judy and shirley: the power of positivity

The quality Judy Friedlaender most admires in her mother is her ability to stay positive. “For as long as I can remember, she has been able to see the good in people, the silver lining in a situation, the sunny side of things,” she says about her mother, Shirley Meyers. “That’s what she taught me… to be upbeat, which she is. People are drawn to her. She finds the fun in life.”

What Shirley didn’t know when she was imparting those life lessons was that the power of positive thinking would someday help her daughter to support her during her own challenging times.

Shirley says she never saw any reason to be anything but upbeat. Born in the Bronx in 1914, she grew up in New Rochelle with her parents and her two sisters. “The three of us were known as the ‘Keppler Girls,’ and we enjoyed ourselves,” Shirley says. Following her graduation in 1933 from New Rochelle High School, she briefly attended art school, and then eloped with Howard Meyers of White Plains. They enjoyed happy and productive years running a family business, and raising Judy and her two brothers in New Rochelle. They were a close family.

Judy recalls happy times with her parents and her two brothers at home. She developed a close relationship with her mother, who taught her how to overcome challenges. “My mother showed me that there is no one way to approach life. She taught me how to listen, and how to be fair. If I had challenges, she told me to find a way to achieve what I wanted.”

That advice came in handy.

After her husband’s death in 1986, Shirley had moved to Boca Raton, FL, where she was an avid golfer and bridge enthusiast. She fulfilled her dreams of visiting far-flung destinations across the United States, Europe, and the Middle East. She continued to find the fun in life, developing new friendships and living on her own. Then, 17 years ago, at age 86, her health deteriorated. Upon the advice of her doctor, she started taking several medications, including pills to combat anxiety and depression. She was also prescribed supplemental oxygen, which was administered via a portable tank she carried with her. She became frail, and moved back to New Rochelle to be near her family.

Shirley was unrecognizable, even to herself.

Judy refused to accept her mother’s condition as permanent. She found her mother a new doctor, who gradually reduced Shirley’s medications. She helped her reconnect to her favorite activities, including painting, and watching her beloved New York Giants. With her daughter’s positive energy to support her, Shirley grew stronger.

“I didn’t participate in life for a while, but Judy helped me feel like myself again. We were more than mother and daughter,” Shirley says. “We became friends.”

Now, at 103, Shirley is finding the fun in life again. As a resident of United Hebrew of New Rochelle’s Willow Towers Assisted Living, she enjoys the activities there, and has even started some new ones—including a weekly poker game with friends. Her extended family, including four generations of New Rochelle High School graduates, joined Shirley at Willow Towers in March to celebrate her “Centenarian” status. She’s active in the lives of her three children, seven grandchildren, and 16 great-grandchildren, who are a tremendous source of pride and joy.

When you ask her the secret to living past age 100, she’s quick to answer. “Stay active, stay positive.”

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