The Parish Seniors

One of the nicest traits of seniors is their spontaneous ability to laugh at themselves as they grow old gracefully.

For instance, just before a funeral service, the undertaker came up to the very elderly widow and asked, “How old was your husband?” “Ninety-eight,” she replied, “he was two years older than me.” “So, you’re 96, I gather.” “Yes,” she responded candidly, “hardly worth going home, isn’t it?”

Again, a senior admitted, “I feel like my body has gotten totally out of shape. So, I got my doctor’s permission to join a fitness club and start exercising. I decided to take an aerobics class for seniors. I bent, twisted, gyrated, jumped up and down and perspired for an hour. But by the time I got my leotards on, the class was over.”

And this was the simple and straightforward prayer of yet another: “God, grant me the senility to forget the people I never liked anyway; the good fortune to run into the ones I do, and the eyesight to tell the difference.”

A 70-year-old lady wrote to the Rev. Billy Graham to say that she was very lonely. Her husband had died a few years earlier and her children were married and well settled, but they were far away. She missed them all, and was wondering if there was any way she could tide over her feelings of isolation and depression.

This is what the renowned preacher said in reply: “Dear_____, I sympathize with you on the loss of your dear husband, and I truly feel for you as you struggle to cope with the loss of the children you love and cherish so dearly. However, now that you have successfully and creditably accomplished your mission as wife, mother and homemaker, your time is your very own. So why don’t you put it to very good use?

“For instance, you could begin by writing a postcard to someone you love dearly and have not seen for years. Or you could send a greeting card to someone who has been bereaved in the recent past, or to another who is recovering from an illness. This will help you shift the focus from yourself to another, and, in the process, you will reap the joyful reward of sharing your time and attention with the other.”

The lady obediently did as she was instructed. She began by sending a birthday card to a good friend whom she had not seen for years. A few days later she received a reply from a grateful soul, who literally reconnected and renewed a very happy friendship.

This prompted the septuagenarian to try it with yet another and another. Soon she was writing seven postcards in a week, and close to almost every other day for the rest of the year. And with every communication she began to experience an unspeakable sense of joy and satisfaction, because she had something to live for each day, and something to cherish with the passing of time. No more was she plagued with thoughts of isolation and loneliness, because she had far too much to occupy both her active mind and her invaluable time.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines the infinitive “to adjust” as “to arrange, to put in order, to harmonize (discrepancies), and to adapt to changing patterns of behavior and surroundings.”

This challenge “to adjust” is unique but paramount for any and every individual who wishes to grow old gracefully. I know it because I am 69. For instance, with advancing age, it is a fact of experience that individuals are unable to cope with the mounting demands, which they earlier had comfortably taken in their stride. In the words of an insightful quip: “Goodbye tension! Hello pension.”

Similarly, as one advances in age, it is necessary to confide in someone both knowledgeable and trustworthy and have one’s personal and financial affairs put in order so as to facilitate a smooth and harmonious transition to the next of kin. Reportedly, this witticism was embroidered on a pillowcase in a nursing home: “Where there’s a will, there’s a relative!”

Again, there certainly will come a time when one becomes unable to fend for oneself, and consequently needs the security and the stability of accommodation either in a retirement village or a nursing home. This, as is well known, poses a particularly complex problem both for the individual concerned and the immediate relatives. Nevertheless, it is imperative that the transition be made with sensitivity and reassurance, thereby enabling the individual to adjust to the changing patterns of behavior and surroundings. In the wise words of Franklin D. Roosevelt (1882-1945): “Do the thing you fear, and the death of fear is certain.” Said a wise senior citizen: “It’s nice to be here. At my age it’s nice to by anywhere.”

Of paramount importance is the need for every senior citizen to know and to believe that advancing age does not and should not in any way diminish a person’s self-image and self-esteem. Said Cicero, the famous orator: “Experientia optimus praeceptor est — Experience is the best teacher.”

So every senior citizen can rightly maintain that he or she has extraordinarily special talents and invaluable experiences which have not only enriched their personal lives, but also make them a distinct asset to society. It is, therefore, vitally important for one and all to cherish a positive self-concept and a healthy self-esteem — we must accept ourselves as we are and not as others would like us to be. “I’m not old. I’m chronologically gifted!”

And so, an appropriate motto for every senior citizen would be: “I am truly happy to be ME and have every reason to think and feel so.”

FATHER VALLADARES is a diocesan priest and an educational and counseling psychologist who is presently serving the archdiocese of Adelaide, South Australia.