The Second Half: Birthdays bring changes

By Kathleen D. Tresemer


I am celebrating! Two of my favorite Second Half people are having birthdays: my husband and my friend Pat.

Discussion surrounding birthdays usually leads to my excitement at having survived another year. Not everyone shares my sentiment. Change is something we humans tend to struggle with, especially if we find those changes to be more limiting.

“Aging brings changes in family structure, in social and physical activities, and often in our health,” a therapist friend tells me. “When these changes occur, it can be hard to adjust and continue to feel positive about your life.”

Well, it is true that certain Second Half birthdays bring about obvious changes: reaching 50 brings us to the age of seniority, signified by our AARP card in the mail, and the 65th birthday introduces the age of Social Security. At 90 years old, we have reached advanced seniority, and at 100-plus, we are eligible for a mention on the morning news programs with other centenarians.

I figured one of my favorite Web sites—the WebMD Healthy Aging Center—could add to this discussion (go to: ). In the article, “Living to 100 to Become Common,” by Miranda Hitti, she tells us: “Reaching the age of 100 may become pretty ordinary…”

The report comes out of the Danish Aging Research Centre at the University of Southern Denmark, recently published in The Lancet. This research tells us that, if current trends continue, “…most babies born since 2000 in France, Germany, Italy, the U.K., the USA, Canada, Japan, and other countries with long life expectancies will celebrate their 100th birthdays…”

No one is mentioning my goal—120—but I have time for the research to catch up with me.

Seventy-something Pat has been facing changes this year with a vigorous approach, getting involved in activities and volunteer work that she didn’t have time for in the past. “First, I want to do things that have value, things with a purpose,” she tells me. “Next, I want to do things that are spiritual in nature. Then, I want to engage in activities that are both physically and intellectually challenging. And at the end of the day, I want most of it to be fun!”

“Holy cow!” I wonder. “Is that realistic?”

Here’s how she has covered all those bases:

Value/Purpose—Pat trained as a hospice worker and is now handling cases, as well as assisting another senior with her bookkeeping.

“Well, I have three jobs,” I say. “And I volunteer for a couple of organizations—I’m thinking I have too much of a sense of purpose!” I might try dedicating myself to “aimlessness” and see if the pay-off is any better.

Spiritual—Pat supports a local church in restoring their historic building, now renovated enough that folks attend weekly services there; in addition, she attends classes that address spiritual concerns and participates in spiritual study groups.

“I enjoy meditation and reading stuff,” I say, weakly.

Intellectual Challenges—Too numerous to mention. Pat never stops her intellectual pursuits! She is a board member of the Rockford Writers’ Guild, a member of the Center for Learning in Retirement at Rock Valley College, and attends a monthly book club, to name just a few.

“Intellect is an area where you really excel,” Hubby compliments me, then promptly deflates my ego. “It can be quite annoying to the people around you.”

Physical Challenges—Riding her bicycle, gardening, landscaping and caring for her horse are just a few of Pat’s activities, although she wants to do more to feel her best.

“I think a LOT about getting more physical,” I say—I’m very cerebral that way!

Fun—Pat recently bought herself an antique car and joined a club that shares that interest. She does about a dozen things a week that I think are fun.

“Does it count that I hang out with you?” I ask her.

“We do laugh a lot,” she concurs. “That counts in my book!”

Another Second Half idol of mine celebrated his birthday in September: the Godfather of Fitness, Jack LaLanne, celebrated his 95th birthday with the release of his newest book, Live Young Forever. LaLanne tells us, “People don’t die of old age, they die of neglect.”

When I’m gone, I never want anyone to say, “She died of neglect.”

My mother never neglected herself, exercising every day to the Jack LaLanne Show. She didn’t need any special equipment or designer sweatsuits back then, just comfy clothes and a commitment of 30 minutes a day. If she could do it, so can WE!

I was not aware that LaLanne was first a Doctor of Chiropractic, trying to teach us about exercise and nutrition (before it was “popular TV programming”) through media appearances and publicity stunts. In 1984, at 70 years old, Jack swam 1.5 miles handcuffed and shackled, towing 70 boats with 70 people from the Queen’s Way bridge in the Long Beach harbor to the Queen Mary.  I guess LaLanne’s birthdays bring him changes, too…in improved health and fitness. He still has a mission: To help people to help themselves feel better, look better, and live longer. “Anything in life is possible,” he says, “if you make it happen!”

One of my favorite Jack LaLanne quotes: “Work at living, and you don’t have to die tomorrow.”

Thanks, Jack, and happy birthday! Visit Jack’s Web site at (, and have fun exercising to his original television programs.

In her second half of life, Kathleen D. Tresemer is both a journalist and an award-winning fiction writer. She lives with her husband on a small ranch in rural Shirland, Ill. Kathleen can be contacted by e-mail at

From the October 28 – November 3, 2009

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