“Posting” Meant Mailing a Letter in My Generation
I’m 100 years old. Really. When I was born in Boston in 1912, there was no internet. No computers, no email, no blogs. This is all new to me, but since turning 100 on the 4th of July this summer, I felt if I didn’t try something new and exciting (and mystifying) I’d shrivel up and become obsolete. I recently had five fantastic birthday parties, and Lisa tells me the best way to get the word out is to blog about it.
“What’s a blog,” I ask her. She tells me it’s similar to an electronic version of being a newspaper columnist. And with everything I’ve been through in my life, what the heck. The worst scenario is I fail miserably, and there are worse things than that. Try the Great Depression, having a stroke, and losing your jewel of a wife of 70 years to Alzheimer’s. The best scenario is I can reach countless people struggling with aging and actually provide them with some support.
It’s hard to believe I’m a centenarian. A century old. Incredible. I’ve been through life’s highs and lows. I’m still here, so I figure the Great Architect has something else in store for me. I’m a regular person like you, trying to deal the hand I’ve been dealt. I’m sure all of you are, too. By sharing my life’s journey with you, I hope I can inspire, support, educate, and hopefully entertain you. I have no reality TV show to pitch, no sex tape to hide, no tweets to send. My idea of twitter is the wonderful feeling I had in my body the first day I met my wife, Sylvia. I proposed to her two days later. The wedding was six weeks after that. The only regret I have is I didn’t propose on our first date. Our 70 years together was beyond description. Not a day goes by when I don’t think of her.
Sylvia and I met Lisa in March 2009 when she served as a patient volunteer for TLC Hospice in Moorpark, California. From the moment the three of us met, we felt joined together like we had all known each other for decades. Sylvia had Alzheimer’s and was 89. I, at 96, was doing my best to take care of her in our home in Westlake Village, California. It was a struggle because I have wet macular degeneration and am legally blind. Sylvia’s hospice nurse, Jeannette Frye, her social worker, Amy Yoffe, plus Chaplain Adam Rodinsky supported me and Sylvia along with Lisa, but each day the strain grew. Finally, I had to place Sylvia in a board and care facility, which broke my heart. Alzheimer’s ran its course and took Sylvia’s life early in the morning hours on January 4, 2012, which happened to be her 92nd birthday. Lisa and I were by her side at a beautiful skilled nursing facility, Moorpark Health Care Center (Moorpark, California) when she died. I had suffered a moderate stroke just six weeks before. It was a difficult time. My peripheral vision was gone, my gait unsteady, my heart shattered. The support I had is what gave me the strength to move forward until I regained my own strength and resolve.
Lisa and her husband, Bob, opened their home to me after my stroke and disasterous experiences in both a hospital and their rehabilitation facility. I stayed at the facility just one day before Lisa came to rescue me from the point of no return. Now the three of us are a family and I am not alone facing the world as a centenarian and a widower. There’s something I want to do in Sylvia’s honor and memory before the Great Architect calls me home. That’s my purpose for living now. That and eating the best donuts and chocolate I can get my hands on. (More about those two things coming.)
Now to the main events, my five birthday parties and three newspaper interviews last month.
Party #1 — Menifee, California. Menifee Valley Lodge No. 289, F. & A.M. July 1, 2012. Thrown by old friends and neighbors in Riverside County where Sylvia and I spent 17 happy, retired years. One hundred friends and old neighbors threw a great picnic in my honor. Wonderful!
Party #2 — Newbury Park, California. July 4, 2012. Hosted by Lisa and Bob. A quiet day at home spent in amazement at the miracle of turning 100. Hebrew National hot dogs, baked beans, potato salad and flourless chocolate cake. We were joined by our neighbor, Barbara. A day to reflect and be grateful.
Party #3 –Westlake Village, California. July 6, 2012. My skilled and compassionate internist, Dr. Linda M. Gerrits, and her staff closed their office early. A luncheon and cake were served, pictures taken, and a great time had by all. Dr. Gerrits has a wonderfully caring bedside manner not found in most doctors today. I credit her, in large part, for my longevity.
