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4 Lessons I Learned from My Mother About Aging Well

Posted on May 6, 2017 by in Blog | 12 comments

4 Lessons I Learned from My Mother About Aging Well

My mother, Jane Espy, and I just went to New York City to celebrate her 80th birthday.

My stepfather, age 86, stayed home in Savannah while my sister-in-law, Bee Espy, came to stay with him so that my mother and I could make our trip without worrying about him.

Like most mothers and daughters, when we were younger, my mother and I had our moments. But in recent years my appreciation for who she is as a person and  her kindness to me has brought us closer together.

When we got to La Guardia Airport and were waiting for our luggage, my mother was beating up on herself.

“I think I’m losing my memory,” she said. “I forgot about how many ounces you can take on an airplane. They took my hairspray and my detangler.”

“I don’t remember everything either,” I consoled her. “Don’t worry about it.”

And then she and I proceeded to walk all over New York.

We walked from our hotel at 44th and Fifth Avenue to Grand Central Station, then took the subway up to 86th Street and Lexington walked from there to the Metropolitan Museum of Art at 82nd and Fifth.

We waited outside in the rain to get in, then walked all over the museum for about five hours before she decided it was time to go back to the hotel for a rest.

We hung out until it was time to go for dinner and a play, then walked around Times Square.

“Can you take a picture of my mother and I?” I asked another mother and daughter admiring the sights at Times Square.

“I can’t believe you’re 80,” the other mother said to my mother.

Catherine Carrigan and Jane Espy Times Square May 6, 2017

Catherine Carrigan and Jane Espy Times Square May 6, 2017

My mother doesn’t act like an 80-year-old. Since I’m currently 58, I’m paying attention! Here are four good lessons she has taught me about how to age well:

  1. Everybody has feet of clay. In other words forgive everybody for everything. A couple of years ago someone – not to mention their name – lied to my mother and stepfather. This involved a matter of money. Feeling protective of my mother, I was ready to bust their chops but my mother wouldn’t let me. She wasn’t really even angry. My mother doesn’t like everybody – and we all know who those people are – but she doesn’t hang on to anger, bitterness or resentment.
  2. Show up and pray. My mother and stepfather attend Christ Church Savannah every Sunday without fail. Whenever I go home to visit, I sit faithfully with them. My brother attends another church, but after attending a sermon conducted by the Episcopal Bishop of America, my brother basically asked me if he might be missing something. “It’s a big snooze fest,” I confided. I have grown accustomed to the meaningful sermons and relaxed atmosphere of Mt. Paran Church of God in Atlanta. But when my mother came to my church, she told me she missed the music back home. My mother and stepfather both exude a quiet spirituality. This energy acts as a reserve from which the rest of us – the rest of the family – draw a deep sense of peace about the overall process of life.
  3. Well behaved women seldom make history. Years ago my mother gave me a framed picture she had created in needlepoint with this famous saying by Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, a Pulitzer prize-winning historian. Although on the one hand there had been much family insistence that I be well-behaved enough to be a Savannah debutante (a process I truly hated), once I made my debut I was off the hook, thank God. When I have made egregious life choices my mother has never admonished me. She finds quiet ways to support me even when I make mistakes.
  4. Be generous all the time with everybody. When we were at the Metropolitan Museum, I stood in line to get tickets while she went over to a computerized monitor to try her luck there. She got two adult tickets for $25 each. When I asked her later how much the tickets were, she said, “I could have gotten in for $17.” Why, I asked, had she not taken the senior discount? “I figured they need the money,” she responded. This is par for the course. My mother is a professional level giver. Another year she was volunteer of the year at the Telfair Art Museum in Savannah because she had worked for free as their bookkeeper and treasurer. “Don’t give me anything for Mother’s Day,” she keeps insisting. Her thought is always others first, herself second.

Although these lessons do not appear to be about the process of aging, by following these principles my mother maintains a zest for life you seldom find in people even half her age.

The usual stress and friction that get other people down do not seem to bother her.

I know our relationship has progressed to true friendship because now my mother sometimes asks my advice, chiefly about matters of her health.

I am quick to give back whenever she asks. How could I not?

How did I ever deserve to be born to such a wonderful mother?


  1. This is a wonderful article, Cathy, and tribute to your mother. We love Jane, so, too. xxxx

    • A grand lady indeed. To know her is to love her.

  2. I love this tribute to your mom, Catherine. She is truly a great lady; I’ve known that since 1974!! You two have such a special bond. My mom lived until age 90, and she never stopped providing a wonderful example for me to follow.

    • It’s such a blessing to live by the light of a great lady, isn’t it Murray? Makes it so much easier to know how to live, do, be and give.

  3. This is so sweet. I too have a special bond with my daughter. Although very few have the amazing qualities of your mother, I do brag about my recent trip to visit my daughter in San Francisco where she had planned a new type of walking tour connected to our iPhones called “Detour”. At the end of the day my Walker app registered 22,500 steps which included Telegraph Hill from bottom to top. But then I’m only 73! Keep loving your wonderful mom. She’s a role model. We’re counting on our daughters to get us through what is to come!!

    • Wow! 22,500 steps – that’s a lot of walking for anybody of any age. Keep it up – I’m sure all that walking and staying close to your daughter will help you live practically forever. When I look at my mother I know I’m going to live AT LEAST until my mid-90s so I take care of myself accordingly – not just with exercise and my physical health but also saving money and building great friendships with women who are younger than me. Thank you so much for reading my blog! Love and light, Catherine Carrigan

  4. I admire your mother and was honored to work with her for several years. Admired her quest for knowledge. For each example you gave I too could think of an example in the arena in which I knew/know her. Thank you for sharing your mom, Jane Espy!

    • Dear Kate,
      Sometimes we forget how we can be an inspiration as women! The most talked-about versions of leadership come from the men in society. It’s my observation that women lead in our own special, quiet way. I’m thankful to be mother’s daughter. And I’m so grateful that she is still so vital and healthy so we can enjoy each other’s company. Now that I am 58 and she is 80, I have more admiration and appreciation for who she is than ever before. I feel I can appreciate her in ways that I simply could not fathom when I was younger. Thank you for being my mother’s friend – we women need each other’s companionship. Sending you love and light, Catherine Carrigan

  5. Lovely article and photo!

  6. Wonderful post, Cathy. This will definitely make most people’s day as it made mine. There is some beauty in faith and forgiveness and love that modern rational people fail to understand. They’re all about greed and un-forgiveness. Ageing gracefully well is a quality and not something you can do with chemicals on your face. Thanks for sharing this incredible post.

    • Dear Venu, Thank you so much for taking your time to read my article! We sometimes forget that true beauty comes from within. When we are truly at peace we radiate that energy and others can feel more comfortable in their own skin simply by being around us. When we are happy, we uplift everybody – even people who don’t really know us. Sending you love and light, Catherine Carrigan

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