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The Christophers: The Gift of Aging


Tony Rossi

 

Marcy Cottrell Houle spent many years caring for her aging parents as they endured numerous health problems. But it wasn’t until recently that an accident brought her face to face with the reality that she was getting older herself—and in order to do so with a minimum of complications, she needed to prepare herself physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. That epiphany set Marcy on a path to research and co-author a follow-up book to her Christopher Award-winning “The Gift of Caring.” This latest work is titled “The Gift of Aging,” and we discussed it recently on “Christopher Closeup.”

Several years ago, while rushing from the Kroger’s parking lot towards the store’s entrance, Marcy tripped on a drainage gate and broke both her arms. This left her virtually helpless for several months, unable to do things like cut her food or tie her shoelaces. Thankfully, Marcy’s husband was able to take time off work to care for her, but the experience left her depressed. That led her to contemplate the infirmities many people face as they get older—and whether there were ways to stay healthy. She approached her “Gift of Caring” co-author, Dr. Elizabeth Eckstrom, who agreed this was a topic rife for exploration.

In meeting people who still thrived in their 80s, 90s, and even 100s, Marcy learned that a key factor to aging well is having a sense of purpose. While retirement and having fun sound appealing, human beings need more in order to thrive. “People who are doing the best,” Marcy said, “they’re the ones who are not just living for themselves. They’re living for the people coming after us, and they recognize our earth is hurting and people are hurting. You can find such joy if you get out of yourself a little bit, get out of your aches and pains and say, ‘How can I make life a little better for someone else?’”

One example is 97-year-old Rabbi Josh Stampfer. When Marcy met him, he was in a wheelchair, accompanied by a caregiver. Rabbi Stampfer had spent his life helping Jewish people suffering in countries such as Russia and China. He had lost his wife in recent years and obviously suffered from some health issues. Yet he also still worked as a teacher and gave sermons on the radio. How did he accomplish all this at 97? He said he had learned that life needs a higher goal than joy.

Quoting Rabbi Stampfer, Marcy said, “In all of us, there is an innate need for happiness, but happiness is not just based on good health. Not everyone has that…What I have found…[is that] the way to be happy is to be good…When people do a good deed for others, they enjoy life more…Bringing happiness to others is the quickest way to have it yourself.”

Another factor shared by many of Marcy’s interview subjects is the practice of faith, which offers guidance to people in general and helps them move through life’s most difficult seasons. As an example, Marcy quotes the words of 102-year-old Lucille, who offered this bit of wisdom: ”Remember, death itself is just another phase of life. I’ve been lucky. I’ve enjoyed a long-lasting faith that provides a supportive community and a guide. I’m not sure what follows this precious life on earth, but my faith gives me not fear but a grand sense of wonder about it. In life and death, we have only to do one thing: simply let love in.”

 

For free copies of the Christopher News Note GOD IS MY STRENGTH, write: The Christophers, 5 Hanover Square, New York, NY 10004; or e-mail: mail@christophers.org


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