, Port Arthur, Texas

October 4, 2012

Long life connected to serving others?

Donia Caspersen Crouch
The Port Arthur News

AUSTIN — Last night was girl’s night out.  Our monthly get-togethers started out as happy hours in restaurants.  Lately, we have been enjoying dinner in each other’s homes. Everybody brings a dessert or side dish and the hostess cooks up the entree.  Last night Joan made pot roast.

There is something about serving each other that makes the evening richer.  We linger longer while sitting around one of our own tables after the plates are cleared than we ever would in an eating establishment. That’s because, like the hospitality, the conversation is kicked up a notch. Last night, while catching up on various family members, our talking touched on why some people live long lives.

Could longevity be related to generosity? Cathy’s grandmother died last year at the age of 103. She lived on her own until after she hit the century mark.  Family lore tells of her daily trips to the hospital when her stepmother (think Cinderella’s stepmom) was dying.  Apparently, she was so unkind, no one else wanted to visit her, so Mimi did.  At the end of a long workday, she took a bus to the hospital to sit beside a person who hadn’t been very nice to her growing up.  

My mom is almost 89.  To me, she epitomizes the servant’s heart. Perhaps that would be true for anyone who raised 14 children while running a real estate company. Upon retiring, she accepted a volunteer position at her church: coordinating lunches for the geriatric community. For almost twenty years she facilitated The Daytimers, named for members who don’t drive at night. She laughed about serving coffee to ladies who were often younger than she was.

Now she makes quilts for newborns: hand-stitching squares of fabric into colorful patterns. Idle hands are the devil’s workshop was her mantra when we were growing up. If she said it once, she said it a thousand times.  She seems to think that her longevity is a result of staying active, but I believe it’s a by-product of her generous heart.

As last night’s table talk affirmed, it isn’t just moms who put others first.  Anne’s father will turn 90 later this fall. Having managed a working cattle ranch while providing for a wife and 13 children, this man has gotten really good at giving.  Over the past 5 years, he has experienced such back pain that even walking can be difficult. Still, when his oldest daughter competed in a local horse show last week, he was there to see her win a ribbon.

Today I ran into a couple that had been married for more than 65 years. He is older, but she is the one who was hospitalized recently.  At 93, he was her primary caregiver after surgery. Their children check in with them often, but mostly these two take care of each other. When one of the grandkids got married in Miami last spring, Nana watched from the first pew. I asked them to tell me what it was like raising 5 kids and each gave the other one all the credit. I rest my case.

Of course, my perceived connection between big heart and long life is just a theory based on anecdotal evidence. You may be thinking, at this very moment, of a self-absorbed person you know who lived well into her golden years.  One time we lived next door to an elderly lady who gave that impression.  At first, she seemed selfish. I’m embarrassed to admit that I had already made an unfair judgment about her when I learned that she and her husband were major supporters of the local children’s home. A generous heart is not always obvious.

So what makes for a long life? Experts say stay active. Exercise the body and the mind. These tips seem obvious, but sometimes staying fit isn’t enough to ensure longevity.  While I was still pondering this question, I read an article featuring 82-year-old Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor. Her perspective on the subject just happened to be the front page story in last week’s Parade magazine: Her advice? “Keep doing things that matter”.  

Serving others matters.  

Donia Caspersen Crouch was raised in Southeast Texas and lives in Austin. Contact her at