Posted by suzanne on Aug 3, 2014
This August, it is timely to recognize leading-edge American social activist Maggie Kuhn for her work in the field of aging. August 3rd marks the 109th year since her birth. Maggie was a champion of aging and the later years. She founded the Gray Panthers in August 1970.
Maggie’s work is notable not only because she was ahead of her time with her vision. She also broke stereotypes and, at age 65, embarked on the most important work of her life. In fact, rather than accept being pushed into a quiet retirement by her employer and societal pressure, she chose to take action and work for the rights of older people. After being forced into retirement from the Presbyterian Church, Maggie, along with her friends who found themselves in similar circumstances, organized and founded the group that became the Gray Panthers. The organization focused on the issues of older people including pensions and pension rights, health care and age discrimination. Gray Panthers also addressed the larger social issues of the time such as the Vietnam War.
“By the year 2020, the year of perfect vision, the old will outnumber the young.”
Maggie was a charismatic and energetic leader. She advocated for older adults to have a voice and the opportunity to provide input into programs, practice and social policy. She encouraged older adults to stay involved and take action on social issues. In doing so, she started a cultural revolution.
Maggie also believed in the power of intergenerational connection. One of her mantras was ‘Young and old together’. Under her guidance, Gray Pantners came to represent the possibility and power of later life and to stand for social and economic justice and peace for all ages. The organization’s motto is ‘Age and Youth in Action’ very much echoing Maggie’s sentiments. Maggie herself demonstrated how older adults can be active in the world, working for social issues that are important to them.
“Learning and sex until rigor mortis.”
Until her death at age 89, Maggie continued her work as an activist and advocate. She redefined aging and is a role model to all of us – women and men, young and old alike.
“There must be a goal at every stage of life! There must be a goal!”
Maggie Kuhn was a visionary leader. She inspired many people to view aging differently. She left an incredible legacy. Unfortunately, ageism, discrimination and lack of intergenerational connection continue to be issues that require attention in our society. These are barriers to a cultural revolution that would shift our society from a youth-oriented culture to a society for all ages. In our aging society, we need more people like Maggie to help move the cultural revolution forward.
Posted by suzanne on Jun 12, 2014
June is Seniors’ Month. In fact, the Ontario Seniors’ Secretariat explains that this year’s theme is ‘Aging Without Boundaries’ as we mark 30 years of celebrating seniors. It is amazing to see, highlight and recognize the contributions that older adults make to their communities everyday. It is important to acknowledge their achievements and to support their work.
However, the image and concept of ‘senior’ no longer fits today’s older adults. Older adults might not want to be associated with the term ‘senior’ because they believe it really does not reflect them. Negative images predominate and overshadow any positive potential images. Older adults do not want to be labelled and viewed with the negative connotations associated with the term ‘senior’.
This is an issue that needs attention. To truly celebrate older adults, we need new language and new ways to discuss and honour later life and aging. This is one reason why I am producing a documentary film about healthy aging. With this film, more diverse images and positive role models of later life can be shared.
Moreover, as the population ages, it is about more than having a longer lifespan. It is critical to have a longer ‘healthspan’. It is about finding ways to foster adding more life to the gift of years individuals are blessed with. This is why healthy aging is important.
Posted by suzanne on May 31, 2013
June 1st is Intergenerational Day, with more than 100 cities across Canada participating. This day highlights the benefits of intergenerational relationships.
Intergenerational engagement means connecting the generations – not siloing them – and it encourages social inclusion. Young people keep seniors young and seniors provide young people with a broader perspective on their experiences. Social interaction between young and old creates stronger bonds between the generations and breaks negative stereotyping.
Seniors and elders are role models of healthy aging for the younger ages. In fact, my grandfather was my role model. He inspired me in my work.
How are you exploring the ‘intergenerational’ in life? How often do you see the older adults, and those younger than you, who are in your life?
Congratulations Sharon MacKenzie of i2i for excellent work on Intergenerational Day.
Posted by suzanne on May 21, 2013
In my work, I meet seniors regularly, and recently, on separate occasions, I had the privilege of speaking with a 100-year-old woman, a 95-year-old man and a 74-year-old man.
I like speaking with seniors and elders. Our conversations are refreshing and invigorating. The discussion is engaging and stimulating. It is a great joy to speak to interesting individuals with so much to share.
From these conversations, I am reminded that one key to healthy aging is connection. Whether you are an energetic senior or elder or a more frail one, it is important to find the opportunity for connection.
In fact, this is true for human beings across the life course from cradle to grave. I am quite aware that I gain as much from these conversations as the seniors and elders do themselves.
We are social and life is about connection and relationships. It is important that we remind ourselves of this often during our busy lives.
Give your loved ones a squeeze and smile broadly at everyone you meet today – both young and old.
Posted by suzanne on Jan 6, 2013
Remember the delight and magic of having a birthday to celebrate? It seems a long time ago for some of us. That ended at age 25, and we don’t want to contemplate how long ago that was.
