Celebrating The International Day of the Older Person

A year ago, when I saw that the United Nations had designated a world-wide day of celebrations for the older persons in our societies I initially smiled, but then I found myself asking the question – what happens during the other 364 days? Do we still continue to celebrate the wonderful elders in our communities, or do we conveniently forget them as we go about our daily existence?

For me, older persons, or elders as I like to call them, deserve to be celebrated every day. They have lived very long lives which have most likely been peppered by many challenges both big and small, some painful, some joyful, but the wisdom they have built throughout all these challenges is priceless and waiting to be shared. I know that many elders do not consider that they have anything of value to share but that belief is so far from the truth. Every life experience is a learning and those learnings are our responsibility to share with those around us. How amazing it would be if we inspired someone to change their life for the better simply by sharing a life experience.

Life doesn’t come with an instruction manual, so to me it is the responsibility of our elders to be a living manual to support others, of all ages, to know that there is more to life than they have been led to believe is possible.’

I have had some elders share with me that as they are ageing they seem to become almost invisible, that many of those around them cannot see them for who they truly are; they are just an old person, someone past their ‘use-by-date’. They often feel judged for how they look on the outside and ignored for what is on the inside. After all, once upon a time they were a little baby, a young child, a teenager and then an adult, they may have been married, had children, had some amazing jobs, adventures, etc but all many around them can see is their outer appearance, the wrinkles, the grey hair, the forgetfulness and a body that is slowing down. But just because the body is growing older it doesn’t mean that the being inside is no longer a vital and valuable member of society. Often, it’s exactly the opposite, as in my case where I not only feel that I am actually growing younger, I can see so clearly that I still have so much to share with the world.

But back to this day of celebration which takes place on October 1st each year.  This year I decided that I would join in the celebrations and bring elders in our community together to honour and appreciate them. I was absolutely blessed to be supported by a local woman who lives and breathes community and who is a member of many local organisations, who in turn supported us to co-create a wonderful morning for all.

The hall that the event was in was originally the first schoolhouse in this rural community. It was moved across the road to its current location and beautifully restored when the school was upgraded. It is full of character and still has its big blackboard on which we wrote an international welcome to the day.

Two of our local rest homes had said an instant yes to being part of the event and brought several van loads of their residents whose ages ranged from the 70’s through to the 90’s, and who were in various stages of ageing and mobility. We soon realised that we ought to have had the event in the bigger hall as we did not take into consideration that most would be bringing their mobility walkers with them. (Note to self for next time!)

The biggest lesson of the morning was to go with the flow and allow whatever unfolded to do so without getting caught up in the pictures of how it should play out. I have learned that when we allow ourselves to be controlled by ‘shoulds’ we will more than likely miss out on the magic that is on offer.

We had set the chairs facing the blackboard, with the tables, which were groaning under the weight of the many donated plates of food, behind them. But we very soon realised that this plan was about to change as our guests arrived and sat down in the closest chair possible with their backs to the blackboard and facing the food! So, the seating plan changed and the picture of how we thought it should be let go of, which allowed so much spontaneity to unfold and with it so much joy.

We had decided to keep it simple with not too many presentations but lots of interaction, from a gentle exercise session for the ageing body to some foot-tapping country and western singing. The community constable who turned up was even roped in to be the demonstrator of the exercises which he did willingly and with a smile.

As it was school holidays, we were blessed by the presence of several children who were there to bring the generations together. My 11 year old granddaughter, with a little bit of help from her brother, had spent the previous afternoon decorating 60 name tags and then as each person arrived she wrote their names on these lovingly designed works of art. Then at morning teatime the children mixed and mingled and handed out plates of food.  It was such a joy to see the faces of the elders light up as a child stopped in front of them with a plate of delicious food to share. I could see that each child was reflecting back to them a memory of the beautiful little child that they once were, and can probably still feel inside. This to me was one of the biggest joys of the morning apart from the singing which at times may have been off-key but was full of fun and so much laughter.

No one really wanted to leave but after two hours that seemed so much longer -in a wonderful way- it was time for them to do so. I finally had the opportunity to sit and chat with those who were still waiting to be picked up and in doing so learned a little about the stories of their lives and what had brought them to this place at this time. I would have loved to have had more of this precious space to get to know these lovely people, but that will have to wait until next time. And yes, there will be a next time. 

I am absolutely loving the fact that the impulse to say yes to hosting this celebration appears to have given birth to an on-going programme of events that will regularly celebrate the elders in our community. Taking the time to celebrate them and to honour all that they bring to our lives is such a simple and joyous thing to do, a time that will not only enrich their lives but the lives of all those who say yes to sharing this day with them; I know that it has enriched mine.

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