Joanne (left) and Wilma Bernhardt outside Zocalo after talking over a coffee. Wilma is an Indigenous Elder from the Inuvik region, and Joanne arranged for her to talk about her experience in residential school so staff and students at the U of A could hear about it from someone with first-hand experience. Photo by Ruth Wright, herself a Gwich’in Elder from Inuvik. Ruth Wright
Alberta officially joined the United Nations International Day of Older Persons, which is celebrated annually on October 1. The Seniors Task Force advocates for the human rights of seniors and universal health care. The celebrations bring attention to the many challenges faced by older persons.
Many of us don’t realize what it’s like to be a senior until we get there. There are now about half a billion people over 60 in our world, and the group is growing as people live longer. We have many seniors living in our neighbourhood. When young, a person is busy working and raising a family, and they have daily contact with many others. Once retired, however, especially after a spouse passes on, many seniors live alone, which can bring depression and loneliness. Having a pet helps, but visits from family and friends are very important to keep seniors healthy.
Recent research has shown that many seniors suffer from depression after they retire. They feel disconnected from others and family, like nobody cares. And yet they hold the key to community and family history and memories, which are valuable resources. Learning from seniors about their lives, challenges, and strengths helps us understand the wisdom they gained through hard work. This can enrich all of our lives. Seniors can also play a valuable role in our communities, cities, provinces, our country, and the world.
What can we do to help seniors? A neighbour of mine in her 80s asks me to take her to the bank or shopping, because she doesn’t drive or read English or numbers. This takes maybe an hour once a month, but we enjoy each other’s company. She has worked hard all her life, and her husband passed away a few years ago. She is involved in her church, but she is still lonely. Her children and grandchildren are now grown up, but they do visit, and their visits help keep her healthy.
I feel this way too at times. After a busy life of focussing on others – school and marriage, then raising two daughters as a single parent, working as many as four jobs at once, earning three university degrees, then teaching many students at the college level – now I live alone. It was a shock! Some days I don’t see or hear from a single other human being. It feels lonely if I stay home, so I sing in a chorus, play violin in an orchestra, create artwork, sew, and write, besides being involved in our community, like the Leaf a Legacy garden contest. I also serve on committees and attend workshops to stay healthy. My daughter and grandchildren live across town, and my other daughter visits often. I have many good friends, some on e-mail, and others who meet me for lunch occasionally. All those things help me feel valued and connected to others, which makes life less lonely.
Another shock for many seniors, including me, is suddenly having a much lower income. It is hard to afford the basic things needed only on a pension, like food, clothes, utilities, and home maintenance. I am learning to budget very carefully, but I am grateful to have a small house and yard of my own, and a car, plus pets.
So, if you know a senior who lives alone, stop by or call, and ask if they’d like a visit, or to go somewhere. It helps them stay in touch with others, and feel valued as a person. Besides, learning their life journey will enrich your own life, as well as theirs. So let’s celebrate the seniors in our community not only on the UN Day of Older Persons, but every day. We are all connected. We ARE our neighbour’s keepers!
Joanne lives in McCauley.