The month of May brings forth many good things - warmer weather (we hope!), the Kentucky Derby, Cinco de Mayo, Mother’s Day, and, of course, the unofficial start to summer with Memorial Day Weekend. But did you know that May is also Older Americans Month? It’s time to celebrate you, our older Americans!
It seems to be well known that in Western popular culture youth is celebrated and aging is shamed. This is not only unfortunate, but obviously an unhealthy view of life. And this viewpoint has been perpetuated over many generations. For example, we would never ask a woman her age, and we joke about turning 39 over and over and over again. I wonder what started this aversion towards aging? After all, there are many cultures that celebrate the value and wisdom of older adults. The aging process, and even death, in some Native American cultures is celebrated and viewed as a normal part of life. In China and Korea elders are highly regarded and families often take care of and support their parents and grandparents when they age and become frail. It’s very curious that some cultures celebrate aging while others despise it.
At Bethany, we have always valued and appreciated older adults. From day one our mission has been to provide a great place to live where all will feel valued. Associations in Massachusetts and across the country have begun campaigns to combat ageism, which is prevalent in our society and I believe is detrimental to a healthy viewpoint of aging. We must do better and I am hopeful that we are moving in the right direction.
“Engage at Every Age” is this year’s theme for Older Americans Month. This is quite timely for us at Bethany. Earlier this year we began a pilot program with the Haverhill Public School system whereby students visit our residents to engage in a variety of activities. They have played board games, shared desserts together, and students have written stories about their new “senior friends”. It has been heart-warming to observe young and old engaging with one another, to develop relationships and to build mutual respect. This intergenerational programming has been proven to yield benefits and we hope that this will help to combat ageism, as our youthful participants gain a greater respect for their elders.
My hope for this month is that we may all look at the lens through which we view the world and consider whether we need to adjust it. How do we view our older adults? Are we respectful? Do we appreciate their wisdom? Are we willing to value our elders for what they truly are – full of experience and wisdom and often a willingness to share with others? Many among us have much to offer. May we listen, enjoy one another, and begin to build a culture of respect and no longer be shameful of what is natural. We’re all in this together, some of us just started a little earlier than everyone else.
"...the moral test of government is how that government treats those who are in the dawn of life, the children; those who are in the twilight of life, the elderly; those who are in the shadows of life; the sick, the needy and the handicapped. " ~ Last speech of Hubert H. Humphrey