My grandmothers were tougher than nails
At a birthday party for one of my siblings, the discussion turned to age.
More seriously than jokingly, I said I had 49 years left, given that I was 51. My goal was to live a healthy 100 years. I added that even if I didn’t quite make it, if I didn’t at least reach 90, it was my fault.
Although lifestyle certainly plays a part in longevity, as does luck, so do genes. While I’ll still be wearing blue jeans when I’m a senior, I’ll appreciate my family’s genes more.
The average Canadian lives to 81.1 years. Females enjoy a longer life span of 83.3 years while men average 78.8 years. These averages are more accurate today than they were more than 130 years ago when my father’s mother, Eva, was born in 1886. Back then, some would say they were lucky to see their late 40s. Everyone died young, but that wasn’t exactly true.
Life expectancy is an estimate of the average number of years people live in a certain time. These numbers don’t tell the whole story and must be part of the overall research. Infant mortality played a huge role in lowering the average age of death.
According to Statistics Canada, the life expectancy for someone in 1921 was 57.1. The stats indicate more than 25 per cent of
children born died before they reached the age of one. In 2011, that decreased to less than 1 per cent. As a result, life expectancy grew to 81.7 years. In 1921, if a child reached their 10th birthday, they had an excellent chance of reaching old age.
The high number of infant deaths surprised me because Eva was 35 in 1921, and she had successfully given birth to 10 children. My father, number 11, was born in 1922. All her children lived to old age, including the six children born after my father. There’s no record of her losing a child.
My mother’s mom, Primadine, was born in 1904 and saw her five children grow into old age.
The high death of infants aside, other factors must be considered, including the influence of world events on the male population. My grandmothers were not expected to serve in the First World War but men were, and their deaths influenced the life expectancy age gap between males and females.
These days, stress plays a role in our health and can reduce our life expectancy. Older generations were made of tougher stuff. My grandmothers both lost their fathers when they were in their mid-teens, forcing them to take on adult responsibilities. The deaths of Eva’s two sisters-in-law made her partially responsible for raising two nephews. She also raised two grandchildren.
The fatherless women saw family and neighbours serve overseas during wars, including four of Eva’s sons. They had also witnessed the deaths of many due to Spanish Influenza.
Through the years of giving birth, raising children, and living with no modern conveniences, they endured sicknesses, the tsunami of 1928 (struck Primadine’s community) and the Depression.
Eva reached the age of 92, and Primadine completed 97 years. They were tough women, survivors, pioneers who did what had to be done. Their legacies are tough to live up to. I’ll be fortunate to see 90 - mom’s current age. When I do, I’ll be thinking of all three women.