Birthdays are strictly an early-life joy. The aging jokes that come out to greet us on our birthday are tiring and only serve to make us feel older than we feel at heart.
Why is a birthday worth celebrating? How can we get past the dread of having another one? A birthday is our special day. It is a day when those close to us can cherish us and a day to feel good about ourselves – a day for extra fun. Making it our own is the secret to enjoying it.
As we age, how should we recognize and acknowledge the day of our birth?
Here are a few of my suggestions:
- If you are in the labour force, take the day off work. I highly recommend this if you can swing it. Then, celebrate your special day in your own unique way. Do something that reflects your personality.
- Go to a restaurant with friends and/or family. Good food, good drink and good company – what more do you need? My most special birthdays have been spent having breakfast (sometimes second breakfast), lunch, tea time and dinner with different but equally wonderful friends. Plan the meals into your day in order to match the number of friends you wish to see.
- Have quality time with your family. Do something fun together.
- If you are able, ask your mom (and/or dad) what time you were born at and anything else she (or he) can remember from your day of birth. These are treasured family memories of your arrival and can make an interesting conversation about how you were welcomed and came into this world.
- Have a party but make it your own by making yourself happy. Choose something that you like to do and invite your friends and family to join you.
- Take the time to think about and consider the year behind and the year ahead. Like the beginning of the new year, a birthday is a time to reflect and make adjustments and changes. Both of these times of the year are opportunities for reflection, introspection, setting goals, considering past successes and assessing meaning, purpose and significance.
- If you are still uncertain about what to do, have an ‘un-birthday’ party on a day other than your own birthday. Throw a fabulous event and thoroughly enjoy yourself. Try it. It is okay to have immense fun!
Below is a birthday message from a card I recently gave to someone on the occasion of their 50th birthday:
- Follow your heart
- Invent your future
- Find what you’ve been seeking
- Take charge of your destiny
- You deserve all the happiness life can bring
This is excellent advice for individuals of all ages to help them enjoy a great year ahead.
An excellent birthday requires an excellent birthday song. My friend Barbara McAfee has written a wonderful new birthday song. Listen to this and feel good on your birthday!
If you have a milestone birthday coming up soon, please share how you are planning to spend it. Happy Birthday to everyone celebrating a birthday!
Posted by suzanne on Dec 21, 2012
As parents, we instil a love of reading in our kids and teach them to read at an early age. As grandparents, we really enjoy reading to our grandchildren. Reading brings immense joy. What could be more delightful than to sit with a child on your lap, cuddling as you read an adventure or look at a picture book together? Moreover, this is a wonderful way to stimulate a young mind because sitting together and reading is foundational for child development during the early years.
I have been on the lookout for children’s stories that portray wonderful family relationships that are intergenerational, especially books that have images of vivid, engaging grandparents. I have collected some real treasures. Here are a few of the favourites from my shelf:
- The Bye-Bye Pie by Sharon Jennings, illustrated by Ruth Ohi
- Bigbeard’s Hook: Nathaniel McDaniel and the Magic Attic by Evan Solomon, illustrated by Bill Slavin
- Night Noises by Mem Fox and illustrated by Terry Denton
- Someday by Alison McGhee and Peter H. Reynolds
I expect to see more books that provide positive images of seniors on library and bookstore shelves. As the population ages, books like the ones above will be written and published to meet the demand for good intergenerational stories. If you have some books to add to this list, I’d enjoy hearing about them.
Have a wonderful holiday. Happy reading to all!
P.S. Dear Readers - To the above list, I am adding:
- A Little Something: A Story about Love and Legacies by Susan V. Bosak, illustrated by Laurie McGaw, and
- Dream: A Tale of Wonder, Wisdom & Wishes by Susan V. Bosak
Posted by suzanne on Dec 11, 2012
When we look around, we are surrounded by elders – those actually in our lives who are close to us and those who we encounter.
Growing up, I was often among seniors and elders so that I felt comfortable with them, just sharing and chatting, listening to stories and getting their advice and input. I am so blessed to have them in my life.
This week I have been deeply moved by two elders. I am going to call them both elders because they are in their late 70’s and early 80’s. In addition, they are at a time in life when they influence others by bestowing wisdom, mentoring younger generations and leaving a legacy. They are of an age that deserves the respect of a word like ‘elder’. It conveys a different image than that portrayed by ‘senior’.
The first elder is a family friend who I re-connected with after not having seen him for many years. Recently, I have been visiting with him – having coffee or dinner and chatting on the phone. He is very caring toward everyone and he loves to help others. His name is Bob and I was thrilled when his new book came out. It was wonderful to attend his book launch with my young daughter. Unfortunately, during the last few weeks he has not been well and it is very difficult to see him suffering from ill health. His days consists of a lot of rest with his wife driving him to medical appointments. Through it all, every time I call, he is his bubbly self – this despite the pain, the frustration and the uncertainty. He is always gracious, caring and engaged. It is a wonder to observe how ill health hasn’t curtailed his zest for life, his vitality and his interest in everybody. He is truly amazing. This is part of what it means to be an elder who is aging successfully and gracefully.
