By Danna Downing
The phrase “a senior moment” is often used to apologize for losing your train of thought or for not being able to find the right word or a person’s name in conversation. It has a negative connotation because it is linked to our fears of aging. So, I asked myself: “Is this a good name for a column that is intended to be helpful and uplifting?“ “YES,“ was the answer . That is because it catches people’s attention and is a very relatable phrase for most of us. It is also a phrase that invites a more positive attitude about aging.
The goal of this column is to share information that will help you navigate and enjoy your later years in life or those of your loved one. Another goal is to help us reframe our approach to the aging process. Over time, we want to share personal experiences, visit research and recommendations for healthy aging, and inspire each of us to be more intentional about what some call our second adulthood. The column is also one of my personal retirement adventures.
I did not really feel like a senior until I decided it was time to retire. The closer I got to retirement, the more concerned I became about what would I do with all my time. My work was my passion and very meaningful to me. Work and community life were a daily blend. I do not watch much television or play golf. I like to read, but that is a sedentary activity for a highly active person. Then came the pandemic!
The COVID-19 lockdown brought the gift of time and limited focus. I knew that I would have to concentrate on letting go of my work roles. I knew that being physically active was critical for me. I knew I needed to adjust my budget to live on a fixed income. I knew that I wanted to be of service to the community. I knew I was luckier than most. But I did not know quite where to start the retirement adventure.
One of the first things I did was to read an excellent book recommended to me by a very dear friend – “Women Rowing North”, written by Mary Pipher. The subtitle to the book is “Navigating Life’s Current and Flourishing as We Age”. Her work keeps the promise on the cover and was just what I needed. Pipher is a psychologist specializing in women and the effects of our culture on mental health. Like me, she is a fan of Barbara Kingsolver’s writing. She cites Kingsolver’s observations that “happy people have found a use for themselves.” This resonated with me deeply and seemed like a good starting point.
Through her work, Pipher has found that “all life stages present us with joys and miseries.“ She reminds us that it is “fate and circumstances that influence which stage is hardest for any given individual.
“But, most importantly,“ she adds, “attitude and intentionality are the governors of the process.” Her book provides important guidance about working on attitude and intentionality and was a great resource for me during my first year of retirement.
During this year I have carved out a niche for service to others that fits my situation. It builds upon my work in assisting seniors meet their needs during my career. It allows me to work with professionals who inspire me deeply. And, best of all, it allows me to help them achieve their goals for seniors like myself and others in my community.
I am fortunate to now be serving on the Kalamazoo County Older Adult Advisory Council (OASAC). Early in the pandemic, the group did not meet. However, by virtue of that affiliation, I was invited to help during the pandemic. It was a great comfort to see how Kalamazoo County’s public health department worked with our local Area Agency on Aging (AAA) to be there for older adults in Kalamazoo during this critical time. The committee I am on (OASAC ), works with AAA staff and administration to advocate issues and concerns of older persons in their service area and meets monthly. In this position, my responsibility is to help build awareness of AAA services for older adults and convey the needs of South County senior residents and their caregivers to AAA.
I have also been appointed to represent our AAA at the state level. The State Advisory Council on Aging (SAC) is the research and advocacy arm to the Michigan Commission on Services to the Aging (CSA). Our research project for 2021 is on the topic of Aging in Place (AIP). This is a hot topic for most older adults because for most of us, there is no place like home.
“A Senior Moment” is intended to be a gift of information and a resource for persons who want to build the best possible life for themselves and their loved ones as they age. It can also serve as a conduit for connecting citizens and decision makers who advance older adult programming and services.
Each column will end with a lesson to share. The lesson to share for this month: The gift of time during retirement allows us to look at our skills and interests to determine if there are some we want or need to transplant into a new stage of life.
Each month we will explore a new topic and I would welcome you to share your thoughts, suggestions, and concerns with me to make this column one that you want to read – and one that will link you to key experts that care about what you have to say. My hope is that traveling together during our second childhood by using this column, will be beneficial to all involved. Looking forward to hearing from you!
Danna Downing is a member of the Kalamazoo County Older Adults Advisory Council and the Michigan State Advisory Council on Aging. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Danna Downing