Party #4 — Newbury Park, California. Hosted by Bob and Lisa on July 8, 2012. Big outdoor tents, balloons, flowers, tables, chairs, food galore. Horseshoes and cowbells as centerpieces. (I love all things Western.) Guests exceeded 50 people. Guests ranged from Sylvia’s hospice team, new neighbors, new friends, as well as Linda M. Gerrits, M.D. (who never rushes a patient, yet always seems to run on time) and Daphne Panagotacos, M.D., my exceptional dermatologist based in Westlake Village, California. I was on my feet all day, adrenaline pumping. When the party was over, I headed for bed and slept all night through, a rarity. As I’m sure older people understand, sleep doesn’t come as easily as it did when I we younger.
On July 10, 2012, a freelance writer, Anne Kallas, profiled me for the Ventura County Star (www.vcstar.com, search “Centenarian Henry Wasserman.”) I am grateful to Ms. Kallas and the Ventura County Star for considering me newsworthy! My first press article!
Party #5 — Carson City/Virginia City, Nevada, July 15, 2012. Aboard the V&T Railroad, a steam engine brought us from Carson City to Virginia City. A thoughtful and efficient woman named Janet Jones, who works for the Carson City Convention and Visitors Bureau, set up a special event for me. She issued a media alert, which brought a Virginia City reporter, Karen Woodmansee (Virginia City News) to interview me, my second press encounter. (See www.virginiacitynews.com and search for “Centenarian Henry Wasserman.”) The conductor, Neil, and his crew allowed me to call the “Welcome Aboard” to the passengers. Being a railroad enthusiast my entire life, I relished the experience. I received a gift bag and all the attention you can imagine. The passengers were marvelous!
Last newspaper interview — July 28, 2012. Reporter Stephanie Sumell from The Acorn (which covers the Conejo Valley) spent her valuable weekend time speaking with me. Her article is due to be published next week on August 9, 2012. The SOUL SHERPA website will provide the link for my readers.
I’ll have more to write as we age gracefully, together, surrounded by as much love and support each of us can muster. None of us should go through this phase of life alone. I encourage everyone, be they young, middle-aged or older, to help each other as best we can along this path of life. Trust me. I’m living proof of the benefits.
Just wanted to wish you the happiest of birthdays ever!! You are truly a blessed and beautiful soul. I loved the story of your fabulous celebrations, but I especially loved your last few lines of love and wisdom. Actually brought tears to my eyes… Also, we have met!!! one day you were at Cedars with lovely Lisa and I was there with my 92 year old Mom who had had some heart procedures. It was such a joy to meet you as Lisa had spoke of you often. I only wish you the best and will look forward to hearing about you!!
Much love, Christie
I do rememeber you and your mother, Helen. Thank you for writing. I could never forget meeting you at Cedars! Hopefully we can meet one day. I think it’s wonderful that you’re such a dependable health care advocate for your mother. I know how valuable it is for every older person to have one.
Gosh Henry, this is just fabulous! You are truly an inspiration to all that know you. Hoping that your new blog will spread that inspiration even farther. It is our honor and pleasure to know you. We really do look forward to your visits. (Of course we love visiting with Lisa, too.) Mazel Tov and Zei Gesund!!
Dear Lynn and Harvey,
Thank you both for taking the time to comment on my blog. I appreciate your good wishes. If I’m able to spread my inspiration by blogging as you suggest, it’d be wonderful. I have to say I’m looking forward to my next visit to Northern Nevada because your chocolates are the finest I’ve ever tastest. I just have to remember to keep exercising so I don’t gain any weight! I wish your entire family all my best.
Loved this and the article in the Acorn. You are an inspiration!
Thank you so much, Pam! Lisa and I are doing our best to bring attention to the challenges and joys of being a senior citizen. I intend to keep living as well as I can and inspire others along the way, both young and old.
I wish you the best,
Wow, I’m impressed! Keep up the great work Mr. Wasserman.
