Saturday, March 9, 2019

How Elderly People are Teaching Me to Live Well

I love hanging out with old people, and I love hearing them speak. They are often fun, kindhearted, and have great stories to share about life in the days gone by. They offer a great perspective when hard times come (because hello, they lived through a World War and rationing, among other things), know the value of hard work, and they often make delicious food on top of that. 
Lately, I've been thinking about all of the lessons I've gathered from elderly people, particularly over the past year or so. I've been reflecting on how I can learn and grow from the wisdom that they share. This wisdom isn't them sitting down and spouting out adages, but it's mainly the wisdom I've gleaned from seeing how they live. They have taught me many things, but here are just a few: 

Devotion to God is of the utmost importance.
I'm sure a lot of us know Little Old Church Ladies. You know, the women who are often found praying in church, regularly attend daily Mass, and are in charge of many of the church ministries. I have seen some powerful love and joy exhibited by the elderly people who attend our churches. I know a few ladies who only really came to Christ within the past decade or so, and they have this urgency about them, as they strive to make the most of their time here on Earth and prepare for life with God in Heaven. 

Spend time outdoors.
Back in the day, taking care of a garden wasn't a hipster thing to do, it was a normal thing to do. I have fond memories from my childhood of standing on my grandparents' driveway, watching my relatives light fireworks on the Fourth of July while I ate blueberries and raspberries by the handful, off the big bushes that flourished right next to me. One elderly man I recently spoke with told me about how his grandfather had a huge garden-"and it needed to be big, since he had 13 kids to feed!" he laughed. Some elderly people still garden regularly; and even if they don't have the energy for a big garden, at the very least they take care of some flowers outside. Others are proponents of fishing, sitting on the porch and watching the world go by, or taking long evening walks. 

Take time to bake.
Some of my elderly friends have reached the point where they don't have the energy to bake anymore. However, a common theme I have heard is that when they were younger-in the midst of raising young kids-they would regularly bake. "I'd bake something ever'day," one lady has told me. Even though she was raising lots of kids-mostly by herself, since her husband frequently was gone on military assignments-she took the time to make something in the kitchen. 

Prioritize people over things.
I used to assume that when I'm an old lady, I'll have all the time in the world to sit and page through photo albums and memory books from my kids and (if I have them) grandkids. However, one of my elderly friends has told me-many times-that she has shelves and drawers filled with physical mementos: cards her kids, grandkids, and great-grandkids have made and pictures they have drawn...and she doesn't know the last time she has actually looked at them. Instead, she chooses to spend her time with people. She reads the Bible and Joyce Meyer books. She and her best friend go hunt for good deals on coffee at the store. She and her husband go on walks with their adorable pug. She invites neighbors over to drink coffee. She hosts huge family gatherings at least once a week. She is active in her church community. She has bemoaned the fact that she owns a lot of stuff and that it takes time to dust and take care of her many possessions. This upkeep requires time that she would rather spend doing other activities.

I want to avoid getting swept up in modern currents of constant busyness and abundant technology. I want to embrace life with the simplicity and peace of so many elderly people whom I've encountered. So, I'm trying to bring these lessons into my life in small ways.

Putting God first and spending some time in silent prayer. 

Getting my hands dirty in the yard-or at the very least, sitting outside to breathe in fresh air. 

Baking "just because," and relishing the peacefulness of that process. 

Striving to minimize my belongings so that I can spend less time taking care of things and more time having fun with people.

I have so much to learn about God, about living, about parenting, about marriage. I am so grateful for the people God has placed in my life who can show me such beautiful lessons. I don't want to wait until I'm 80 years old to start living well, and I don't think a magical switch will flip then that will instantly cause my life to become simplified. I don't even know if I'll live to be 80! The time I have-the time we all have-to live is right now. How we each live looks different, but I hope that we can all learn from the wisdom of the elderly men and women who surround us. 


  1. Yes, yes, yes. I love watching the elderly people and how they use their time. They aren't rushed, take it all in, enjoy whatever activity they are involved in, etc. I like this idea of baking just because. And especially just going outside for a bit.

    1. Absolutely-I've found that when we visit with our elderly neighbors at their home, time is so different-things feel much more peaceful, and there have often been occasions where I look at the clock to realize that we've been there an hour-or even longer! They seem to be much more fully aware of being in the present moment, which I can really learn from because that is so hard for me!

  2. You mention neighbors and church, but in what other settings or during what activities do you interact with a lot of older individuals? I'd love for my girls and I to have more of this, but we don't come into contact with a lot of older folks during everyday activities.

    1. The main times when I interact with older individuals are at church or in my neighborhood, but there are a couple of elderly people I regularly chat with at the library (as we stand outside, waiting for it to open) and there are a couple women who bring their grandkids to toddler events at the library, who I love chatting with. I've also found with kids (especially a tiny baby) that elderly people at the grocery store or at parties or at the park just gravitate towards us!

      There's also nursing home visits-in all honesty, I used to visit the nursing home quite frequently in college, but the last time I visited a nursing home was a little over a year ago! So one of my plans this Lent it to make it back to a nursing home (and just yesterday I was talking about this with a friend who has young kids, so I may even get them to go with me). If you haven't taken your girls to a nursing home, I bet the elderly men and women there would love to see them. So many folks who live in those places have no family or friends around, and I'm sure they would love to meet you guys.

  3. This is beautiful, AnneMarie! Older people have such a wealth of knowledge and life experience to share.

  4. Probably the time of my life when I spent the most time with elderly people was when I was living with my grandparents during college--and we would go visit my great-grandmas, Grandma's mom and Grandpa's mom, on Sundays after church. They were both in nursing homes by that time, and we'd go and talk to them and all the little old lady friends that were sitting around in the main hall. Since we were going after church I was always dressed up and my great-grandma's friends used to say that they looked forward to seeing my outfits every week. haha! Very happy memories of all of our conversations. I'm glad they were still around when I moved back for college--both passed away around the end of my freshman year.

    Elderly or not, I miss gardening and being out in the yard--such things as yards would be a rare luxury here, and I can hardly trying digging up the city park. :P Here, many older people who are still active are caregivers for their grandchildren or some other children in the family--often in the hallways of the apartment building with Cyrus, we meet the grandpas and grandmas walking babies in their strollers (because wages here are not even close to the cost of living, many times multiple generations share one apartment and all working-age family members work). The other thing I see elderly people doing the most is getting together for tea or breakfast at the local shops--the other day I saw a group of at least 10 old men gathered around a round table at our local dimsum shop. It made me smile, and I thought of my great-grandpa and his weekly breakfast group that met for donuts and coffee.