Golden Years

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Our seniors, parents, grandparents how do they spend their golden years?  The years of retirement are suppose to be a time to take life a little easier and enjoy many of the things they were not able to do earlier in their lives.  It is a period of coming full circle and being carefree and relaxed as they should have been as children.  A childhood much different than what we see today as the advancements their generation helped to develop led to large portion of the leisure time the youth of today enjoys.

Some of our seniors especially those who enjoy good health take this time to travel and see parts of the world they have always dreamed about seeing.  Others enjoy many of the group activities that are geared to seniors so they have outings and places to go.  Many visit friends and family and take up hobbies to fill their time.  These are the fortunate seniors that we all look to with some measure of envy and plan our lives around a time we too can take life a little easier.

Several weeks ago I was at the post office and there was an elderly gentleman looking at all the boxes and reading off the numbers on the boxes.   Thinking perhaps he was having some difficulty I offered to help him.  He continued reading off the numbers of the boxes one after the other.  I realized that he was not one of the fortunate seniors in his golden years.

I have spent a good deal of time with seniors, both family members and those in nursing homes and some were so very interesting to talk with.  Listening to the stories of the elderly was always something I enjoyed even as a child.  They made history come alive, whether it was the Depression Years, War Years or just what life was like when they were younger.  They saw the first automobiles, airplanes, and many other firsts we all take for granted.  They knew what it was like to line their shoes with cardboard so that they would last a little longer on their long walks back and forth to one room schools.  From travelling in a buggy driving a horse down a gravel road to seeing the new technology of space travel.   I have never read a book as interesting as listening to a senior talk about their life.

What of the many seniors that do not enjoy life in their golden years?  Poor health, loss of mental and physical capabilities, loneliness and abandonment.  We brush aside the stories of clerks selling seniors pet food and doubting that indeed the food is intended for anything other than their own consumption.   Many confined in nursing homes do not see family and friends and live a regimented existence of getting up each day and eating at scheduled hours and taking whatever enjoyment they can as it suits the routine of the home's administration.  This communal lifestyle does not suit many of the seniors but for most of these residents they have no other choice.  They may need nursing care or might no longer be able to care for themselves adequately.  Too often they are given over to the care of others when their family finds them to be too much of a responsibility.

I believe it is the hope of most of us to remain as active and self sufficient as possible but generally there comes a time when making the golden years shine and truly enjoyable takes work from both the senior and their community.  Lifestyles and work has separated many families so that many seniors are living alone and far from their immediate families.  It is rewarding for both the younger person and the senior to build a relationship.  A sense of being cared for and perhaps needed is a mutual experience.  Such a small thing as phoning and checking on an elderly person, taking them shopping or visiting with them can make a great difference to their physical and mental health.  Enriching the lives of someone else while benefiting from their wisdom and life experiences. 

Are we failing our youth by not encouraging them to spend time with our seniors?  So many of the values our seniors held throughout the years have been overlooked by the younger generation.  Morals and beliefs that carried them through some very hard times, years of hardships and deprivation.  We have a living resource that can teach and mentor us that has slipped into an inactive category in the eyes of many.  To the young it is hard to envision growing older and not being as active and fit as they are today.

It is a sorry situation when a child can relate every hazard and secret passage on a Nintendo game but can not tell you their grandparents middle name, give you any details of what they did for a living, retell stories of their grandparents past that can be retold to future generations.  They are losing their heritage, the structure of the generations before them that helped create the person they are.   Distance makes it difficult sometimes for these young people to get to know grandparents, and great aunts and uncles but even learning from other seniors can reveal so much of the previous decades.

Watch a young person when you tell them about penny candy or a Saturday at the matinee where a dime bought an afternoon's entertainment including a drink and popcorn.  Their first reaction is that was wonderful and it costs so much more for them today.  Then tell them about "time-out" ... the time that was given to go out and find a suitable switch and come back with it to be punished for some infraction.  Watch the face of a teen wanting to drop out of school listen to a senior whose parents could not afford to send them to high school as it meant boarding in town and they were needed to work the farm.  Knowing the past gives prospective to those who will be the decision making adults of the future.

Our seniors have earned a position of respect in our society, and many of them have much more to contribute.  A valuable resource to our community, not a burden to it.  Each of us faces these golden years and our efforts to maintain this position of honor that seniors deserve by contributing to their health, and happiness sets an example for our youth to follow when it is our turn to be the seniors.

                           Cheryl C. Helynck


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