Strength, Purpose and Belonging to a Community

Today, I wanted to share with you a philosophy about aging that I first heard about 6 months ago and it has stuck with me.  Last Fall, at a conference I attended Dr. Bill Thomas spoke and his talk resonated with me.  He explained that the concept of aging involved ‘reserved capacity’.  Really one main difference between young and old is how much ‘reserve capacity’ we have.  As we age, we typically loose our reserves, they deplete, we use them up over the years and maybe we aren’t doing as much as we can to ‘constantly build them up’.  

He challenged anyone who worked in the Aging space to do everything we could to help ‘build up’ that capacity in our aging population.  He scolded those in the audience (and there were some…) who ran businesses that took advantage of encouraging that decline as we age…it really made me think and look around in more depth about how we (society in general) treat our elders.  

Dr. Bill went on the explain that what we all need (young, middle age and old) is Strength, Purpose and Community…. Strength, Purpose and Community. Take a moment and think about that.  Young children, middle age adults and the oldest old, what makes us ALL thrive?

Strength, whether that be physical, mental, emotional, any type, the stronger we are the better we manage, the more capacity we have.  

Purpose, what is our daily purpose in our lives, what makes us get out of bed each morning and get on with our days.  Who needs us, who counts on us to show up, and why? How great does it feel to know that you made a difference in the life of another that day?  As we age do we often loose or deplete our strong sense of purpose in life, our sense of contribution to society? Is this triggered by retirement? How can we continue to give our seniors more purpose, a greater sense of why we need them to be involved and contributing to our towns and cities. We often lean on them less as they age when in fact they have the ability to do much more.

Finally, Community.  What can we all being doing to connect and enhance seniors in our communities?  What is the role of seniors in making our communities great? Making them stronger, greener, safer, closer knit? This one excites me because I have young children and I often see the magical moments in my community with multigenerational projects and interactions, busy stressed out working parents needing the support of elderly neighbours and friends who may have a little more time to do the things we can’t. 

Give this some thought as you move into your weekend.  Building up everyone in our lives, making them stronger, giving them a greater sense of purpose, needing them, and strengthening our communities all at the same time.  What makes young child, teenager or middle aged adult tick is really no different in my mind then what makes a 90 year old thrive. Let’s get on with it!

The Joy of Being...

The joy of just being….yesterday I played in the snow with my family making a snow fort for two hours…a huge open field of waist deep, untouched, pristine snow...we had spent the weekend away from the city and enjoyed the snow and winter wonderland of living near the mountains.  When asked at breakfast what they wanted to do today, all my kids responded resoundingly "play in the snow", the most simple and easiest things we could do.  It cost no money, it required no planning, it meant exercise and fresh air, good quality family time.  Both my husband and I reflected while we sat quietly in our snow cave that we had spent an  hour carving out…no shovels, no fancy snow fort making gear….we sat quietly, and had a moment, while our kids continued to dig and build reflecting on the moment of just being. 

I pondered how and why we are so busy, so programmed and obsessed with planning our days and activities.  In this day of being linked and constantly tied to all types of social media, phones, email, etc. why don’t we all do more of nothing, more of unplanned, spontaneous living….the need to connect with each other as individuals remains a very important aspect of aging, yet we often forget this.

My kids could have played out there for several hours longer, but eventually we needed to shift gears knowing we had a 1.5 hour drive home in snowy conditions….however it was glorious and a nice reminder that sometimes ‘not doing’ and just being is how beautiful memories are created.  As you dive into your week, take time for yourself, your family, or your loved ones. Just be. Whatever that might look like for you.  Enjoy this wonderful world we live in…



Childhood, Adulthood, Elderhood....

