Aunt Helen, Aging with Style and Panache

My very unique and special Aunt Helen, my father’s sister, passed away recently at the age of 92. The way she lived her life and especially her senior years continue to influence my life as I continue into my senior years..

After Grandpapa died Grandmother and Aunt Helen enjoyed their lives. Much later Grandmother became frail and had a stroke. Aunt Helen stayed by her side and took care of her the rest of her life. Grandmother died at 84 when Aunt Helen was about 64 and adapted to her new life after grieving for her mother.

My Aunt Helen
My Aunt Helen

Interestingly I took care of my husband after he had a stroke from which he recovered but died 6 years later. I unconsciously incorporated some of her lifestyle into mine after my husband’s death in 2009 when I was 58. The following are some lifestyle paths she implemented that helped me discover my own life.

Be Around People!

Since Aunt Helen loved being around people she enjoyed social activities. Aunt Helen loved to eat out and go see movies with her friends. I always enjoy going out to lunch or movie with my friends too. But sometimes I eat out or go see a movie by myself. I can be very charming with myself. (LOL)

Broaden Your Mind

Aunt Helen took classes about computers and art and even painted an ocean, beach scene with oils (which is now mine).

Oil painting of sandy beach by Aunt Helen.
Aunt Helen’s beach with sea oats and sea gulls.

I took a water color class along with some other art classes at the local senior center. And more recently painted a beach scene with acrylic paint.

Colorful ocean scene with full moon.
My acrylic painting of a full moon over the ocean.

My father, her brother, joined Aunt Helen in a class on how to use computers. He was 6 years older than she was! I took a class on how to use WordPress at 60.

Aunt Helen also traveled with my parents after us kids were married. They went to Hawaii, Georgia and other great places.

Volunteer 

Volunteering, as a greeter at some community building downtown, kept her active, provided a challenge for her to learn new situations and engaged her in social events. I have enjoyed volunteering at the Cat Angel Thrift Store every week, meeting people, shopping and pricing some unique items. .

Stay Physically Active

Swimming was one form of exercise that she loved. At the YWCA she found social interaction, exercise and fun. All of this was when she past the age of 60! But she also loved square dancing, dancing the fox trot and samba too.

Like my Aunt Helen I enjoyed dancing but dancing of a different kind. I taught myself how to belly dance from videos which I enjoyed during a much earlier period of my life.

On one visit Aunt Helen wanted to learn some about belly dancing too. So I showed her how. We had so much fun and Daddy was so pleased, even though he had dementia, he took pictures of us posing with veils.

My 70 year old Aunt Helen and I posing with veils.
My 70 year old Aunt Helen and I posing with veils.

Last year at 67 I took belly dancing classes. My instructor arranged for a performance and we practiced the steps and movements. Finally earlier this year I performed in the costume I hand-sewed from a matching sari and skirt. I cut the sari part to cover the bra and make straps. The skirt worked well as it was. I also wore a wig for a more exotic look. (Hopefully.)

Turquoise and sliver belly dancing costume from a sari.
Me in my wig and belly dancing costume, ready to perform.

Challenge Your Brain  

We both loved working on crossword puzzles and cryptograms. I have developed an interest in Sudoku, which I play on my Kindle. But I play crosswords with friends on Facebook too.

When she inherited her share of her father’s property, she, her mother, and brothers made their incomes from the properties. Aunt Helen proved herself to be a shrewd business woman, considering she had had no formal training and was running her rental property on her own with little or no help. That in itself was quite a mental challenge.

I started a photography business right before I retired. For three years I was a photojournalist for the local newspaper and did photography when hired. Twenty-one of my photos were used to advertise for a new development near my town. I was a proud small business woman!! 

Major Life Style Changes

A bad auto accident left Aunt Helen unable to dance for several years. Her dementia, which she had hidden well, became more pronounced and needed extra care. So she was placed in a care facility with sitters.

Her love for dancing faded for several years or so I thought. Once she recovered physically enough to do so, she began to dance at special occasions there. I once asked her if she had found any men with whom she could dance at the care facility. Her reply: “No, none of them can keep up with me.” That was my Aunt Helen!

Keep Your Inner Child Alive

Be around children. Aunt Helen always loved children. A friend, whom we now call, Sister, brought her baby to visit Aunt Helen while she was in the nursing home. Aunt Helen later enjoyed the grandnieces and nephews when they came from Brooklyn.

Aunt Helen and great niece.
Aunt Helen and great niece.

She could be really goofy and playful, which is a trait I also inherited. I also can relate well with children and they seem to like me too. We both have/had active “inner children.”

Do Something Surprising  

My Aunt and I shared a wicked sense of humor. She loved to say funny things that you wouldn’t expect her to say and then wait for the surprised look on the other person’s face.

Two of my siblings and one sister’s grandchildren and I brought birthday cupcakes to Aunt Helen while she was still in the early phases of dementia. As she started eating the cupcake with a fork, my sister reminded her that she could eat the cupcake with her fingers. Aunt Helen didn’t miss a beat and said, “But I don’t eat my fingers!” and waited until we caught on to what she said!

This sense of humor came out in me when I told my adopted son that I had finally gotten my ears pierced (and then wickedly shocked him) when I told him that I was thinking about getting other body parts pierced. He politely ended our conversation and called my first son and asked if he thought I would follow through on my idea.

My first son assured him that I would never do that. Then he called me to be sure! (I was a wicked mother to do that. LOL)

Aunt Helen wasn’t perfect, but who is? She was my Aunt Helen. She was very dear and special to all of her family no matter how young. She taught me it is important to adapt to the situation you are placed in and enjoy life, and love your family.

A happy Aunt Helen.
Aunt Helen, six years before her death.

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