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The Beuna May Bugel: My feisty grandma

Last Dec. 13, my grandma Beuna May turned 93. I've often attributed my grandma's longevity to her feistiness. Every time I see Grandma, she proclaims that she's going to march out of her nursing home and move to California, once they let her. Grandma maintains this attitude regardless of her physical capability to actually "walk out" of her nursing home. So in over three years of nursing home care with this attitude; Grandma has had little to no decline either physically or mentally.

When I previously served a church down in Lamberton, Minn., I knew a lady named Marie who in many ways was just as unique as my grandma. Marie was the rare person that I ever encountered who voluntarily decided she would rather live in a nursing home than at her house. Marie's eyesight was declining and she feared getting hurt at her house. Whenever I would see Marie upon her move, her attitude was remarkable. Marie was grateful that she had made a choice to live at a place like Valley View Manor. Marie would always brag how she'd walk one mile within those nursing home halls every day. Marie lived a full life till right before her 97th birthday before entering into hospice.

So why did Marie and does Grandma have such a high quality of life even as they live well into their 90's? I was reading an interesting book several months back called "Smarter Faster Better" by Charles Duhigg. Duhigg was reporting on a series of studies done in the 1990's regarding why some seniors thrive within the last years of their life, whereas others decline rapidly both physically and mentally.

The study found that seniors who maintain a semblance of choice over their behaviors often through rebelling against schedules, menus or even rules tended to thrive in nursing homes. So being a difficult patient for staff in many cases could lead to living a longer life. I could merely chuckle when I read this and thought about Grandma.

For example, one nursing home resident always gave his cake away at dinner. The resident's reason had nothing to do with his like of cake; rather he would rather eat a meal of his own choosing rather than a meal placed in front of him.

The psychological principle in this study is residents who saw themselves in control of their lives tended to thrive. These residents showed more interest in interacting with both friends and family, ate more, staying physically active and following doctors' orders. These residents despite often having as many health problems upon entering as their peers, self-reported much higher levels of personal happiness.

The ability to see seniors maintain their independence is why I see agencies like North Shore Area Partners in the Silver Bay area and Community Partners in Two Harbors providing such a valuable resource for our communities. My past experiences have led me always to want to advocate for seniors to keep making decisions for themselves as being essential to their well-being.

As Grandma lives her 93rd year, I look at her in many ways as a positive role model for seniors. Grandma despite her physical limitations still sees herself as a valuable part of other people's lives. Grandma is constantly giving me pictures from her coloring books to hang in my office. She'll tell other nursing home residents how she's my mentor. I see other seniors giving back to loved ones and communities in similar ways. I believe as long as people are called to this world that they have wisdom to share, talents to give and relationships to nourish.

For these reasons, my hope is that when I get older that I can be just like Grandma.

Pastor Stew Carlson is the grandson of Beuna May Carlson of Lindstrom, Minn. He is also the Board Chair for North Shore Area Partners and Pastor of Sychar Lutheran Church in Silver Bay. He can be reached at