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Margaret Trudeau Talks About Aging In Her New Book

Margaret Trudeau Talks About Aging In Her New Book

Margaret Trudeau is a Canadian icon, celebrated both for her role in the public eye and as a respected mental-health issues advocate. From becoming a prime minister’s wife at a young age, to the loss of both her son and her former husband, to living with bi-polar disorder, Margaret tirelessly shares her personal stories to remind others of the importance of nurturing the body, mind, and spirit. Her new book, The Time of Your Life: Choosing a Vibrant, Joyful Future, debuts on store shelves today, and The Toronto Star sat down with her to talk about it:

Margaret Trudeau was at a restaurant with her eldest son Justin and his family. As they waited for the meal, her grandson, Xavier, drew a picture of everyone. In it she had black lines across her forehead and cheeks.

“Those are your cracks,” he told her.

“Xavier,” Justin said, “do you know why Gramma has those? It’s because she spent all her life laughing.”

Having told the tale, Maggie Trudeau leans confidentially toward the reporter adding, “and crying.”

Be they laugh or frown lines, the former flower-child bride of prime minister Pierre Trudeau is talking about getting old, the subject of her new book, The Time of Your Life: Choosing a Vibrant, Joyful Future. It’s a mix of her own and other women’s experiences along with input from experts and advice on health, finances, dating and friendship.

“I turned 65 and thought ‘Oh my God, I’m a senior. How did this happen?’ ” says Trudeau. “One reason for the book is a blueprint for me. I’m an old hippie who lives in the now. I seldom look forward, but we have to.”

Trudeau, now 66, found that many of her female friends weren’t prepared either. “My other books were so ego-laden, about me, me, me,” says the author of three memoirs. “I thought, why don’t I link arms with lots of women and experts and look at all the things that face us.”

Trudeau’s no stranger to struggles. Her book, Changing My Mind, in 2010 was about her long battle with bipolar disorder. After her son Michel died in an avalanche in 1998, followed two years later by Pierre’s death, she fell into deep depression and was eventually hospitalized.

Her previous memoirs, Beyond Reason, 1979, and Consequences, 1982, covered her troubled marriage at 24 Sussex, her involvement with the Rolling Stones and affairs with Jack Nicholson, Ryan O’Neal and an unnamed man later revealed as Senator Edward Kennedy.

These days, she jokes, she might get a whistle if she wore a miniskirt and her hooded parka hiding her face. “The legs are the last to go,” she says laughing.

Stylish in a black dress and grey jacket, Trudeau sits in her publisher’s boardroom talking animatedly and frankly. The proud grandmother frequently mentions her seven grandchildren. She rolls her bright blue eyes and lowers her voice when she says the words “old” or “elderly.”

Seniors need to be proactive, advocating for better government policies and services, she says, as well as mindful of their own futures.

Our youth-oriented society does not have a clearly defined place for the older woman, she writes, and finding purpose — apart from free babysitting — can be tough. From her mental illness struggles, she learned how vital it is to have a reason to get out of bed. “That’s the real antidote to depression.”

Trudeau has found meaning as honorary president of WaterAid Canada, a non-profit that helps bring clean water to poor countries, as well as being a mental health advocate and public speaker

“I was a late bloomer on the career front,” says Trudeau, who has worked as a public speaker for about eight years and hopes for 10 more. “Many of us, myself included, can’t stop working. I feel I’m still in my prime and have a lot to contribute.”

When she divorced Pierre, she didn’t walk away with much money, nor did she ask for support when her marriage to real estate developer Fried Kemper ended, she says. She asked that he cover educational expenses for their two children, Kyle, now 30, and Alicia, 26. “I could only be responsible for myself — and barely.”

The sober truth is that many women in old-age live in poverty, she points out. And elderly baby-boomers may face shortages in seniors’ housing and home care. Trudeau hopes to stay in her 1920s Montreal condo, with its terrace and high ceilings, as long as she can.

Justin has encouraged her to leave Montreal where three grandchildren live and move to Ottawa where four await, but she thinks not. “Particularly with Justin in politics. Ottawa is a small town. I love the anonymity of my Montreal markets.”

Everything, of course, depends on sound mental and physical fitness. To stay healthy, Trudeau swears by a good night’s sleep, tries to walk 40 minutes a day, preferably in a park, and does yoga. She lifts weights, but admits she’s not disciplined. She counts emptying the dishwasher as knee bends.

Living with bipolar disorder, she’s constantly aware of depression or mania triggers. Mania is “like a nuclear bomb going off. Boy, I’m having a lot of fun. Whoo-hoo,” she says with a laugh, “But nobody else is.”

In her book, Trudeau talks about the importance of strong friendships for seniors. While her friends are scattered, she tries to call a close friend every day to keep connected.

As for marriage, she enjoys her freedom but is open to romance. “I don’t think I’m marriage material to tell you the truth,” she says. “I’d be a bad choice. But I’d be darling at being a girlfriend.”

So are the senior years really “the time of your life” as her title suggests?

“I believe it can be a very joyful, positive time but you have to have a good mental attitude,” she says.

“I used to think the best time was when I had babies. But God I was so tired. Now with grandchildren I can give them back to their moms. I have the best of all worlds.”

Nancy J. White/Toronto Star/April, 2015