Since saying good-bye to Okinawa in July we have been in Texas, taking some time out from our Blue Zones-inspired Lifelong Journey. We had pre-planned this break to spend time with family and our timing was intentionally planned to focus on 2 family members, each on the opposite ends of the age spectrum:
1) our newest grandson, who was born on August 1st…
2) my 95 year-old father who passed away, with seemingly perfect timing, just two weeks ago.
His final, bed-ridden days saw him lose interest in politics or even watching TV or eating, other than he retained his taste for sugar until the very end. I had the pleasure of sharing one last ice cream with him less than 3 days before he passed. That also gave him one final boost of energy to speak and, for a few minutes at least, he talked up a storm. For the next few days I sat with him on and off, listening to him breathe, wondering with each breath if it would be the last.
He was ready to move on, so being with him and to, in effect, walk him from this life to the next was a privledge and an honor. This was something I had not expected. At some level I had dreaded the thought of being physically present with someone, especially a loved one, in their final days, much less being present for the actual death. The thought of having to help someone deal with their physical limitations, in addition to being with them as they looked death in the eye, caused a fair amount of anxiety.
But like with many things we fear in life, once I “just did it”, the anxiety went away and I was able to calmly and confidently accompany him on his final walk home. This included assuring him, more than once, that my Mother would be taken care of financially (a stress point for him throughout his life), and letting him know that his funeral would in fact be a celebration of a long and well-lived life. These reassurances allowed him, I believe, to let go.
We put my Dad to rest with a military funeral (he served in the US Army from 1944-6), and I was honored to deliver the eulogy, one I wrote last year in a process I went through (and wrote about) to get closer to my Father while he was still alive.
So upon reflection of these recent weeks, what have been my key takeaways?
1. Several Blue Zones lessons applied to his long life
Although he didn’t live in a Blue Zone, my Dad’s life was characterized by several Blue Zone commonalities. I’d say the biggest one related to how he ate and treated food. My Dad always ate small, or at least reasonable, portion sizes. He was far from being a vegan or vegetarian, but I never saw him overeat or use food (or alcohol) as a means of dealing with stress. Even during a Thanksgiving meal, times when I would tend to eat as much as humanly possible, he would not over-indulge. He was never overweight. He didn’t smoke, he drank alcohol in moderation and worked out regularly, even before working out was in fashion. He bought a stationary bicycle for cardio exercise in 1980 – years before things like that became mainstream. Finally, he maintained a healthy social network throughout his life, largely centered around church membership and regular attendance. He ticked many of the key Blue Zone boxes.
2. Death is, simply put, part of life
To me, being present with my Father and witnessing his death was, in a way, as joyous a life event as that of the birth of our third grandchild three weeks earlier. His was not a life cut short, nor was it a death that was difficult to watch, as he didn’t appear to be in much pain or struggle as he faded away in those final days. I don’t envy anyone having to watch someone die at a young age or someone dying under strained physical or emotional conditions, but who can complain about death at 95? It was truly an honor to witness and I was given the gift of seeing death, and the actual passing, as a very normal and natural part of life – something not to be feared, much less ignored. I’m grateful for this parting gift given to me by my Father.
3. There is still time
After hitting 40, I found myself at times thinking that most of my life, and at least the most active parts, is over. I’m now 49, half way to 98, assuming I can outlive my Father by a few years. I’ve already experienced a lot in 49 years, but I can still do (and BE) a lot over the next 49! That’s still a lot of time. So I’ve been inspired by my Dad’s passing to live as though I still have lots to contribute and a lot of goals and personal growth to achieve in my second half. And in the words of the ancient Roman philosopher Seneca:
“Life is most delightful when it is on the downward slope, but has not yet reached the abrupt decline.”
So not only am I just getting started, but the best is yet to come!
Our next Blue Zone
So it’s with this newfound inspiration and gusto that we finish up our break in Texas and get back on the Blue Zone trail. We are moving on to Costa Rica tomorrow. And consistent with setting new goals and pursuing personal growth, we will start full-time Spanish lessons on Monday for the next two weeks. We have also found an elderly lady to live with, to practice our Spanish with and hopefully do another deep dive into the life of a Blue Zone family. Pura vida!