After talking with several seniors — they were between 86 and 94 years old — I realized that growing older is a journey that we can choose to face with optimism and opportunity.

The folks I spoke with are not rocking-chair types. They are outgoing people who live for the moment, travel, dance and share a passion and a zeal for life.

They deal with a lot of death, but they also have learned to replace their losses and divert their energies toward the people still in their lives, whether it be new friends, grandchildren, other family members, or even a new love interest.

Ralph Wilder, 94, is in love with life.

Wilder met his 78-year-old girlfriend at a BREC tea dance and together they volunteer, travel and help one another.

“If someone is in need, we are there for them,” he said.

He believes that folks should give back and spend time with friends now. He has outlived many of his friends and family. “The terrible thing is the funerals we go to,” Wilder said.

What keeps him spry and optimistic is his attitude.

“Stay active,” said Wilder, who has had hip-replacement surgery. “I do my gardening, ride my stationary bike, do a lot of walking and I do my own grocery shopping and cooking.”

He’s got genetics on his side, too — Wilder’s mother lived to be 100.

“Don’t just sit. I love reading Westerns. Right now, I am reading, ‘Eyes of Eagles’ by William W. Johnstone and I have over 100 Western books.”

Mary Lou Freiberg, 86, is also living in the moment.

Since her husband died 10 years ago, she immerses herself in her hobbies and social activities.

Together with her boyfriend, Francis Kinchen, 89, the pair stays young by traveling and taking walks on the beach, visiting grandchildren, dancing and going to crawfish boils.

“I have time to enjoy dating,” Freiberg said. “I couldn’t date when I was younger because my grandmother was very strict.”

With no restrictions these days, Freiberg loves putting on her dancing shoes and hitting the dance floor with Kinchen.

“Dancing has created romance,” she said, adding a caveat, “Not like the kind (of romance) when you are young.”

Kinchen met Freiberg on the dance floor several years ago and has been smitten with her ever since. “She was the only one I danced with after I met her.”

The two are living it up, doing many of the things they never had time to do in their working years. They go to concerts, attend LSU football games, church functions and travel to Perdido Beach each year.

“We are trying to get all we can out of life,” Freiberg said.

Kinchen agreed: “I enjoy being with people.”

Chante Dionne Warren is a freelance writer. She can be reached at