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The Vital Aging Secret Betty White Knows All About

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By Sue Ronnenkamp

Betty White’s very recent 95th birthday reminded me of a blog posting I wrote about her seven years ago. Feels worth repeating, so in tribute to her enduring and uplifting spirit – here it is again!

What’s the vital aging secret that Betty White knows all about? Life doesn’t end until it ends.

Living Life to the Fullest

I love that Betty White is such a hot commodity today because she’s giving all of us another positive role model for vital and successful aging. Her appearance on Saturday Night Live in 2010 (at age 88) not only made her the oldest host ever and resulted in huge ratings, she also showed the world that her wit and comedic timing were still as sharp as ever. And she didn’t stop there. She’s currently a valued and popular cast member of the sitcom Hot in Cleveland. And her recent 90th birthday rated a primetime, celebrity-filled special on NBC. The greatest part about all of this: Betty looks like she’s having a ball!

Betty White isn’t alone in living life to the fullest. People who follow their passion know all about this and have been doing it for decades. I think of role models like Pablo Picasso who produced more work in the last two decades of his life than at any other time. I think of Frank Lloyd Wright who worked on the Guggenheim Museum until his death at age 91. I think of Grandma Moses who started painting seriously at age 78 and continued until her death at age 101. I think of U.S. Poet Laureate Stanley Kunitz who pursued his passion for poetry until his death at age 100.   

Don't Stop Following Your Passion

People who follow their passion don’t stop what they love doing because of age. They fully understand that life doesn’t end until it ends, and they continue making the most of every day they’re given.       

People who won’t let dreams die also know all about this. I think of George Dawson who was the son of a former slave and someone who had always dreamt of learning to read. He didn’t think he was too old to do this when he joined an adult literacy program at age 98. He continued attending program classes until his death at 103 and fulfilled his dream.  

But that’s not the whole story. By going after this dream, George had the opportunity to co-author a book about his life called Life is So Good that led to a book tour and speaking at several national book festivals. Here’s my favorite George Dawson quote: “Ever since I turned a hundred, life has been busy.” Think you’re too old to start something new? Just remember this story about George Dawson and put that thought OUT of your mind. Life doesn’t end until it ends.

Believe You Can Make A Difference

People who believe they can make a difference in the world know all about this too. I think of Doris “Granny D” Haddock who earned her fame by walking across America in her 90th year to promote campaign finance reform. You can read about this experience and her wonderful insights about life and aging in the book that she co-authored with Dennis Burke.    

I was reminded of Granny D and her story last year when I read of her death at age 100. Family friends noted that Granny D’s age was not a factor in what she did. She never gave up. Until the end, she was still advocating for causes she believed in. My favorite Granny D quote: “I have not lost my reason to live . . . I want to plant a few more seeds here and there before they plant me.”  

Opportunities for planting new seeds and positively impacting the world around you don’t end at a certain age. If you think they do, think of Granny D and then think again. Life doesn’t end until it ends.

The great news is that stories like these are becoming more and more commonplace with our growing aging population and the shattering of old stereotypes. And role models for vital and successful aging and FULL LIFELONG LIVING can be found anywhere and everywhere.  

You just need to look for them – seek them out – and follow their lead. Their positive examples are becoming the new norm for how later life is meant to be lived. It’s really true. Life doesn’t end until it ends.           

Sue Ronnenkamp is an aging educator, innovator, and resource developer. She believes that thriving through change is possible and achievable – for all of us who are aging AND for the senior living/aging services field too. KEY TO SUCCESS (hint, it’s a paradox): Choose change before it chooses you AND don’t let change get in your way.  

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