A new year of connections
by Sharon Simpson
I was speaking with one elderly woman who is in good health. She was laughing and telling stories of life in the past. She shared her silly moments and her meaningful times. And then, in a reflective sentence, she said, “This is the year I turn the same age my mother was when she died.” I asked, “Do you wonder if this is your last year of life?”
She laughed, “I’ve been wondering that for years!… Well, you should be wondering that, too! You never know when the Lord says your days are done.”
A bit abrupt, but then again, she has already lived 13years past the average Canadian woman’s life expectancy. I wondered if she makes New Year’s resolutions anymore?
“Oh, I stopped doing those years and years ago. I can’t remember why I ever did them. Each day is a gift. I don’t try to make more of it than that. I’m past the point of caring about losing weight or changing my habits. I take each day as a gift.”
For seniors, the season for projects and tasks may be lessening. Perhaps, this is the season for new connections, for story-telling, for meaningful conversations, praying for others, for blessings and for making memories for others.
For many seniors, a New Year of new connections will mean new people brought into life in the year to come. For some, it will be another great-grandchild. For others, it may be a year of connecting with friends (new and old) in a retirement home or a senior care home. It may be new home-care workers or care-aides. For some, it may be an oncologist or a cardiologist or a neurologist. Without a doubt, there will be new connections for you.
New connections can be new doors to blessings. Watching your grand-daughter hold her new baby in her arms can fill your heart with love and affection. We are reminded that a baby has done nothing to earn the deep affection of its mother. It is simply loved for who he or she is… and the love is a deep love. This is a picture of how much God loves each one of us. The great-grandbaby is a blessing – a gift of life, a gift to remind us of God’s love.
Sitting at the dining table in the dining room of a retirement home for the first time may feel like your first day at elementary school. Who will sit with you? Will you make new friends? How will you enjoy this new community of seniors? Over the year, your friendships will grow as you take the time to be with others, to listen to their stories, to tell your own stories, loneliness is diminished?
Perhaps you are in the waiting room at the oncologist’s office. A young man comes in and is noticeably agitated. He sits down, gets up and leaves. He does this again and again while he waits his turn with the specialist. You make eye contact and feel the fear in his eyes. He looks healthy, but mustn’t be since he is here to see the same doctor that you will be seeing. You say a prayer for him. He sits down next to you and instead of ignoring him, you reach out and hold his hand. He squeezes back. Silent, compassionate connection for both of you.
Could this year be your year of story-telling? Perhaps you’ll give the gift of building bridges, understanding and empathy through your stories this year. You have experienced so much, loved so much and found God’s strength through many dangers, toils and snares.
Your life and experiences matter. For younger people, there is no way to imagine your life. Without your prompting, they impose their own life experience on you. Story-telling is important for us because it connects information to emotions. It is the easiest way for others to remember and it helps people relate to each other. Story-telling creates a bridge between yourself and another. It can be tempting to tell the next generations what to do and how to do it. It can be distressing to see how they are living life and what values are important to them. Instead of telling people what they should think or do, stories invite others to learn, reflect and understand.
How do you start telling a story to another person? Turn to that individual and say, “Can I tell you about the time that…?” or ask “Would you like to hear what Christmas was like for me when I was a little girl?” or say, “Did I ever tell you what it was like to travel across the Atlantic on a steamship?” or “Did I tell you about the time I was most afraid?” or “Can I tell you what it was like to have seven sisters, two brothers and two beds in the same bedroom?” Your story will be different than the stories of your grandchildren or great-grandchildren. Times have changed and so has the way we live life, but values haven’t changed. They are a thread that crosses time and generations. When values are shared, inspiration and conviction are the result.
Here is a story that was told to me by an elderly senior. It has become an unforgettable lesson of fear, courage, discomfort and freedom:
One day, a very large man moved into a senior’s apartment building. He was a huge physical presence, straight as an arrow and tall to the sky. He loved to laugh and although he struggled with deafness, he was eager to know new people. One day, he turned to me and said, “Can I tell you how I escaped from the KGB?” (The KGB was the security agency in the Soviet Union during the Communist years). I was eager to hear his story and immediately said, “yes!” He told of how as a 17 year old boy, 6’ 4”, he was drafted into the Russian army. He didn’t want to serve as he had experienced the horrors of the Russian Revolution and was a pacifist. He said good-bye to his widowed mother and fled by train from the Ukraine to Germany. During his escape, the KGB pursued him. Three times, he hid under the skirts of Russian women to avoid detection. Eventually, he was able to get out of Russia to Germany. He never saw or heard from his family again.
This story was an amazing story of escape, but it was also comical to me. He was so large. I could hardly imagine how he could fit under the skirt of a Russian woman. He was a very innocent Mennonite boy. I could only imagine how uncomfortable it was for him to ask to be sheltered underneath a woman’s skirt. I barely knew this man. I’ll never forget him. When this gentleman passed away, I shared this story with his daughter. She had never heard it and it became a treasure.
New connections can be a blessing, an answer to prayer, they can ease the pain of loss, they can become dear friends.
As we enter this New Year, may you find that God’s loyal love cannot run out, His merciful love will not dry up. They are created new every morning. How great is His faithfulness!
May God’s rich blessings of love, peace, comfort, hope and joy rest deep within your heart this New Year of life!
Sharon Simpson is the Director of Communications and Stakeholder Engagement at Menno Place in Abbotsford