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A Wise Relative’s Life Guidelines to Navigate Aging Gracefully

Updated: Apr 21, 2023

By Dorian Martin, I Start Wondering

During my spring-cleaning efforts this year, I have found such a wealth of meaningful family memories along with the trove of paperwork saved by my parents, who like many who grew up during the Great Depression, saved everything. I plowed through boxes that contain a mix of their things as well as documents that I’d put aside to deal with later.

As I go through the boxes, a treasure periodically emerges—like Halloween photos of my brother and me as children wearing various costumes and mugging for the camera. I’ve also found other family jewels—newspaper announcements of my father’s promotions, photos of the family’s poodle, and random snapshots are taken during trips that are jogging my memory.

An unexpected and meaningful treasure I discovered is a letter that a relative shared with my father during the final years of Dad’s life. At the time, Dad’s world was rapidly shrinking as his health crumbled—and Dad let these changes paralyze him emotionally and mentally, which affected everything and everyone around him.

Wanting to help, this relative—one of the few individuals that my father counted as a friend and confidant—offered some of his own experiences and suggestions in a very open and honest way. Although he was younger, this relative had experienced more health challenges than my dad. He also had seen a lot of ups and downs over the course of his life, yet still strived to keep a buoyant outlook that embraced the possibilities of a new day. He was always exploring new topics, open to meeting new people, reading as much as possible, and trying to keep up with the trends in technology.

I’m not sure that Dad took the relative’s advice, but in retrospect, I feel like these insights can be very valuable for I Start Wondering readers. While this advice might be helpful to share with aging parents, I also think it provides an anchor to help us mindfully and kindly navigate our own next chapters of aging in a rapidly changing world.

Neither my father nor this relative are still alive—but the insightful words shared between them are. And in that spirit, I’d like to share them with you in hopes that we can learn from someone who tried to figure out how to navigate his later years with grace and presence.


You may remember that I suffered from depression when I neared the end of my working days and after I retired. The combination of physical problems, the results of my leg surgery and the effects of my heart attack, and the realization that I was aging…

No, not aging, but was OLD.

I went to a therapist, and after several (many) sessions, he helped me to understand my condition and gave me direction on how to help myself. HELP MYSELF!!!!!

The fix was to REALIZE and RECOGNIZE my problem, and then decide how much time and effort I wanted to put in to correct it.

Nothing happened overnight. I made notes and gave much thought to the issues which caused the condition, and which made me unhappy.

I think I have resolved my problems pretty well, and developed some thoughts and codes of conduct which I call my guidelines. They have helped me adjust, changed my thinking, eased my life, reduced stress, and generally made me a happier person. And, I might add, more acceptable to others.

I wrote them down, one at a time….over many months, adding another and another when I thought about it. The process still goes on, and on…and I don’t pretend that I can remember them all or act them out all the time, but I refer to the list almost daily, and nearly every day have reason to visit one or two of the “commandments.”

Read it, keep it handy…and perhaps you will find a point or two which can help you be a more rounded person, a better person, and a happier person.

Life Guidelines

  • No anger. Don’t get mad. Don’t lose your temper. See CALM, see no ANGER, see LOVE, see PATIENCE.

  • No rushing. Don’t be in a hurry; take your time.

  • Be patient. It will come, in due time.

  • Be calm. Tense and heated involvement causes similar responses.

  • Love. We can accept and embrace opposites if we have no animosity.

  • Forgive. Not everything is expressed or delivered as we think it should be. Even if it is totally wrong and contrary to the facts, we can and should forgive the messenger.

  • Listen. Take time to listen, so that we can hear and understand.

  • Be kind. Be charitable. Allow for the other side. Even opposite positions can have some merit.

  • Be positive. Negativity destroys. A positive posture is a building block.

  • Be truthful. Be forthright. Don’t lie. Soften but state surely what you think.

  • Don’t complain. Everyone has their own problems, and likely can’t help with yours.

  • Be on time. Punctuality is vital. Better ten early than one late.

  • Be a friend. Do unto others as you would have them do for you.

  • Be silent. Hold your tongue. You can tell them to go to hell tomorrow.

  • Accept. Some things cannot be changed—or returned. Be gracious.

  • Don’t find fault. Don’t criticize.

  • Be helpful. Offer assistance only if appropriate and if deemed to be welcome.

Our relative’s meaningful letter reminds me of the truth in the saying, “With age comes wisdom.” As the years pass, it’s beneficial to realize that trying to control every aspect of our lives is not useful to our well-being. Yet ultimately, we do have control of our own minds, emotions, reactions, and responses.

To that end, this relative’s communication reminds me of the importance of focusing on my own choices, instead of pointing out my perceptions of others’ faults. Ultimately, this letter now serves as an invitation from one generation to those that follow to walk through the world in a positive way and work to create a more welcoming and loving world.

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1 Comment

Brenda Riojas
Brenda Riojas
May 22, 2023

Wow! Dorian, this is excellent. How beautiful to share the wisdom of one generation to others. Wise words in deed that "nothing happens overnight." We also need to do the work ourselves, and look at the choices we make and our response to different situations.

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