Is getting older worth embracing?
Gladys welcomed me in. As I walked into her home, I was met with picture frames and smiles lined meaningfully on the walls. I could sense that many fond memories were created in this space. The rooms seemed warm and lived in. Gladys greets me with her beaming smile and generous eyes. I am excited to get to know her.
She is 92 years old with three sons and nine grandchildren and exudes gratitude, especially for the program Aging Is Cool. Before her husband Howard passed away 8 years ago, they shared a pleasant and content life working as a team in the two-way radio business. The city of Austin had been their home for decades, supported by a circle of friendly neighbors and young children which allowed her family to grow up in a fun and peaceful existence. After their sons finished school and moved away, Gladys and Howard pondered ways in which they could spend their time in their newly affirmed empty nest. They joyfully decided on attending ballroom dance classes on a regular basis. Gladys and Howard performed waltzes, rhumbas, and cha-chas with a passion while dancing to legendary Perry Como hits and many more. It was a significantly engaging and active time in her life.
Her three sons and their families all lived outside of Austin but everyone was still close at heart. Gladys and Howard would spend weeks visiting their boys, reconnecting and exploring. Once they came back home, it was back to the wonderful retired life of dance classes, book clubs, and socials. Then, suddenly, Howard fell ill after a fall and never recovered. Gladys’ partner in dancing, in traveling, in life was gone. Her husband’s passing left her with grief but eventually the fortitude to keep going. Later she began to realize, without her dance partner, she was not able to be as active as she would have liked. Also, with the old generation moving or passing away around her and the new generation moving in, she gradually no longer knew anyone in her neighborhood. After recognizing these changes were not conducive to how she wanted to live the rest of her life, she started to feel a desire to reshape her social environment. Deep down she clearly knew that she had a lot more living and connecting to do. “You have to find something to fill the place,” Gladys says. “When people pass and things change…and that’s where Aging Is Cool comes in.”
As time went by, Gladys accidentally acquired a back injury for the second time. When she decided to go to therapy, it became apparent Medicare would only pay for so much. As she expressed this challenge to a friend of hers, her friend suggested going to WellMed, a preventive healthcare clinic focused on older patients. Little did she know, that her life was about to change in a beautiful way.
Introduce Damien Temperley, a fitness instructor with a British accent and kind blue eyes who actually saw beyond wrinkles and brought forth the vitality innately present in all of his students. She was instantly addicted to his energy and kindness. “He’s a magnet. In all the three years that I’ve known him, I’ve never heard anyone not like him,” she says.
Getting to know Damien was truly a wonderful experience for Gladys. So it hit her pretty hard when he informed all of his students that he would be resigning from the WellMed clinic. Damien was moving on to the next chapter of his life by pursuing the creation of Aging is Cool with his wife, Amy. The news brought sadness not only to Gladys but to the rest of Damien’s students who looked forward to his presence each time they came to his classes. Luckily, he was not saying ‘goodbye’, he was only saying ‘see you soon’. When the program officially began in the summer of 2017, Gladys and many others followed Damien along on his new path with extreme enthusiasm.
Gladys participates in as many Aging Is Cool classes as she can, so much so, she is considered the organization’s biggest fan. She attends not only for the exercise but also for the involvement in community. “I don’t think I’ve ever been in that large of a group where there is so much camaraderie,” she says.
She also loves the diversity of classes offered since they tend to provide a very well rounded approach and encompass many interests. She loves that each class makes her life more stimulating and less routine. “He has memory classes and brain classes…sometimes I amaze myself that I get a right answer,” she admits with a delighted chuckle.
Along with the positive social aspects she has gained, participating in Aging Is Cool has also improved her back and helped her become active once again. The results of her regular attendance prove and reaffirm Amy and Damien's sole mission. Clearly, a person who has lived more than nine decades still enjoys being physically and mentally challenged in new and fun ways.
During my time with Gladys, she has no trouble sharing her sweet sense of humor. She ends up telling jokes and stories from the past that make us both giggle and even blush at times. Without a question, I see her immense value in our society. She’s wise, fun, and still loves to be open to new ideas. And, refreshingly, she doesn’t care very much how the general public sees her. “I don’t feel old. Sometimes it proves to me that I am when I can’t do what I used to do. But I am what I am,” she says in a peaceful yet confident way. Meeting Gladys made me feel as though my life was richer just by spending a few hours with her. If this is the kind of person someone turns out to become when they reach their sixties and beyond, then yeah, I have to agree. Aging is definitely cool.
If you would like to help Aging Is Cool continue to support people like Gladys, please donate here.