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Some companies have happier beginnings. This company started long before this website was created or any of the articles were written. It began with my family’s heartbreak over the last few years of my maternal grandparents’ lives.
My mother’s parents were highly accomplished people. My grandfather was an engineer and an inventor, with more than 100 patents to his name. He ran an engineering design department at a large plant and was one of the most effortlessly creative people I knew. He could come up with a solution to almost any design problem in under twenty minutes — he would “see” the solution right away. And friends and family would often comment about how spot-on his ideas were.
My grandmother started her career as a doctor and proceeded to manage more than 150 medical offices. She was known as a great diagnostician. She was a fantastic speaker. She was fair, honest and composed.
My grandparents grew up during World War II. They described their childhoods as a time filled with hunger and wartime stress. Even in their prime adult years, the stresses of their childhood seemed to haunt them. They had few reserves, whether physical, emotional or psychological, to help them deal with any instability in their lives.
They were completely shaken up when my family came to live in New York and they stayed behind in Europe. We tossed around plans for them to join us in New York, and they came to visit many times, but the plans for their permanent move did not work out. They had to accept that they would be spending their later years on their own.
The older they got, the more we saw the effects of the lifestyle they led. They did not watch their diet and seldom engaged in physical activity. Their favorite pastime was reading newspapers and watching television, which mostly left them upset about politics. Then huge problems started showing up, in rapid succession. A few strokes. Six surgeries six months apart. The everyday stress my family was experiencing was at times simply unbearable. I recall a holiday weekend when I received a call that my grandfather expected to have his foot amputated (thankfully, that never happened). When my grandmother became half-paralyzed after her last stroke, my grandfather called us on the phone, crying in anguish. The normal day-to-day functioning of our lives stopped. It seemed unthinkable to be joyful amidst all this suffering. Those four years, and the stress they brought, were about the worst my family had ever experienced.
As I was witnessing my grandparents’ struggle, I became much more attuned to other people their age. At some point, I remembered how different had been my experience with my grandparents on my father’s side. They passed away about ten years before my other grandparents, and they certainly had their own share of illnesses. They also went through World War II: my grandmother survived a death camp, and my grandfather fought in the war. But their later years felt very different to me. There was pain, but it was not compounded with suffering. They did not fight and protest their decline so much. They had an incredible appreciation for life. They were somehow more easygoing about the passing years. Perhaps it was that I was younger and was simply spared most of the pain because my father bore the brunt of the caretaking; regardless, the difference in the way my two sets of grandparents handled getting older had an impact on me.
I have always had friends, colleagues and family friends who are older. I have a natural appreciation for people; out of that have arisen caring connections with many people in my life, from three-month-olds to ninety-six-year-olds. And after experiencing the suffering of my maternal grandparents, I began paying closer attention to how people in my life led their lives, the issues they faced and how fulfilled they were. I saw friends going through heart-wrenching decisions about when to leave full-time employment and what to do after that. I also made some new friends who were around my grandparents’ age and who looked, sounded and felt exquisitely alive and fulfilled. The thing is, I know they worked for it. They worked really hard. And they continue to. They also have a good reason to stay vibrant, whether it is along the lines of “I don’t want to end up like my mom” or “I know I have more to contribute” or a combination of many factors. Whatever the reason, all of these vibrant older people have some kind of purpose. I realized that those of my friends who were feeling sidelined in their eighties had always had fundamental problems they never got around to addressing, from not being able to communicate effectively with their children to never figuring out what makes them truly happy. Age exposes the weaknesses in our life strategy because there are fewer distractions (career, children) to mask the unhappiness. As we get older, our eyes either shine with love and appreciation of life or they’re dull.
I am not going to claim that a better diet, exercise or a positive mental attitude could have changed my grandparents’ fortune. I think that life is much more complicated than that. I simply hope that I do not meet my later years already defeated. And I know that requires planning. And I also know that the planning does not start at 70. It starts with my habits and attitudes today. I am aware that choices I make cannot guarantee my happy end, but they will at least optimize the heck out of the rest of my life. I am embracing vital. I am embracing vibrant. I am embracing ageless.
Let your light shine. This is the only reason for Joy Compass to exist.
Julia Valentine, Founder of Joy Compass