If someone had suggested, even two years ago, that I would be choosing to live in the independent living portion of a senior community, I would have thought, “Well, they obviously don’t know me!”
New Year’s Eve 2022 I moved into a lovely apartment on the third floor of a senior living community near the coast in Ventura County, California. I can see the coastline in the distance from my living room and bedroom and the beautifully cared for grounds surrounding the building.
I feel safe.
I have made many new friends.
The Events Calendar is full.
I have my own kitchen.
Yet I can’t help but wonder how I got here. I have lived my life doing everything I thought was “right” so I could continue dynamically aging in my own home. I began eating vegetarian 40 years ago. I changed to eating plant-based more than 10 years ago. I began a regular program of Restorative Exercise movement in classes several times a week with biomechanist and author Katy Bowman at her studio in Ventura, as well as practicing at home. I walked extensively daily.
My husband, Lynn, and I had a lovely home in the suburbs. When he passed away after 33 years of a loving marriage, I felt the loss deeply. My two daughters, Karyn and Shula, live in Colorado and Mississippi, respectively, so I knew I was pretty much on my own.
I felt I was in good health.
Spiritually, in 1985, I found Nichiren Buddhism. Through the practice of chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo with my Buddhist community, I have found the centeredness that continues to support me through the challenges of life.
Eating a plant-based diet has been an important focus in my life. I was introduced to it by my dear friend, Shelah Wilgus, one of the co-authors of Katy Bowman’s book, Dynamic Aging: Simple Steps to Whole-Body Mobility. We attended Katy’s classes together, we were walking and travel companions and became culinary companions. I was familiar with the term dynamic aging and I always believed I was and would continue.
Shelah had an expansive kitchen designed to facilitate culinary skills. We spent many fun-filled hours creating new and delicious plant-based dishes, testing each one personally, and sharing our results with many friends interested in learning more about the health benefits of choosing this way to eat. For me, I noticed with this way of eating I no longer experienced bloating, migraine headaches, and excessive flatulence. I lost weight naturally without having to limit how much I ate. Even now at 80, I have no heart trouble and my cholesterol is low.
Then, at 76, I was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. I had experienced a couple of falls while out walking. I began feeling like my upper torso was listing toward the right side and forward. As the condition progressed, I observed my body changing. I had always stood up straight and exercised daily, paying special attention to the hyper-kyphosis from gravity rounding my shoulders and upper back. But in spite of my efforts, the disease has pulled me forward and to the side and down so I can no longer stand upright. I am only able to ambulate without assistance for short distances. When I leave my apartment to head down to the first floor to eat or go to any of the many events provided on other floors, I must use a walker. I get fatigued easily and must sit frequently.
It’s not how I expected to age.
Now my challenge is to explore and discover how I can continue to feel like I am dynamically aging despite physical changes to the contrary. I am just stubborn enough to choose to stay active in my community. I go to the gym in the community and use it to the extent I am able. I continue to attend my book club where I have been a member for over 25 years. I used to drive to the home of the member hosting each month. Now someone kindly comes by to pick me up. It is a struggle getting in and out of the car. And yet, when I get to the meeting, people seem genuinely happy to see me and I am, of course, delighted to spend time with each of them.
I am on Zoom several times a week to continue to participate and contribute by attending several groups that are important to me. One is a support group at my church which I have attended for the past seven years. I also actively participate in my weekly Buddhist study group.
I make breakfast in my apartment kitchen each day. I make the effort to go to the dining room for most of my dinners and choose to sit with others so I can get to know people better and learn what their lives are like living here. I attend many of the events that are offered to the residents. One of my favorite classes here has been Art. I have always drawn and painted and this class gives me the opportunity to continue learning and creating. I talk to my treasured friend, Shelah, nearly every night where she is living in a senior living community in Georgia near her family.
For my 80th birthday celebration in March, my children and grandchildren and great-granddaughter, Evelyn Anne, now one year old, came here to southern California and we journeyed by car to spend a delightful, family-filled week in Morro Bay.
Someone recently commented that I seem to continue to be a contribution to the lives of others. That I am continuing to dynamically age by staying engaged with those around me, by choosing to make the effort to participate in events and with others, by putting in the effort daily to dress nicely, to smile and listen to what others have to say, and to share my thoughts and experiences. I don’t know if that’s dynamically aging. To me, I call it stubborn. I am too stubborn to give up discovering what it is that I can still do and who I can still BE. I do know that I am continuing to do my best no matter what the circumstances.
I learned that there are recent studies saying that traumatic brain injury increases the risk of Parkinson’s disease. Early in my 20s, I suffered a serious blow to the back of my head resulting in a concussion. I have no idea whether that contributed to my condition. It really doesn’t matter. It is what it is and for me, I want to continue to live my life in a way that has a positive impact on everyone I meet. My purpose in life is to share the benefits of Buddhism and my vegan plant-based lifestyle which, I believe, will make people healthier and happier. This is important to me because when people feel healthy and happy, they are kind and generous and not interested in violence and war.
I was born in London, England in 1943 during the Second World War. I came to southern California in 1974 with my two daughters, Karyn and Shula. I married my husband, Lynn, in 1983. For 28 years, I ran a successful rèsumè writing business. In 1988 I returned to college graduating in 1992 with a degree in Commercial Art.
My Buddhist community is Soka Gakkai International.
One of my favorite plant-based nutrition podcasts is The Exam Room by the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine.