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Senior moments: Embracing life at any age

By Florence Gordon

Published 10:25 PDT, Fri May 24, 2024

Embracing life, whatever age you want to be.

There’s an untapped generation in every community and that is why we’ve been writing a series on senior moments: to encourage seniors to utilize their knowledge by playing an active role in their community; to appeal to businesses to reach out for senior advisors; and finally create programs to keep our seniors mentally and physically active. Asking one’s age has always been taboo but the right mindset can make a world of difference.

I was reminded of the importance of this recently when a family member called me. Her husband had died this past year, and she moved into a senior lifestyle residence. It was her birthday and instead of celebrating with her family, she sat in her suite crying all day because she was depressed over her age and what her life will be like going forward. I told her to splash cold water on her face, put on some makeup, and go to the lounge and be with people. 

This is a woman who never worked after she married, raised three wonderful sons but never had a life outside her family, so it’s understandable why she was struggling. Needless to say, I called her back and suggested that she try to look at this as a new chapter, do something different by signing up for activities, be receptive to new friendships and take one day at a time. 

Throughout our life journey we develop friendships through work, hobbies or volunteering and if we’re fortunate to find a lifetime partner, that is a huge plus. For those who wrap their entire lives around their partner and do not have that balance of incorporating more, it’s only natural that they will struggle after losing their lifetime friend. 

If there’s one thing that inspires me to this day, it’s Hazel McCallion, former mayor of Mississauga who served from 1978 to 2014, finally stepping down at the age of 93. During her younger years she played professional women’s hockey, was married for 74 years, was Chancellor of Sheridan College, and special advisor to the Ontario government. 

On her 90th birthday she was assessed by Dr. Barbara Clive, who said, “her gait is perfect; her speech is sharp; and she has the drive to still run this City.” McCallion stepped down three years later at age 93, leaving a legacy that included, successfully evacuating 200,000 residents when a train derailment full of chemicals involving 35 companies happened in the heart of Mississauga. No lives or property were lost. She lived to the age of 101. I remember the media covering a story on Hazel McCallion ice skating at age 90. She was a shining example of someone that was never referred to as, “too old for the job”.

Not everyone is as comfortable with revealing their age and for good reason. “The way our society perceives old age influences a person’s attitude towards their own age and aging,” says Jean-Louis Drolet, a psychologist and author. According to Drolet, the underappreciated social usefulness of older people, causes people to want to protect themselves by keeping their age a secret.

Drolet explains “Aging is, above all, a personal matter: each person must come face to face with their age and what it means for them. At each stage of life, we have to work to overcome obstacles of all kinds. We are people with life experiences who are continuing on our path of development.” 

Drolet goes on to say, “age becomes an excuse to stop moving, stop exploring, to stop being creative. Accepting your age means being honest with yourself. It means valuing yourself and your life, wherever it’s taken you. Furthermore, recognizing your age helps you plan the rest of your life and live it fully. The happier you are with yourself and your life, the easier it will be to accept your age and view the future with optimism.” 

“Even though aging is, above all, a personal matter: each person must come face to face with their age and what it means for them,” Drolet says “and at each stage of life, we have to work to overcome obstacles of all kinds. We mustn’t stigmatize ourselves and say ‘I’m old!’ We are not our age; we are people with life experiences.”

That’s the main characteristic of people who accept their age: they grab hold of their lives. “Their approach is to integrate an understanding of existence without letting it frighten them or hold them back,” Drolet says. “But when we resist the aging process, we’re more concerned about the time that’s passing than we are with engaging in the things we’ve chosen to do. 

Studies show that aging well, is strongly linked to good psychological health, which allows you to cope better with age-related changes and to live life as you want. If you can incorporate into your daily routine:

• Staying in shape at a manageable level

• Be reasonable in your expectations

• Deciding to be happy in spite of wrinkles, baldness, and pain

• Savour all the good times, and

• Turn your dreams into a reality, then you’ll be okay

The late Roger Ebert, a favourite of mine, and a well-known American film critic, journalist and author once said: “We all are born with a certain package. We are who we are: where we were born, who we were born to, how we were raised. We’re kind of stuck inside that person, and the purpose of civilization and growth is to be able to reach out and empathize a little bit with other people. And for me, the movies are like a machine that generates empathy. It lets you understand a little bit more about different hopes, aspirations, dreams and fears. It helps us to identify with the people who are sharing this journey with us.”

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