Want to be happy in old age? Shut off the TV, get out of the house

Jettie Newkirk, 83, enjoys sitting outside her residence to appreciate the natural world around her. (Michael Bryant/Philadelphia Inquirer/TNS)
Jettie Newkirk, 83, enjoys sitting outside her residence to appreciate the natural world around her. (Michael Bryant/Philadelphia Inquirer/TNS)

PHILADELPHIA — Joyce Abramson Sherman, 97, of Bensalem, was among the first to send an email after she read a recent Inquirer story about how resilient seniors thrive after losing many friends and family members. We had asked readers to share their tips.

“My address book has more Xs than addresses,” wrote Sherman, a retired nurse who served in the Army during World War II.

She said it was tough to give up the car keys, but she still participates in a veterans and senior group. Her advice: “I try to remember only the good times, not the bad. I always have a goal to make. When that is reached, I make a new one. …. Keep active. Watch Jeopardy, read, do handiwork, and try to go on more social engagements than the doctor.”

Stephen Seplow, 77, a former Inquirer metropolitan editor, read the story before attending a funeral — his third for friends in six weeks. On the same weekend, though, he’d seen his grandson, an aspiring actor who is in high school, in a Fringe Festival play that he co-wrote and directed. “You just can’t have one without the other,” Seplow wrote. He told his grandson’s other grandfather, “We are lucky sons of bitches to have nights like that.”

Estelle Benson, 88, of Bala Cynwyd, said she has stayed exceptionally active since her husband’s death six years ago. Founder of the Guillain-Barre Syndrome Foundation, she still works in the office every day, travels, and maintains a busy social life. “Working is therapy,” she wrote. “Being with young people is the best. I get involved with their way of life and at the same time share my ‘old age’ wisdom with them! It saddens me to see so many of my contemporaries shut down and become a victim of circumstances, not a survivor.”

Kathleen Valle, 79, of South Philadelphia, has a wonderful time with a group of friends from kindergarten through high school. They’re all 78 or 79 now. Four of the original dozen have died “after terrible illnesses.” Another is disabled. Those who are still standing, meet monthly to eat out and even traveled to Florida to be with the “traitor” who retired out of state. Originally, they met in each others’ houses for dinner. As they aged, they switched to lunch. Then they started eating in restaurants.

“Because we are so close, it is like whatever happens to one of us, happens to all of us. We are always there to comfort each other,” Valle wrote. “Our advice to seniors is that you just have to stay close to your family and friends and to keep busy. We don’t dwell on the things from the past that we can’t change ‘cause that only makes things worse. We live for today and look forward to tomorrow.”

Online, a commenter named Nostromo talked about passing knowledge on: “When one becomes the last person who can name those folks in old, faded photographs, there comes a pause for weighty reflection. Throughout my life I gleaned information as I could from my loved ones, and still I realize just what a wealth of knowledge now lies just outside knowing. I impart as much as I can to my daughter, younger brothers, and stepson in hopes that some seeds will sprout and take hold.”

Commenter Crashtest recommended hobbies as a way to build new relationships. “Watching TV as a hobby isn’t a good alternative,” he wrote.

Another commenter, Doctorhim, a caregiver, had a more sober view in a reply to a commenter who criticized an older relative. His 86-year-old father has outlived his wife, most of his siblings, and his closest friends. He has been resistant to making new friends. “I can imagine him saying, ‘What’s the point?’ ” Doctorhim wrote. “It’s not easy to say what you’ll do in the hurricane until the rain and the wind start picking up.”

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