In Youth Obsessed Culture, Young San Diego Mom Learns Lessons About Growing Old

San Diego resident Lydia Sohn had an "Aha" moment when speaking with elderly couples: "I mistakenly associated deep yearnings and ambitions with the energy and idealism of youth."

Lydia Sohn is a 30-something, married mother of two, who deals with everything from potty training and the joys of a newborn to writing essays on contemplative spirituality and finding enough time to spend with her husband.

By many standards, Sohn, of San Diego, is in the prime of her life.

He says he's being realistic.

Arlene Dempster, 90-year-old parishoner

But in a blog post that she wrote last year called "What it's like to be 90 Something" she described her fears of growing old. That post -- picked up by many publications -- has since gone viral.

In it she details how she, "Set out to research the internal lives of older people. Who really were they, and what had they learned in life."

Sohn is the senior minister at St. Mark's United Methodist Church in Clairemont where the congregation is twice, even triple her age.

So to her, it made sense to take those fears straight to the 90-somethings at her church. She wanted guidance. She wanted to know if her fears were warranted.

NBC 7 visited the church and had a chance to get in on those conversations. After all, who doesn't wonder about what it's like to get old?

NBC 7's Marianne Kushi reports on Minister Lydia Sohn's question on what it's like to grow old.

'You're always looking for trouble'

Ninety-year-old Arlene Dempster has diabetes, had heart surgery and walks with a cane. She's been married to her husband Harry for 65 years. He's suffering from memory loss and has become a bit pessimistic, whereas Arlene is the total opposite.

"He says he's being realistic. I say, 'But you're always looking for trouble.' You're pinpointing trouble. "What if I do this? Then you know this could happen,'" Arlene said.

"Yeah, I could get hit by a truck tomorrow too but I'm not going to sit here worrying about it!" she added.

Arlene and Harry have two grown sons.

We still like to do a lot of the things the young people like to do.

Glenn Diederichsen, 94-year-old parishoner

Her only regret, if there are any she said, is the distance between San Diego and the other family members she left behind in Ohio decades ago.

It means she can't see them as often as they want.

And that wish for more family time is what Sohn said the group she interviewed regretted the most.

"I wish I appreciated that time when my children were home and life was so crazy," Sohn said, paraphrasing what the group told her.

Sohn, who tried to juggle time around work and kids, told NBC7 about this "aha moment."

"That was encouraging to me to hear because I'm in the thick of what I think is the craziest, most stressful time of my life," she revealed. "The gift is in this moment and that our greatest happiness lies in the rich relationships around us."

‘I’m Not Going to Sit Here Worrying’: Life Lessons in Pictures

Never too late

Glen Diederichsen and Martha Hilker are both 94 years old. They've been boyfriend and girlfriend for 10 years. But before that they were in-laws.

You see, Glenn's wife, Jackie, whom he was married to for 60 years died of Alzheimer's disease. Jackie was the sister of Martha's first husband. Both had their own families.

Glenn has two sons and a daughter and Martha has two daughters and was widowed twice.

"I joined the Navy when I got out of high school during World War II, served in the South Pacific, came home and got married and we just had a wonderful family. My folks lived here (San Diego)," said Glenn about his early years.

Surprisingly, neither have regrets and are living life together now without any thought of aging.

I don't want to die, I'm having too much fun.

Martha Hilker, 94-year-old parishoner

"We still like to do a lot of the things the young people like to do, travel and seeing this country, " Glenn said, with great satisfaction."

Martha is comfortable just the way she is.

"I love it, I don't want to be anything other than what I am right now," she added. "We have such a wonderful relationship; if we're not together then we're on the telephone talking to each other."

And on the sometimes awkward subject of sex, Glenn said without hesitation, "You may be old but you still have the feelings and have the love for each other."

"I love him very very much, he's so good to me," added Martha.

And both have an amazing sense of humor, as exhibited in this spontaneous exchange of laughter when Glenn said: "I like younger women. She's five months younger than I am. She won't be 94 for another couple of weeks yet!"

Sex, death and dying

But there is no denying that as we all age, the thought of death and dying is what some might fear the most.

It was actually comforting to hear their responses because all three chimed in with no regrets and that familiar sense of optimism and humor.

"I don't want to die, I'm having too much fun," Arlene said with a laugh. "I'm doing too many things I like...quilting...volunteer work (at church)."

I assumed the elderly lost their vibrancy.

Lydia Sohn, minister

"I have a good time with Harry when he's in a good mood. We can do things together," said Arlene.

"I don't think about dying, " chimed in Martha, saying when "it's time to die, I die and you know, so what!"

What Lydia learned in a nutshell

As a minister, Lydia Sohn's role is to teach her congregation about how to live their best life.

In a reversal of roles she learned valuable lessons from her congregation and the people who've done that and still look forward to learning more themselves.

Her blog post summed it up: "I assumed the elderly lost their vibrancy and thirst for life. That couldn't be further from the truth. They still laugh like crazy, fall in love like mad and pursue happiness fiercely."

Contact Us