My mother-in-law (who my kids and I called Mimi) passed away this year. It was not from COVID. She was 95 (and would have turned 96 this month). Her body simply gave out.
Incredibly, her mind was at 100% for about 94 of those years, and she wasn’t too far from 100% during her final year.
When I met Mimi, in the summer of 1983, she was exactly the age I am now (58). Tragically, she had lost her husband (my father-in-law, who I never met) when he died far too early, at 61.
Mimi’s house was dark. The atmosphere was gloomy – understandably – as sadness pervaded.
Mimi was 10 years older than my dad and more than 14 years older than my mom, and the depressing mood made her seem even older – far older than what I was used to for parents of someone of my age.
My parents were extremely conservative, so I assumed Mimi would be more so. But, early on I realized that was not the case in many ways.
I remember looking in a family photo album and seeing a picture of her son (my brother-in-law) Stewart. He had long hair and dressed in a very hippie-like way (which makes sense because he attended high school and college in the early 1970s). I told her I was surprised she let “Stewie” keep his hair like that. She replied, “I didn’t care how they dressed. I didn’t care how they kept their hair. As long as they were good kids,” a philosophy I immediately promised myself would be mine as a dad someday.
Another lesson I learned from Mimi was to avoid procrastination. At all my speaking engagements, I talk about “eating the big frog first,” and while I did not learn that from Mimi, I always mention Mimi’s take: “Procrastination makes everything doubly hard—you still have to do the thing you are delaying doing, AND you have to think about it all day until you do it.”
Over the years, Mimi got younger, and younger, and younger. From exercise, to her involvement with activities, to her time with family, she was like Benjamin Button, reversing the aging process. She was well into her 80s before she started to seem older than when I first met her at 58!
Mimi always replied to my newsletter and whenever it was about health she would update me on her routine.
When she was 85, and I wrote about a New York Times article, she wrote back, “Thank you for the NY Times article. I tried 4 of the exercises, and will continue to do them. I can stand on a cushion with one leg, and the other pulled up about 4 inches from the floor. I will put one leg in front of the other while brushing my teeth. I will try walking in a narrow space, and reach in the back of the closet for a cooking pot, which I did yesterday when I made vegetable soup. I appreciate all your help in trying to keep me healthy. Ilene also gave me one and that is to sit on a closed toilet seat and stand up 5 times without holding on, which I have been doing for several months. With my treadmill and stationary bike, I hope to be ambulatory for as long as possible.”
When she was 89, after a piece I wrote about brain health, she wrote, “Thank you for this timely article. I love to read, write, think, and attend meetings such as current events. Also belonging to organizations is a plus for me. I keep in touch and meet with friends. I also make it my business to visit friends who are “shut in” because of their physical limitations. I manage to meet with family as often as possible, etc. Physical exercise is exceedingly helpful in many respects. Just having a daily, timely routine is very important for me.”
She stuck with exercise almost until the end, doing as much as she could, for as long as she could, modifying her routine to adjust for her age-related limitations. As she wrote to me at 93, “I have been exercising for 35 years. Less since I started, but still every weekday.”
Your health is something you have to work at. And when you do, your chances at a long, healthy life will increase. Mimi knew that. I hope you can learn from her.