Positive Aging Thought Leader: Maria Olsen
I recently took a trip across the Atlantic with my 80-year-old mother.
Traveling With My Mother:
Traveling with my mother was a glimpse into what may await me in a couple of decades.
I adore my mother. She is daffy, hilarious, outgoing, and resourceful. She left her home country of the Philippines at age 18 to get her master’s degree in finance in the U.S., and never looked back. I believe I inherited her indomitable spirit.
Quadruple bypass heart surgery and recovery from a broken hip, however, definitely necessitated changes in her lifestyle. And, although she has hearing aids, she cannot hear much. She often says “yes,” when that is not an inappropriate answer to whatever someone has said to her. I am ashamed to admit that yelling to be heard by her grew tiresome to me.
“She, like me, is an extrovert and began numerous conversations with people.”
My throat often hurt at the effort required. And I try to remind myself that I, too, am likely to suffer hearing loss. In fact, it already has started. I work every day at cultivating patience. I resolved to do better every day on this trip and try to forgive myself for being perfectly imperfect.
She Knew Her Limits:
I held her hand as we traversed the uneven, quaint cobblestone sidewalks in Portugal. To her credit, my mother knew her limits and often was content to sit and gaze at the surroundings as I climbed hills and towers. Also, she became a voracious reader after her husband died several years ago. She spent hours reading contentedly while the rest of us explored.
She, like me, is an extrovert and began numerous conversations with people with whom we came in contact along the way. At one castle, Pena Palace in Sintra, I left her on a bench to traverse the narrow passageway along a turret perimeter. When I returned, I found her laughing with an elderly man from Italy and his caregiver. At another area of Pena Palace, an Israeli man jestingly proposed to her after assisting her up some steps. But she called it off when she asked if he would move to the U.S.
From The Cup Of Life:
Traveling with my mother to Portugal was a long-planned celebration of my mother’s 80th birthday. And she invited me, my daughter, and my son. My son was too busy as a TikTok phenom (who, incidentally, makes more in a month as a social media influencer than I do in a year as a lawyer) to join us.
My daughter and her boyfriend flew to Lisbon from Chicago. And, I accompanied my mother to our destination from Washington, D.C. Without discussing it, my mom and I gave my daughter and her beau lots of alone time to enjoy being young, adventurous, and in love. They usually dined with us, but sometimes often went exploring without us, and we definitely did not wish to accompany them clubbing until the wee hours of the morning.
I encouraged them to drink fully from the cup of life and to experience as much as they could at the various sites we visited. My mother and I retired to the comfort of our room after dinners, which were later than what my mother was accustomed to in the States.
“Seeing my mother so happy brought me great joy.”
It was my mother’s desire to stay in a castle one night. I found her one that was en route from our stay in the Algarve region to Lisbon. Portugal has pousadas, which are historical sites that have been converted, or partially converted, into lodging.
She was thrilled to stay in the pousada at Palmela Castle outside Lisbon. The pousada was housed in the former monastery attached to the castle. The 15th-century compound sat atop a hill overlooking the countryside and the Tagus River. We dined at the castle and in the fishing village below. My mother gingerly navigated around the castle grounds and I was relieved that she never once fell during our trip.
Seeing my mother so happy brought me great joy. We nicknamed the castle, “Lola’s Castle” (Lola is the honorific given to grandmothers in the Philippines), and she beamed at the thought of it. The staff was attentive and she claims they specially made her a whole tray of fresh pasteis de nata one morning at breakfast when the buffet was lacking them. Lola good-naturedly played the part of the queen of the castle well, and tipped generously.
Travel Is My Passion:
“I feel as if this is my optimum window to fulfill my travel goals.”
Travel is my passion. Now that the world has reopened post-quarantine, I am attempting to visit 65 countries by the end of my 65th year. I have six years to visit 12 more countries, in order to reach my goal, and I believe I can do it. I plan to be in Antarctica to ring in the new year!
Moreover, I feel as if this is my optimum window to fulfill my travel goals. My mother lives independently and is in reasonably good health. And my brother, who also lives in the D.C. area, can help if she needs assistance when I am out of town.
My children are in their 20s, are in great places in their lives, and are in no hurry to have children, if they have them at all. I have seen what awaits me—via the window my mother provides—as I age and my mobility inevitably declines, assuming I am lucky enough to be around for years.
Fulfill Your Aspirations While You Still Can:
I lost many friends in the last couple of years. One friend felt a pain in her neck this summer, sought a doctor’s advice, and was told that she had less than a month to live. It was brain cancer that killed my beautifully vibrant, apparently healthy friend, who also was my age, 59. Other types of cancer, Covid, accidents and addiction killed other women with whom I was close.
So, I remind myself and anyone reading this that our lives are happening right now. I realize that I am blessed in many ways, including that I am able-bodied, have resources, and am employed at a job I can do remotely. If you are able, I encourage you to fulfill your aspirations while you still can. We never know, for example, when a bad diagnosis will befall us.
Traveling with my mother was instructive and re-awoke in me a sense of urgency about doing and seeing as much as I can, while I can. Nothing about tomorrow—or even whether any one of us will be here tomorrow–is guaranteed.
About the Author:
Maria Leonard Olsen is an attorney, author, radio show and podcast host in the Washington, D.C., area. For more information about her work, see www.MariaLeonardOlsen.com and follow her on social media at @fiftyafter50. Her latest book, 50 After 50: Reframing the Next Chapter of Your Life, which has served as a vehicle for helping thousands of women reinvigorate their lives, is offered for sale on this website.