The second elder is Leonard Cohen whose show I just saw in Toronto. He joked about aging throughout his performance. On his new album, many of his songs contain lyrics that convey images of aging “…my friends are gone and my hair is grey. I ache in the places where I used to play…” He talks about missing cigarettes, wondering if he’ll reach age 80. He muses that perhaps he will not make it back to Toronto in 2 years to do another show – all this while doing jigs across the stage during a more than three hour show. He seemed on a mission to continue to be vital and vibrant. He amazed us all; however, I was disappointed that he didn’t tell the audience that he gave up smoking for his health – he obviously still craves cigarettes and he isn’t the only one to struggle with this addiction. In using humour and beautiful lyrics to discuss growing older, he connects well with his audience – we are all aging too (even those of us who don’t have the grey hair). All of this tells me that he is an elder as well – someone who is so caring and gracious, he knows all the support staff by name as he thanks them for their assistance; someone who can influence other people with the words he choses; someone granting wisdom and leaving a legacy.
The role of elder is not to be feared or dreaded. If we are blessed with a long, rich life, we will enter this stage too. As we age, we lose those who are dear to us in the generation immediately above us, so that we are the ones who are left to fill the role of elder. Eventually, we will look up and realize that we have become the elder who is asked about having all the answers, the one who is responsible for mentoring, guiding, informing, advising and inspiring the next generation.
What kind of elder are you becoming? I’d enjoy hearing your thoughts and comments.
Posted by suzanne on Nov 21, 2012
“A home filled with grandchildren is a home filled with love.” ~ Author unknown.
“Surely, two of the most satisfying experiences in life must be those of being a grandchild or a grandparent.” ~ Donald A. Norberg
During the second half of life, becoming a grandparent is a great joy. This is one of life’s great treasures – seeing your children have children of their own.
Grandparenting the next generation of the family is such a wonderful stage. Children are incredible. They add delight and magic to life. They are fun to have around. They help us to be in the moment and keep us young at heart. Time spent with young children is precious indeed.
It takes time to cultivate a great relationship with grandchildren. This is the opportunity to share your interests, hobbies and knowledge with someone younger who is curious and wants to learn and spend time with you. It is a fantastic feeling to find common interests and enjoy special time together. In fact, grandparents receive all the rewards of a relationship with their grandchildren without all the responsibilities. As Gene Perret says: “Grandchildren are so much fun, we should have had them first”.
The good news is that with increases in longevity, grandchildren can expect to have many grandparents in their life and grandparents can expect many years to get to know their grandchildren. This bodes well for forging and maintaining intergenerational bonds. The richness of this intergenerational relationship adds much to quality of life and well-being during the senior years. The grandparent and adult grandchild relationship is particularly interesting and future research needs to examine this. In addition, we are seeing more great-grandparents who are engaged with their great-grandchildren. They have the opportunity to get to know and mentor these young people in their lives.
Grandchildren and great-grandchildren of all ages are special miracles in our lives. Grandparents are elders who can offer much to grandchildren if we take the time to enjoy each other’s company.
What better way to give and connect than to bestow your time, energy and love, and share your interests with your grandchildren!
“Grandparents are the footsteps to the future generations.” ~ Author unknown
Posted by suzanne on Oct 30, 2012
Stories are how we make and find meaning in the world. Lives are understood through and shaped by stories. We recognize our own stories within the stories of others.
Stories are powerful for both the individuals telling them and for those hearing the story; the personal connection goes both ways. This is evident when you listen to a live reading of a book or hear a really good storyteller recounting a tale. The passion of the storyteller is evident and everyone present is moved and becomes a part of the story.
In our society, some individuals, like journalists, are excellent at finding the story and honing it to convey meaning. Storytelling is so powerful that it is often used to sell products. However, storytelling isn’t just used in the media and in advertising. There is a growing interest in therapeutic medicine and the use of story, with medical narrative becoming more popular as a way of listening to patients and understanding them. This helps medical professionals to absorb and interpret patients’ stories so they can treat the whole person, not just the illness.
Story is also critical within qualitative research. As a researcher, storytelling and narrative are important to me. I like to hear people’s stories and understand their experiences, thoughts and feelings. This phenomenological way of understanding my participants’ experiences and their perspective on issues is very real and vivid for me. People and their lives are beautiful and it is a privilege to be able to listen to people’s incredible stories. In my qualitative research, I try to honour their lives and experiences. I recognize that they have taught me a great deal just by sharing their stories.
Stories have drawbacks within research. They don’t convey the larger context and this can be limiting when trying to understand something. This is why I use a mixed methods approach in my research, combining qualitative and quantitative inquiry.
Nevertheless, I believe that stories will become increasingly important. Stories both engage and connect people. As we deal with new realities and social challenges and embrace the Age of Elderhood, we need to listen more closely to each other’s stories. By valuing and respecting each other, we can work towards common goals. All of this will help us become Age Ready as we create a space for healthy aging.