A new year of connections
by Sharon Simpson
I was speaking with an elderly woman. She is in good health and was laughing, telling stories from her past; silly moments and her meaningful times. And then, in a reflective way, she said, “This is the year I turn the same age my mother was when she died.” I asked, “Do you wonder if this is your last year of life?”
Laughing she responded, “I’ve been wondering that for years!… Well, YOU should be wondering that, too! You never know when the Lord says your days are done.”
A bit abrupt! But then, she has already lived 13 years past the average Canadian woman’s life expectancy.
I asked if she makes New Year’s resolutions anymore. “Oh, I stopped doing those years and years ago. I can’t remember why I ever did them. Each day is a gift. I don’t try to make more of it than that. I’m past the point of caring about losing weight or changing my habits. I take each day as a gift.”
For seniors, the season for projects and tasks may be lessening; however, perhaps, this is the season for new connections, for story-telling, for meaningful conversations and praying for others.
A new year of new people
For many seniors, the coming year will mean new people brought into their lives. For some, it will be another great-grandchild. For others, it may be a year of connecting with friends (new and old) in a retirement home or a senior care home. It may be new home-care workers or care-aides. For some, it may be an oncologist or a cardiologist or a neurologist. Without a doubt, there will be new connections, unique to this phase of life.
New connections can be new doors to blessings. Watching your grand-daughter hold her new baby in her arms can fill your heart with love and affection. We are reminded that a baby has done nothing to earn the deep affection of its mother. It is simply loved for who he or she is… and the love is a deep love. This is a picture of how much God loves each one of us. The great-grandbaby is a blessing – a gift of life, a gift to remind us of God’s love.
Sitting at the dining table in the dining room of a retirement home for the first time can feel like the first day at elementary school. Who will sit with you? Will you make new friends? How will you enjoy this new community of people? Over the year, friendships can grow as time allows us to be with others, to listen to their stories, to tell our own. Loneliness is diminished.
I think of potential scenarios, perhaps a time in the waiting room at the oncologist’s office. A young man comes in noticeably agitated. He sits down, gets up and leaves. He does this again and again while he waits his turn with the specialist. You make eye contact and feel the fear in his eyes. He looks healthy, but mustn’t be, since he is here to see the same doctor that you will be seeing. You say a prayer for him. He sits down next to you and instead of ignoring him, you reach out and hold his hand. He squeezes back. Silent, compassionate connection for both of you.
Could this year be your year of story-telling?
Here is a story that was told to me by an elderly senior. It has become an unforgettable lesson of fear, courage, discomfort and freedom:
One day, a very large man moved into a senior’s apartment building. He was a huge physical presence, straight as an arrow and tall to the sky. He loved to laugh and although he struggled with deafness, he was eager to know new people. One day, he turned to me and said, “Can I tell you how I escaped from the KGB?” (The KGB was the security agency in the Soviet Union during the Communist years). I was eager to hear his story and immediately said, “yes!” He told me how as a 17 year old boy, 6’ 4”, he was drafted into the Russian army. He didn’t want to serve, as he had experienced the horrors of the Russian Revolution and was a pacifist. He said good-bye to his widowed mother and fled by train from the Ukraine to Germany. During his escape, the KGB pursued him. Three times, he hid under the skirts of Russian women to avoid detection. Eventually, he was able to get out of Russia to Germany. He never saw or heard from his family again.
This story was an amazing story of escape, but it was also comical to me. He was so large. I could hardly imagine how he could fit under the skirt of a Russian woman. He was a very innocent Mennonite boy. I could only imagine how uncomfortable it was for him to ask to be sheltered underneath a woman’s skirt. I barely knew this man. I’ll never forget him. When this gentleman passed away, I shared this story with his daughter. She had never heard it and it became a treasure.
New connections can be a blessing, an answer to prayer, they can ease the pain of loss, they can become dear friends.
As we enter this New Year, may you find that God’s loyal love cannot run out, His merciful love will not dry up. They are created new every morning. How great is His faithfulness!
May God’s rich blessings of love, peace, comfort, hope and joy rest deep within your heart this New Year of life!
Sharon Simpson is the Director of Communications and Stakeholder Engagement at Menno Place in Abbotsford