5 Life Lessons I Learned Working With a 96-year-old Woman

life lessons

Look, I get it; volunteering in nursing homes isn’t exactly the most appealing of the volunteer jobs. From soup kitchens to children’s hospitals, there are tons of more fun sounding opportunities. But that doesn’t mean that volunteering with the elderly isn’t worth it. I started working with a 96-year-old woman (we’ll call her Mrs. J) a couple months ago, and though it isn’t the most exciting thing in the world, the time has definitely been educational. Mrs. J has taught me so much, there was no way I could get it all down to a list of just five, but these are some of life’s lessons she has taught me. Enjoy!

#1: Growing Old is Mandatory; Growing Up is a Choice

Okay, yes, Mrs. J is pretty old. I don’t mean that in a derogatory way; Mrs. J has been alive for ninety-six years. That’s a really long time. But that doesn’t mean she has to act like it. Mrs. J is so funny and friendly that I forget her age. She is also the most mischievous and sassy person I have yet to know. Pretty much every time I go in to see her, Mrs. J has some plan for us to execute. Whether it’s “borrowing” a newspaper from the library or going for ice-cream in the dining hall even though it’s almost dinnertime, Mrs. J always has some new adventure for us. She may be old, but she is in no way a grown-up yet!

She may be old, but she is in no way a grown-up yet!

#2: You’re Never Too Old to Learn Something New

Mrs. J graduated from college for the first time in 1942. While this may seem like where most people would stop, Mrs. J is still enrolled at a local university, and still keeps up with her lessons regularly. When I first learned that, it wowed me. Mrs. J’s nearing a century in age, and she’s still learning and growing! She has read more books than anyone else I know, and she’s learning Italian and French.

She’s a rockstar at crossword puzzles and I’m pretty sure she knows more words than the dictionary at this point. She’s practically Superwoman, right? And education has been pretty beneficial to Mrs. J too. By continuing to study, Mrs. J keeps her mind active and her memory functioning. Not to mention that she always wins the giant crossword game that the nursing home runs!

#3: Enjoy the Little Things

Mrs. J may seem like the coolest woman that ever existed, but that doesn’t mean that she has it all good. Mrs. J had a muscular degenerative disease in her eyes, which causes her to be unable to see anything without magnification and a bright light. She also needs oxygen and a walker just to get around her home. All that could make life pretty miserable for anyone, but not for Mrs. J.

Whenever I see her, Mrs. J always finds something to make herself happy. Whether it’s pictures and letters from family or even just a visit from one of her volunteers, Mrs. J is always smiling for something. Life isn’t perfect but there’s always to be grateful for. Every little thing that we take for granted, Mrs. J sees as an opportunity for happiness.

#4: Beauty is Everywhere

Mrs. J may be blind, but she loves all things beautiful. I mean, sure, her definition of beauty has changed a bit. She doesn’t look at anything to see beauty, but instead, she hears it. She feels it. The other day, she called the lady at the front desk beautiful because she offered to get her mail for her. Being a teenage girl, there’s always pressure to be a certain kind beautiful, but Mrs. J, she doesn’t care about any of that. And I think that’s the most beautiful thing about her.

If she could give one piece of advice to girls today, she would tell them this: life is too short.

#5: Life’s Too Short

When I told Mrs. J I was writing this article, she wanted to add in her own input too. She told me that if she could give one piece of advice to girls today, she would tell them this: life is too short. Mrs. J has lived a solid ninety-six years on this planet. She’s seen a lot, and done a lot. She’s traveled across the ocean,  set foot on six of the seven continents, and is a published author. Again, she’s kind of amazing.

The reason for her success? According to her, it’s living each day like it was her last. The world might seem to be against her sometimes, but she’s still fighting. After all, you only get one chance to live on this planet, why not live it to it’s fullest.

So yes, while working in a nursing home may not seem like the most exciting volunteer opportunity, when working with someone as cool as Mrs. J, there’s always something new to learn and ways to grow. Whether you’re six or ninety-six, I hope Mrs. J’s life lessons can inspire you the way she inspires me everyday!

Also published on Medium.