My father was born in 1922. When my mother passed a few years back, he decided it was time to sell his home and move into an (un)assisted living facility. Aside from some industrial deafness and impaired sight from macular degeneration, he is remarkably spry in both mind and body and strong in spirit. Recently, he tested positive for the coronavirus.
He was further quarantined in the facility’s hospital wing even though he was completely asymptomatic. In our first video chat in his hospital room, I reminded him how he preached the importance of having a positive mindset to me and my siblings as we were growing up. He was a 1938 high school state champion gymnast and knew a little something about mind over matter.
“You know, Dad,” I started, roles reversed, “this doesn’t mean you have to get sick. In my mind’s eye, I see you walking out of the hospital wing having suffered no ill effects, high-fiving the nurses and doctors (gloved, of course) on the way back to your room.”
Four weeks later, he did just that.
How is it possible for a 98-year-old man to have caught the virus with no ill effects? Since I’m not a medical doctor, I can’t even venture a guess as to why he was not physically impacted. But as his daughter, I’ve learned what adds to his overall longevity and ongoing vitality:
- Moderation: Perhaps it was due to growing up during the depression years, but I cannot recall ever seeing my dad overindulge. He’s a three square meals a day kinda guy favoring whole, natural foods and portion sizes from last century – no supersize or processed/fast food for him. During his working years, he allowed himself one shot of scotch with water over ice while watching the 10 p.m. news each evening. He lost his taste for most alcohol when he reached his 90s. His vice these days is chocolate – one or two squares per night.
- Activity: Pre-pandemic, my father walked down to his meals three times a day, to his afternoon activities and welcomed visits from his kids, grandkids and great-grandkids. He is an early riser and is showered, shaved, hair combed and dressed before breakfast. A World War II navy man, his room is always tidy and his bed made.
- Ease: My father is a quiet man and allows things to evolve naturally, whether it’s the easy listening music he enjoys or the grace with which he once moved his body – on the gym mat, dancing with my mom or doing a backflip off a diving board. It was with that same ease that he settled into his new life when he moved to the retirement home.
- Learning and Engaging: Dad keeps busy, even through months of shelter-in-place orders. He stays apprised of family activities via video chats. He reads as much as his aging eyes allow. He also recently discovered YouTube and is now a subscriber. He’s able to search and watch his favorite big bands from the 1940s, remembering every band leader, singer, guitar player and drummer. He can recall the places, like the Savoy and the Paramount theaters in New York City, where he saw them all. And he also gives monthly talks to the other residents, playing music for them on his boombox and sharing some of the history and memories.
- Reflection and Connection: He’s had time to pause in the three years since my mom passed, reliving the memories and reflecting back on his life. He’s processed regret and felt gratitude, which has led to an increased capacity to express love and appreciation for his kids, extended family and his new friends.
I believe that his lifelong habits and mindset put him in the best position to keep his immune system strong, even at his advanced age. I’m looking forward to celebrating his 99th birthday in January and his 100th– a mere 15 months away. These are parties I’ll be thrilled to host!
Kathy Robinson is a wellness coach and founder of Athena Wellness. Find her at http://www.athenawellness.com.