This Is What Growing Old Really Looks Like

12 pictures that will make you think differently about getting older

By Dorian Block

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New to the Country

Credit: Floor Flurij

(These photos are a part of the Exceeding Expectations project, which shares the stories of 20 people in their 80s, over two years ,to challenge people's assumptions about age. The project is from the Columbia Aging Center at Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health.)

Ranjeet Singh, 80, and his wife Kamlowattie Singh, came to the U.S. from Guyana three years ago. They are among a growing number of people coming in their 70s, 80s and 90s to join their families.

Ranjeet works greeting customers in the laundromat his daughter runs and owns, since he is unable to find independent work similar to the farming he did for decades. Kamlowattie works cleaning a local casino overnight.

Here, they celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary at their Mandir (a Hindu Temple). They worship there every Sunday, the only day of the week they don’t work.

Birthday Wishes

Credit: Dorian Block

Sandra Robbins, a children’s theater director, celebrates her 81st birthday with her husband Arthur Robbins. She struggles to balance running the children’s theater that she founded, caring for her husband and caring for her own health.

"I know ahead of me is far, far from the number of years behind me," she says. "I also know if I’m not productive, that piece of my life force will feel abused.”

Growing Old

Jazz Hound

Credit: Heather Clayton Colangelo

Jacquie Murdock, 85, is legally blind and lost all sight in her left eye 15 years ago from glaucoma and cataracts. She still rides the New York City subway alone to attend events, dance classes and concerts around the city. In the photo above, she moves along to a jazz concert.

She volunteers at the National Jazz Museum in Harlem and loves to add to her extensive wardrobe by shopping at thrift stores.

"God sends me guardian angels wherever I go," she says.

New Friends

Credit: Floor Flurij

When Aurea Texidor, 87, a retired translator (center), first heard about her local senior center, she scoffed at it.

“I am not going no place! That is not for me,” she remembers arguing with her daughter.

Eventually, drawn in by a dance party, she became the center’s treasurer and now attends every weekday. She has made so many new friends through the center that when she was recently hospitalized, her room was overflowing with visitors.

“They (my friends) treat me well," she says. "I do the same for them. That is how it works.”

Puerto Rican Pride

Credit: Myra Iqbal

Luis Cajigas, 86, rides his tricycle in New York City’s Puerto Rican Day parade every year. Despite dealing with heart failure, he rides in sun and snow, promoting Puerto Rican pride and a spirit of fun. He has three children, nine grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren.

He is known to spend his food stamps on food for other people in need.

“I am rich,” he says. “I am not a millionaire, but I am happy. I love people.”

A Passion for Painting

Credit: Heather Clayton Colangelo

Cyrille Romer's fondness for painting outlived the many friends and family members she lost.

“People need a love other than people," she said at the time this photo was taken. "I am so grateful to have something to do that I love."

She died a few months later, and is remembered by her daughters for her great optimism despite tremendous adversity, including the death by suicide of her husband, a Holocaust survivor.

Rethinking Retirement Planning

Credit: Floor Flurij

Florence Lee, 81, (center) looks at pictures of her friend’s grandchildren outside their weekly yoga class.

She and her friends, mostly retired teachers, carpool to the gym, to the nail salon and out to lunch, teasing each other all the way. She also volunteers, travels (most recently to South Africa) and has a season ticket to the New York Philharmonic.

"You have to plan to retire,” she says. “Most people plan for the money part of it. They don’t plan for the living part of it."

Daily Strolls

Credit: Heather Clayton Colangelo

“Sometimes I don’t have a purpose, so I just keep walking,” said Chandrakant Sheth, 81, of his daily neighborhood strolls.

A decade after his wife died, he still feels like he is figuring out how to navigating his new life.

On this walk, Chandrakant, an avid Knicks fan, spotted a boy shooting hoops alone. He decided to join him.

Activist Spirit

Credit: Floor Flurij

Sylvia Lask gets a pedicure at a favorite salon, where she knows many of the people coming in and out.

She is a mental health advocate who takes her walker on the train monthly to the state capital to lobby politicians.

“I haven’t let [age] conquer me,” she says. “It has slowed me down a little. Not a lot.”

Teaching Art

Credit: Floor Flurij

Otto Neals, a Brooklyn-based artist, teaches open art classes at the Dorsey Gallery, which he helped found.

A self-labeled introvert, he likes spending most of his time at home in his basement studio and recently showed hundreds of pieces of work at a five-gallery retrospective.

He and his wife, Vera Neals, also help raise his two grandsons.

Work, Work, Work

Credit: Heather Clayton Colangelo

Henry Blum, 85, loved his work as an optometrist so much that he retired and returned to work four times. The final time, his wife gave up on throwing a retirement party. But he never thought of it as a job anyway.

He is most proud of his advocacy to increase his profession’s reach to treating the eye, instead of just diagnosing.

"I know there are people out there who can see because of me," he says. "I never went to work a day in my life."

Life After Prison

Credit: Floor Flurij

Larry White, 83, gets a hug after attending a Quaker meeting. He first met the Quakers while serving time in prison.

After spending most of his life incarcerated, he now works for the Quakers, trying to improve prison conditions for people who are incarcerated, especially those serving life sentences.

“At my age, you begin to look back and think what your life has been so far,” he says. “I am not completely satisfied. I can’t account for 80 years. I spent so much time in prison, but I also really found myself there.”





By Dorian Block

Dorian Block and Ruth Finkelstein lead Exceeding Expectationsa project of the Columbia Aging Center at Columbia's Mailman School of Public Health, funded by the New York Community Trust, which shares the stories of 20 people in their 80s over two years to challenge people's assumptions about age.


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