Faith, work, fun, friends

A grandmother was showing pictures to her little grandson. “This was grandmom when I was a little girl,” she said. The little boy looked at the picture, and looked at her. Looked back at the picture, and looked again at his grandmother and asked: “What happened?”

Someone has said that growing old is the most surprising thing that happens to any of us.

But aging we all are. One study indicates that by 2011, there will be 8,000 people a day turning 65!

How do we age well? Good genes help. Beyond that I might suggest four things: faith, work, fun, and friends.

School Sister of Notre Dame Sister Mary Agnes Klug is one of my heroes of aging. I had her memorial Mass at the end of June. Sister was 100 years old.

Faith was an essential part of her life and of her aging. As someone wisely said, as we age we become more of what we are. From an early age she was a person of faith. She felt called to be a nun in high school. She began teaching grade school in 1933, and then spent 39 years of her life at the College of Notre Dame.

In retirement, she opened a gift shop at Villa Assumpta at age 88. She ran it until her 100th year! Any profits she sent to Catholic Relief Services.

Faith and work were essential parts of her life. So was fun. She had her Bridge Group. She loved the Orioles. She took trips. She loved her community and her family and loved to laugh.

Her community was both her friends and her family. Staying vitally connected to people is an essential part of healthy aging. She could not have had a better community than Villa Assumpta and the School Sisters of Notre Dame.

Her vitality and health challenged me at times. When I was hospitalized in 2008 with pulmonary embolisms, blood clots in my lungs, she came to visit me. It was humbling, being in my early 60s, being visited by someone healthier at age 99. Part of healthy aging that I have discovered is accepting ourselves as we are, and not trying to be someone else. All any of us can do is play the hand life dealt us.

Focusing on the good, I believe, is an essential ingredient at any stage of life. I can focus on my blood clots and strokes in my eyes, or I can focus on the fact that I can still see, and I am still alive. I prefer to focus on sight and life. And, since what we focus on we get more of, I intend to see even better and live even longer!

Laughing really is the best medicine. I cannot add up all the times I laughed with Sister Mary Agnes in her gift shop. I would always ask, as I entered the store, if the proprietress of the mall was there. When she asked what I did with all the stuff I bought, I said that I put them in my car, and, as I visited people, I always had a gift to give. Stage one I believed in Santa Claus. Stage two I didn’t believe. Stage three I became Santa Claus.

One final story. Sister Danielle was introducing me to some other Sisters: “Father Joe has a national radio show. Have you ever heard it?”

“No,” they replied. “We never heard of it.”

Danielle continued: “Father Joe has a weekly column in the Catholic paper, The Catholic Review. Have you ever read it?”

“No,” they replied. “We never heard of it.”

Finally Sister Danielle said: “Father Joe is Sister Mary Agnes’ best customer in the gift shop.”

Their eyes lit up: “Oh, we’ve heard of him!”

So, my healthy aging list got longer: faith, work, fun, friends, focusing on the good and laughter.

One final thought. When Sister Mary Agnes was dying she asked all of us to push her into heaven. Now I’m asking her to pull us all up with her!

Catholic Review

The Catholic Review is the official publication of the Archdiocese of Baltimore.