Marilyn Heins

I was born in September of 1930 when the world was in the grip of a severe depression. My parents figured things couldn’t get any worse, let’s have a baby. Glad they thought that way and that I inherited their optimism.

What have I learned so far in my personal aging odyssey?

For starters I learned I still have to make decisions. Darn, I used to fantasize that after reaching an advanced age one could sort of glide through life. Wrong!

There are two times in the life cycle we experience many and rapid changes: adolescence and dotage. I managed to get through my teen years. I am certainly old enough to be an experienced player in this game of living. What can be so tough about making decisions now?

Probably decisions are tough now because, just as in adolescence, we keep changing. What worked yesterday might be too much for us today. And who knows what tomorrow brings? To travel or not to travel? Should I renew my medical journal subscriptions even though I am no longer practicing medicine? To re-carpet or not to re-carpet? A new smart phone? What if it outsmarts me and it’s too hard to figure out?

We are living in a time of incredibly rapid technological changes. The way we lived 20 years ago is quite different from the way we live today. We used to look things up in an encyclopedia and take pictures with a camera. Google was not launched until September, 1998; the iPhone debuted in June, 2007. Most of my AOAB (advanced old age buddies) have figured out how to use both. Because we are all CSL (Computer as Second Language) it takes us longer to learn and remember what we need to know, but we soldier on and try to take advantage of what technology provides.

Several years ago I figured out that I don’t have to do it all and made the necessary decisions to cut down both my work and play. But just this week I had a revelation.

I don’t have to do it AT ALL! I, like many others in my age group, have mountains of photographs. I had decided to identify and label every photograph of every dead relative so my children could identify their ancestors. My new decision: So some photos won’t get labeled. No big deal!

Another recent decision has to do with the art of tossing things out. Compulsions at my advanced age are ridiculous. But until recently I stacked every newspaper and magazine until I had time to go through them. I now know it is liberating it is to throw such things away as the spirit moves me. If I didn’t finish yesterday’s paper another one will arrive tomorrow. (Admission of elderly hypocrisy: I know I can find 99 percent of what I tossed online if need be.)

Speaking of newspapers, still another decision for me was whether or not to read the obituaries. It was always sad to see the name of someone you know. But these days I find myself curious about the age of total strangers. It’s sort of like playing a game of obituary roulette…how many my age or older died today?

And speaking of sad memories, one of the positives of advancing old age is that we have a trove of memories and the time to savor them. I have learned to cherish all memories, both the joyful and the sad.

It occurred to me not long ago that if by magic I could erase all the sad memories but the price was the joyful ones would vanish as well, I would turn down the genie’s offer. We are enriched by our losses and our mistakes. Thinking about them brings us memories of people and places worth revisiting, not to wallow in what might have been but to accept that we are human and inevitably have sad memories.

The most important decision I have made is to savor what time I have left. And to savor it with gratitude.

Let’s face it, the glass is not even half filled when you are in the advanced age category. But a few drops of pleasure go further when they are appreciated.

One of the ways I get myself into gratitude mode is to think about all the people I love. Some are gone but not forgotten. To love and to have loved and to remember love is a privilege. To be loved is a gift to be savored.

My late sister told me many years ago that she thought life is made up of good moments and bad moments; all we can hope for is our share of good moments. When she died a tragic death I gloomily decided that life is nothing but luck and loss. As I slowly recovered I understood that life is more than luck and loss. It is also love.

Dr. Heins is a pediatrician, parent, grandparent, and the founder and CEO of She welcomes your individual parenting questions. Email for a professional, personal, private, and free answer to your questions.