Dear Dr. Hakimi,
Thank you for writing and your support. I appreciate having you as an important member of my health care team. Doctors like you have helped me live to 100 and thankfully do so quality in my life. You are a skilled dentist who has the ability to establish a great repoire with your patients. I hope you can make it to my 101st birthday celebration — and me too!
Hi, Henry. I found you (more or less) from a CNN article on the genome project.
Congratulations on your new blog. We spend so much time prepping our kids on the ins and outs of puberty, but no one ever tells us what to expect when it comes to aging. You are doing a great service with your writing and I wish you well.
Aging is as much of an adventure as puberty (just in VERY different ways!) I’ve found that taking life one day at a time, maintaining a grateful attitude, and having a strong social support network of family and friends who are like family, plus frequent walking, is a magical combination. It is my intention to be of service, as I feel many elders have a lot to offer, if only given the chance.
Its great to read your blog.your optimism is contagious. you can really inspire people by having the positive attitude that transpires from your words.
thanks a lot.
By the way,do you speak spanish? It would be really nice that spanish speaking people can read your blog
Unfortunately I don’t speak Spanish, but as SOUL SHERPA grows, Lisa intends to expand our services to reach people whose primary language is other than English. My attitude is positive because I’ve been lucky enough to have been born that way. I can tell you simple walking, every day, has helped me maintain my good health. I’m glad you’re inspired by my writing. Believe me, at 100, I’m grateful to make a positive contribution to our society.
Hi, Henry! I read about you in a recent Wall Street Journal article and had to check you out.
You are truly an inspiration! How wonderful that you started blogging at 100, and why not? As long as we’re alive, it’s never too late to start something new. I started doing stand-up comedy in my mid-40s and published a book about the experience in my 50s. I turn 55 next week, and have a long list of things I still want to accomplish.
How wonderful that you met Lisa through the hospice! I was also a hospice volunteer for several years, and I believe that every hospice worker–paid or volunteer–is an angel on earth. Lisa must be magnificent!
All the best to you, Henry. Continue to share your wisdom with the world!
Thanks for reading the Wall Street Journal article and taking the time to write. I applaud your courage to change careers while you were able to do so. I like visiting Las Vegas and would like to catch your show on my next visit. I, too, intend to write a book with Lisa about life at 100 and starting all over again after enduring the loss of my wonderful wife of 70 years, Sylvia, and my suffering a moderate stroke. Thankfully I had my “Soul Sherpa” to assist me with my recovery. I want to keep on living and give back, because life is a wonderful gift. I carry all of the hospice workers who helped Sylvia while she bravely battled Alzheimer’s in a special place in my heart.
I’d love to hear from you again.
Henry, it was a delight to read your blog after seeing the WSJ article on 9/23. I have a question? Do you think centenarians derive more intellectual stimuli internally (i.e. through memory) or externally (as in responding to what’s going on around them)? I’m writing an article and I’d certainly appreciate your thoughts. Or do you think the percentage stays about the same at age 100 as to age 30? Thank you so much for being who you are!
My hat is off to The Wall Street Journal for interviewing me. Never, ever in my life did I believe that would have ever happened! It took 100 years, but it finally happened and I feel so honored by the experience.
As for your question, I can tell you every centenarian I’ve met is a unique individual. I can only respond for myself. My mind works fairly similar to the way it did when I was thirty, with the exception of being at a loss for a specific word more often than I’d like. I have always been a gregarious person who enjoys other people. I try to be open-minded and see the best in others and try to be of service. People amaze me, as they are all different. I find that kind of stimuli essential to being content. I am a “people person” who would be miserable if I were isolated with only my own thoughts (the few there are!) Living with Bob and Lisa, who are in their early 50s, is so different from my life with my late wife of 70 years, Sylvia. That life was a traditional one. Lisa and Bob both work and each helps out with their home responsibilities. I understand it’s a different world and I find it fascinating. I hope this helps with your article. I’d love to see a copy.
Thank you for writing.