It's Seniors' Month! Let's celebrate and share their stories!

June 02, 2020

I have always loved spending time with older adults, even as a young child I was blessed enough to have grandparents on both sides, a great grandmother, senior neighbours on both sides of my house…. Just surrounded by seniors and wisdom and their beauty. This is possibly not the norm for many people and I am aware of how blessed I am to have had these experiences. I have been able to learn from seniors for as long as I can remember. When the opportunity came to work for ROSSS and have a direct impact on the lives of seniors, I was beyond ecstatic. I had a vision of sharing with the world, or at least with Ottawa, how beautiful and valuable seniors are in the hopes that if others saw and heard the same kinds of stories that I got to grow up around, that seniors could stop being invisible and could start to be seen!

To that end, I want to take this opportunity to share with you some of the amazing souls I’ve had the privilege of meeting since my time at ROSSS. As some of you may know, last June I started a project that was to culminate in a gala this June to celebrate rural seniors. With the help and support of a photographer, I embarked on a nearly year long journey to photograph and interview as many seniors as I could- to share their stories- to make sure they are SEEN!

The original plan was to share these stories at our gala, which has had to be cancelled for this year due to the global pandemic. So, I’m sharing a small sampling in the hopes that it inspires you this Seniors’ Month to seek out and share the stories of seniors in your lives, to take the time to SEE a senior, everyday.

I want to tell you about Dennis and Anne, who are in their 90’s in great health and are still living in their own home and travelling all over Ottawa doing presentations for Probus and other service clubs. About the canoe Dennis built last summer with his son and grandson. How when I asked them about their role models, Anne’s face lit up as she remembered her mother and her unwavering patience and incredible coping skills. How passionate Dennis was when he talked about a senior clinician who had a big impact on his early career- how they both learned very early on that one really has to work in order to be successful. One of the things that struck me in my conversation with them, was how they remembered when the war was declared, living in England through air raids, rationing food- they said it all with a gentleness and a smile that was both moving and comforting at the same time. They shared with me how after the war, one of the biggest changes for them was LIGHT! Having lived for years with curfew and black out curtains and everything being pitch dark until morning, having streetlights and lamps on in the house. It struck me, and has stayed with me, how privileged we are. How much we can learn patience, respect and gratitude from this generation.

Larry, sweet Larry. What can I tell you about Larry. The first thing that struck me about Larry was his smile. He has a soft, infectious smile and a calming, peaceful presence. I could tell you about how Larry has been an active and passionate member of the Manotick community nearly his entire 90 years. What a gift to that community. The part about Larry that stuck with me the most was his advice. When I asked Larry for some advice, he said this: “Always have somebody to love, something to do and something to look forward to.” Thank you, Larry, you’re so right. The last thing I want to share about my time with Larry is this… When I asked him “What brings you joy?”, the response was awe inspiring. He said, “Looking out and seeing the trees covered with snow, fresh air, animals… everything can bring you joy if you look at it right.” The gratitude, the mindfulness, the ability to find joy in everything is something I will carry with me forever and will forever be grateful to Larry for reminding me.

Ken, a former Navy and RCMP member, was eager to share stories and was really, a gracious host. He shared many stories from his time in the Navy, shared with me that he had served in the Korean War and was very matter of fact about these things however, there was always a jovial air to his presence. When I asked him what brings him joy, he giggled and said “my pension cheque”. Then he got a bit more serious, though with a smile on his face, and said that his family, visiting his wife in a long-term care home and his ability to still get around on his own brings him joy. This again, struck me as a reminder to be grateful for my health, my mobility, whatever I have when I have it because we never know when it will be gone, something that is on the minds of many seniors on a regular basis. What a beautiful lesson.

The last person I want to talk about here is Joyce. 89-year-old Joyce has an easy elegance about her that is both beautiful and carefree. She still lives in the home her husband built, that she raised her 3 children in. She was such a pleasure to be around, always smiling. Smiling when we sat at her dining table and had a coffee and a piece of cake together and she told me about when she was in labour with her first child, her husband was at badminton and a huge snow storm hit, and when her husband came home, he had to leave the car down the hill because the snow was too heavy to get the car up. They had to borrow a sled from the neighbour, and he pulled his labouring wife down the hill by sled to the car so they could get her to the hospital to deliver! This story astounded me and made me reflect about the way we talk about pregnancy and delivery today- made me think about some of the things we complain about today and reminded me that women are strong and that we should learn to look at the joyful/ humorous side of all adversity we face.

I use past tense in these stories because the conversations took place in the past. These beautiful people are still alive and well, still active members of our communities. These are people you might encounter on the street, in the store, etc. And if you don’t encounter THESE specific people, you encounter people like them everyday. People you might discount because they’re taking too long to count their change at the checkout, they’re walking too slow, whatever it may be. So I ask you, I urge you, think of these stories when you might be feeling that way, ask yourself what that person might have lived through, what lessons you could learn from them, if only you’d care enough to ask them.

I share these few stories, 4 of the nearly 100 I have collected over the last year, to encourage you to take the time to sit with a senior, call a senior, celebrate a senior. You would be amazed how much you’ll get out the conversation. We should all be so lucky to live lives as full and as beautiful as theirs. I will be sharing more stories on Facebook and Instagram over the coming weeks to celebrate Seniors’ month, please do follow along.

Please take the time, and then share the story with us using the hashtag #seniorsseen

Take good care, stay safe and be blessed.