A long life

I learned yesterday that one of my dad’s aunts, Aunt Freda Donovan, passed away. She was 101 years old, and the last time I saw her she was as engaged in the lives of her extended family as always. Embarrassingly, Aunt Freda was always a good deal better at remembering names than many of us who belonged to a younger generation of Donovan’s, Ryan’s, or Powers’.   

Freda was married to Uncle Bill, my grandmother’s brother, and she outlived not only him, but all of his siblings and most of their spouses. Contrary to the health advice of her doctors, Freda spent the majority of her life as a smoker–kicking the habit well into her nineties.  She said that she figured it was never too late to give up a bad behavior.

I sometimes think that cancer survivors like me–and people without cancer who hope to avoid this or another dreaded diagnosis altogether–spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about how to remain healthy. We listen to the experts, calculate our risk for any number of illnesses, buy magazines and books promising quick and easy fixes to shedding extra pounds and abandoning our vices.  Some of us even listen to Oprah, hoping she or one of her healthy living gurus will show us the way.

Though I rarely ran into Aunt Freda apart from the annual Donovan reunion or the occasional funeral or wedding, my sense is that she probably didn’t pay too much attention to what others had to say about the way she lived her life. And it was a long one.

Aunt Freda loved her family, especially her grandkids and great-grandkids. She had spunk and proved that over the course of 101 years, a gentle woman from Racine can leave a grand mark. It’s never too late.


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