much for best laid plans! We (admittedly with some reluctance) invited him back. Mom took this change of events in stride and moved her things out of the room.
There was only one other place for her to sleep comfortably during her visit given that the private bedroom was no longer available, and that was with me in my king-sized bed. It’s not what either of us had planned, but it worked. Our resting hours differed, but we’re both good sleepers, and neither of us snores.
However, one night we got into bed at the same hour and began to chat. First, we got the giggles about the play we’d just seen in Asheville. Then we joked about our lack of ability to understand certain family members. We chuckled about aging. Our playful conversation lasted into the wee hours. We even talked about sex. Mom and I had never had this kind of grown-up girl time together before. Turns out there are things your Quaker mother will say or do in her nineties that she would never have said or done in her fifties or sixties.
7. Do What You Can and Ask for Help with the Rest
Mom doesn’t get stressed about what she doesn’t know how to do, she just asks for help.
At the airport she pays someone to wheel her to the next gate, not because she can’t walk there herself, but because without assistance she’d soon be lost. She would never find her flight.
It makes her happy to ask for help and receive it. She tells me stories about her young friends (the 50- to 70-year-olds) who drive her wherever she needs to go. After the shopping’s done, Mom buys them lunch and a tank of gas. Everybody’s happy.
Being around Mom is a reminder of these words from novelist Edith Wharton: “… one can remain alive long past the usual date of disintegration if one is unafraid of change, insatiable in intellectual curiosity, interested in big things, and happy in small ways.”
That’s my mom.
Be well, everyone. Keep on shining.
About the author: Terri Crosby is a consultant, author, and speaker who has coached individuals and couples about life and relationships for the last 40 years. She helps people who love each other get along. She is the author of 100 Words: Small Servings of Whimsy and Wisdom, a book of poetry and photography, which explores change, relationships, grief, creativity, and nature. Her second book, How to Save Your Fourth Marriage: One Person Can Transform a Relationship, is for anyone seeking to improve or deepen an intimate relationship. In it she presents five core skills for making changes, which are useful in any type of human connection. You can learn more at her website or contact Terri via email Terri@incareofrelationships.com. A different version of this article first appeared on her website.
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Oh Jennifer, to this 80 yo this inspirational article about a vivacious and fully engaged 96 yo is so inspiring. I'll share this with my group of 16 who I send "covid??" research to that they're too busy to always search for themselves. Thanks for sharing!
What a Joy your Mom is and what a joy filled read for me ( 72 years young ) 🙋🏻♀️