What Can You Learn from 3,000 Years of Collective Life Experience?

Emmy Cleaves, 86, is a yoga teacher who discovered Bikram Yoga after suffering a brain hemorrhage at age 35. Emmy continues to teach at a studio, inspiring students of all ages to heal their bodies and improve their lives with Bikram Yoga.

According to Emmy, “I teach because I think it’s so important. It’s a passion. It’s an obsession. I want as many people to do yoga as possible because it is a priceless gift you can give to yourself. Health is really where everything is at. The quality of your life is completely governed by the state of your health. At my age, if I hadn’t done yoga, I’d probably be sitting here and be sad and tired.”

Emmy’s husband, Bob, is supportive of his wife’s love of yoga and stays active himself. He wisely believes that the secret for a happy life is maintaining a good relationship with his wife. He attributes being married for over 50 years to “getting along and recognizing that there are areas of compromise.”

Bob believes that “(a) life isn’t well lived unless the quality of life is important…  You can live to be 110 years old but if you’re in a hospital bed for the rest of your life and in pain…that’s not good quality. So I think that probably the most important thing for a person who is older is to work on their quality of life and exercise regularly to stay healthy for as long as possible.”

“Lives Well Lived” Documents Lives of Extraordinary People Ages 75 to 103

“Lives Well Lived” is a documentary that is directed by Sky Bergman, a professor of photography at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. Her film is based on her interviews with 40 extraordinary seniors, including Bob and Emmy mentioned above, airing on PBS stations.

Bergman started filming the documentary by capturing her 103-year-old grandmother, Evelyn Ricciuti, cooking traditional Italian foods. She also filmed her grandmother at the gym because she thought that no one would believe that her grandmother was still working out at 103. Bergman asked her grandmother for a few words of wisdom and that was how the idea for the film took flight!

As Bergman herself was approaching her 50th birthday, she started to reflect on her own life. This soul-searching led her to begin a quest to search for other older individuals who, similar to her grandmother, were thriving and living life to the fullest.

In describing her documentary, Bergman says that “Lives Well Lived celebrates the incredible wit, wisdom, and life experiences of older adults living full and meaningful lives in their later years. Their stories are about perseverance, the human spirit, and staying positive during the great personal and historic challenges.” Her hope is that the stories of her grandmother and the other inspirational seniors drive people of every age to “achieve the longevity of both health and spirit, and to realize that growing older can be a journey to be celebrated.”

Common Threads Found in the Film

Bergman found three common threads from the people in the documentary and demonstrated aging with attitude. They all live in the moment, they are not isolated and have the support of friends and family and they all wake up every morning wanting to learn more. She says, “(t)his is a cliche but it also true, there were people who went through terrible events in life yet the glass was always half full, not half empty.”

She believes that Ferris Bueller had it right in his 1986 film. “Life moves pretty fast,” he said. “If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”

Bergman hopes younger and older generations will watch “Lives Well Lived” together and then talk about not just the film, but about life. Bergman also hopes the film will inspire young people to ask their grandparents about their lives and what they’ve learned and that the elders will learn more about their grandkids’ lives. Her documentary’s website offers ways to do it.

Important Messages from Other Seniors in the Film

  • Blanche Brown, 78, teaches Afro-Haitian dance classes once a week in San Francisco. She says,”(l)ife goes by so quickly. Most young people are in such a hurry to get to the next part of their life or whatever they’re doing. They don’t take time to enjoy what’s happening right now.”
  • Lou Tedone, 92, makes fresh mozzarella from scratch every day for his family’s deli. He says, “(h)appiness is a state of mind. You can be happy with what you have, or miserable with what you don’t have. You decide.”
  • Rose Ballestero, 80, is currently completing her PhD at USC. She says,”(n)o matter what age you are, learning never stops, you still keep learning.”
  • Evy Justesen, 86, moved from America to France at 49 because she “needed a break.” She enrolled in college and learned to speak her mother’s native language. “I’m a gutsy person and that doesn’t go away with age,” says Evy, whose Danish resistance fighter father spent seven months in a concentration camp in World War II. “Attitude is the only thing in life you can control and it’s certainly true when it comes to ageing with attitude. “At almost 86, I’m incredibly lucky to be in good health. I walk every day, I sleep really well, I don’t like to get stuck in a rut.”
  • Paul and Marion Wolff, both 88, were children during World War II, when they fled their European homelands. German-born Paul ended up on a boat bound for San Francisco and Austrian-born Marion was taken in by a British family. They met on a blind date and have now been married 58 years. “We are learning more about each other as we age. We’ve never run out of conversation,” says retired architect Paul. “I have never been bored by Marion.”

“And we learned a lot from being in the documentary. There’s a lot of wisdom in the movie. We are always rushing forward and it makes you appreciate where you’ve been and what you have accomplished.”

“I’m stubborn, down to earth, and I refuse to give up,” says Marion, who worked as a liaison between prison inmates and their families while raising their three children. “I believe you only get out of life what you put into it.”

Paul Wolff noted one of the benefits of aging, saying “(w)hen we get older, we value time more.” In our youth, he noted, “we live our lives so fast.” But as we get older, Wolff said, “(w)e begin to focus on how important time really is. It’s the most precious thing we have.”

Live Longer and Plan for the Future

It is fascinating to learn the secrets of long life from the seniors in “Lives Well Lived” and to see how they are definitely doing something right.

As you are being more positive, living mindfully, and supporting what you are most passionate about to maximize your longevity, it is also a good idea to plan for your future and for your loved ones. Our firm is dedicated to helping protect seniors by preserving dignity, quality of life, and financial security. If you have not done Retirement Planning, Long-Term Care Planning, Estate Planning, or Incapacity Planning (or had your Planning documents reviewed in the past several years), or if you have a loved one who is nearing the need for long-term care or already receiving long-term care, please call us to make an appointment for an initial consultation:

Elder Law Attorney Fairfax: 703-691-1888
Elder Law Attorney Fredericksburg: 540-479-1435
Elder Law Attorney Rockville: 301-519-8041
Elder Law Attorney DC: 202-587-2797
Print This Page
About Evan H Farr, CELA, CAP

Evan H. Farr is a 4-time Best-Selling author in the field of Elder Law and Estate Planning. In addition to being one of approximately 500 Certified Elder Law Attorneys in the Country, Evan is one of approximately 100 members of the Council of Advanced Practitioners of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys and is a Charter Member of the Academy of Special Needs Planners.