We’re not making money, but we are contributing.
The good thing about getting old is people don’t expect as much of us. But even when we’re not doing, I believe we still have responsibilities to the people around us and the world that has given us so much.
The world is going on without us, but we still have valuable parts to play. We can be active in ways we don’t always recognize. These 11 practices can help seniors play our roles well, make us valuable contributors to society, and might make our own lives more rewarding.
1. Keep growing. Don’t be afraid to try new things. Keep making new friends. My mother lived in senior housing and, over her 30 years there, every single friend she had either died or moved to assisted living. She kept making friends with the younger seniors who moved in, and neighbors saw her as their big sister until she died at 91.
2. Contribute as best we can. How? Well, for one thing, most of us can share wisdom. Because the world is changing so rapidly, we might run out of practical things to teach, but we can still mentor younger people facing the universal issues of life.
Helping with children is traditional old people’s work. A lot of seniors — I’m one of them — find children rewarding, especially with our grandchildren.
We can also stay involved in our communities. Older people have more time to go to meetings, write letters to editors, call representatives, be politically active. We can volunteer in whatever ways we’re physically able. Growing food or flowers in a garden is a way to enrich the world with our presence.
Doing too much can mess things up, though. It makes no sense for me to try and help people move stuff or set up their room from my wheelchair. I can give advice, but there’s no reason to get in the way.
3. Accept help when needed. Few people like being helped with things we used to do for ourselves, but sometimes other people can do them better. It’s hard for family and caregivers when we insist on doing things on our own when it’s dangerous, or will take all day, or we can’t do it right.
At the same time, a lot of folks offer help when it’s not needed nor wanted, or when they don’t know what they’re doing. We can accept help when appropriate and still be assertive about what we do and don’t want and need.
4. Care for those who help us. When I worked in long-term care, our staff loved some patients and were happy to help them. We kind of avoided some others. Patients who let staff know they were appreciated made the carers’ day.
In our own lives, we can thank people, tell them what they mean to us, give them little gifts, or food, or money. If we can’t do anything else, we can listen. Ask them to tell you about their life or about their day.
5. Don’t waste. I hate the way our lives fill with plastic. It’s not our fault; it’s how things are packaged and delivered. Buy less of it. The same with other stuff, like vehicles or electronics.
Many older folks try to save money for their children and grandchildren. I think that’s a good idea, but so is giving money away to good causes and people. Money in the bank isn’t doing any good in the here and now.
6. Love our bodies, even when they are sources of pain and worry. Our bodies are our closest connection to Nature. Ignoring one’s body is being thankless for one’s greatest gift. Touch your body, pay attention to it, give thanks for it.
7. Keep moving. A friend of mine just died at 107, and there’s a reason she got that far. She was walking until near the end, but when she couldn’t, I still noticed her moving her feet and arms in bed or chair, trying to maintain what she had. Moving our bodies keeps us in touch with them and with the world.
8. Don’t cling — If I will need a bunch of surgeries, mechanical devices, and medical equipment to make it to age 90, someone else can have my place. It took some years, but I have learned not to fear death. What’s the worst that could happen? I meditate, pray, read spiritual texts, and talk with others about it when I need to.
9. Heal conflicts within the family. Forgive others, ask forgiveness from them; let them know you love them. An unresolved conflict with a parent, child, or sibling is a source of misery for all concerned. Maybe get help with this from a therapist or clergy person. It’s one of old people’s most important jobs.
10. Tell stories from our own lives, our people’s history, folk tales, or other cool things we’ve heard. Stories are the best way to share wisdom and pass on important history. Younger people will enjoy and benefit from them when they would turn off a teaching session.
11. Enjoy each day. Take pleasure in small things, stay connected to Nature. I specially think about enjoying food and music, but you probably have other sources. Time with animals, plants, or children makes us happier and less stressed, which helps everyone around us. Remember to be thankful for all of it!
Old people don’t just take up space; we are participants in the world. If we make the most of our role, we will contribute more and probably wind up enjoying life more.
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