As the calendars roll over and the New Year of 2018 is upon us, I look ahead with a refreshed and energized outlook for the new year.  Yesterday, I listened to an interesting podcast that got me wondering....Dr. Leslie Kernisan interviewed Dr. Bill Thomas, podcast was loaded with lots of interesting ideas and talking points, however, one that stuck with me, and made it to my dinner table conversation with my family was this notion of 'Stages in Life' and specifically our 3rd and final phase of life.  Dr. Bill spoke of three stages in life; childhood, adulthood and I believe he called it 'elderhood'. The notion that often as we age, generally speaking we (society, ourselves, those around us), see this 3rd stage as a negative, gloomy, unfavourable stage in life.  Dr. Bill went on to explain that as we transition from childhood to adulthood, we have very deep rooted and celebratory traditions, rituals, activities. as a child, preschool, school, post-secondary education, 1st jobs, houses, marriages, children, birthday's, graduations, trips, travel, promotions, awards, recognition, etc. We as adults and parents, shepherd and spend time, energy and resources to move our children successfully onto adulthood.   We do this with great pleasure, pride and joy.  We nurture, we save, we attend parenting courses, we invest, we celebrate.  In our society, the transition from childhood to adulthood is quite well understood, supported and generally embraced.  Now, shift your thinking to the transition from adulthood to elder hood.  The closest transition or benchmark in this phase of our life may be retirement.  Do we have marked celebrations, joyful rituals as we enter elder hood?  Even retirement, if we look to it, is received with mediocre success (in my opinion). Some retirees thrive, others don't, some do it well, others struggle, many employers 'follow the rules' and transition workers out, but generally speaking I think there is much room for improvement with employers and how they can improve to ensure a 'win-win' for both the employee and themselves as the employer.  How about how well we prepare ourselves for elder hood with respect to our finances, our health, travel plans, housing, relationships, transportation and mobility to name a few.  As we all age, I believe we need to do a better job at understanding, supporting and embracing this notion of transition from adulthood to elder hood.  Where can we celebrate and embrace this life stage, how can we do a better job at supporting our elders? What do you think? Does this resonate, or get you thinking a little differently about aging (or has all that Christmas chocolate impacting my brain!?) Happy New Year!

What is the role of family, friends and neighbours in assisting one another as we age?

Have you ever given much heed to the thought of what our role is, in taking care of our neighbours, particularly those in need, whether it be elders or those who are sick, frail or don't have others around to support them?  Why is it that we hear about so much variation in how our elders are cared for? I believe there are a few factors at play here. It could be that Canada is such a diverse country with many cultures, values, and backgrounds at play that we see the full spectrum; from those who care for their elders entirely at home with such priority and importance, all the way down  to those at the polar opposite end of the spectrum who "dump and run" once their family member or loved one are in a nursing home.  I also believe it may be that because we live in such a large country, how we care for our seniors may vary between rural areas and urban centres. I know that for me personally, growing up in rural Ontario, you relied on neighbours for assistance and a small close knit community to help each other.  However, now having lived in a large urban city for over 20 years, it may be different.  But is it really?  I know that as our population ages, I foresee that we will need to get better at watching out for our neighbours, assisting those in our communities that need support. The government cannot, nor should they be expected to. We must take some responsibility and do our part where we are able.  We have to get creative.  Step it up. If you have the means, time and energy, help out others who need it.  There are many 'pockets of people' who can help, I am thinking of our youth/teenagers, mum's at home with young children, retirees.  Can we have a win-win here.  I have lots of ideas, what are yours?

I am wondering why we are all so uncomfortable talking about death & dying?

In some cultures, one's death and their end of life journey is celebrated and revered.  In other's, we can't even say the words, "my mum died", we are more comfortable saying "passed away", "passed on".  I often wonder why this is?  For many,  it is difficult to even say the words, "death or dying".  Is it because we Canadians are just too polite to say the words?, I think not.  Is it because it causes us some discomfort and potential awkwardness? I suspect so.  Have you ever asked someone in their 80's and 90's about death? My guess is they are just fine talking about death and dying because they have given it some thought, they have had friends die, they may have lost several loved ones.  

I believe if we all got a little more comfortable saying it, talking about it, throwing it out there for discussion, we all might be able to shift the way we think about it, not only in our own lives but also in our family and friends lives as well.  If we can start talking about death and dying more, then we should be more comfortable to share our end of life wishes.  Do your family and friends know how you want to be remembered? What will be most important to you in the last few days or weeks of your life?  How about funeral arrangements or end of life celebrations? Giving thought to some of these ideas today and having conversations with our families and friends might be a little sticky for us to have at first, but I challenge you to try it! I bet you will be surprised...