FOUR DECADES OF BEING A ‘SENIOR’ WARRANTS A CLOSER LOOK AT THE DIFFERENCES
There are more and more forecasts that more and more of us will live to be one hundred.
Our eligibility for Canada Pension kicks in at 60. For many of us that marks the beginning of our new status – we’ve moved from middle-aged to being senior. At 65 all sorts of perks kick in. As long as you admit that you’re over the hill people will give you discounts for all sorts of stuff.
My personal favourite is that I no longer get fined for having overdue books and movies from the library. Just as my memory shifts into ‘cruise’ and I don’t always know where I left them, I don’t need to worry because I’m off the hook. I think there may be a connection between the reduction in responsibilities and mental deterioration. Not that I know much of anything about brains and memory, just thinking out loud, as it were.
Canadian Association of Retired Persons
I attended the annual general meeting of CARP the other evening. I have a few things I could say about that too – “CARP” is an acronym for Canadian Association of Retired Persons, although many at the meeting told me that they were still working and still running their businesses. Many are hard at it, volunteering all over the place. Busy people out for the evening, with a purpose. A formal meeting at which we moved and seconded the acceptance of reports, minutes, applauded the granting of an award, and chatted with the sponsors who had their wares on display on the side of the room.
One person suggested that the R should be reframed as ‘R = Rejuvenated’. That was certainly a better thought than the one I had, with ‘R = Retreaded’.
To me, they have the wrong logo – the carp is an Asian fish that has caused grievous ecological damage in its non-native world. Someone at the meeting told me that the carp is a symbol of good fortune in Japan – probably some of the reasoning behind the rich man’s fetish with spending thousands on keeping koi – ugly, dull, sluggish, boring fish. One man’s good fortune is another’s poison. So it is with carp then. Good fortune is not what carp brought to South Africa, nor to North America.
So yes, I deviate at a serious tangent here, but I think CARP needs a logo change.
The reason I travelled all the way into town wasn’t so much that I’m a meeting junkie or that I like criticizing people’s choice of art work. No, I went because I wanted to introduce my new service to the CARP folk. I was invited by a colleague, Jim Dalling, to participate in the Elder Mediation display he was able to put on, as a result of becoming one of the sponsors of the meeting.
The meeting was so well attended the organizers had to request extra chairs – how often does THAT happen at a meeting of a voluntary association? (Not very often, in MY experience.) I was impressed.
Funny though, this was really my cohort – the folk who have come out alive at the other end of a lifetime of working for other people; the folk who have their fair share of wrinkles and grey hair. I’d expected to know several people. Instead I knew no-one but Jim and he’s young. He’s my boys’ age. There was a great deal of camaraderie among the folk – clearly they’ve been together in this organization for many a year. It looked like an authentic community of people with a great deal of interests in common. I liked what I saw.
What struck me as I milled around was how we have this crazy thing of lumping all ‘seniors’ together when we talk about generations. There’s a tendency not to differentiate between the generations beyond 60. This has the effect, I believe, where the young and viable seniors (yes, like me) are dismissed as out of it; irrelevant; dependent; in need of help; mentally slow; creaky; and in need of humouring – not to be engaged with in any serious conversation. And the older you get, the worse that disempowering assumption becomes, even though you may still be a retired orthopaedic surgeon researching new ways of doing a triplanar osteotomy.
Many years ago when I was doing my final course work for my MSW at Dalhousie University, I did an independent study on the politicization of the elderly. My professor, CG “Giff” Gifford, was heading towards retirement and had a strong interest in the power of the grey vote as it might serve the cause of protecting the natural environment. He wanted to deepen his understanding of how older people – seniors/elders/geriatrics might be engagable on the issue of environmental protection even though they were approaching the last years of their lives. He believed that their love and dreams for their grandchildren would fuel an environmental altruism and a quest for peace (he was an RCAF veteran of WWII) that could be the collective fuel for a Gray Panthers movement – potentially a powerful voters’ bloc that would influence national policy.
In our conversations and my research I then first realised that there are multiple generations in the ‘seniors’ category, and that they are as different from one another as the differentiation we indulge in now, when we talk about Gen X, Millennials, etc. Back then I was in my 30s and being old seemed like a very long way off – the differentiation between the recently retired and the very old was of academic interest – I read the research only with an eye on writing an A+ paper. Now, as I compare and contrast the folk in attendance at the CARP meeting with some of the folk I see at retirement homes and assisted living arrangements the difference is very real to me. I wish I’d kept that paper to see what I thought back then. I did the second best thing this morning. I ordered Giff’s book from Amazon.
My new career – plus what I already do, not a replacement.
And so as I progress in my new career as an elder mediator I’m beginning to see the importance of serving as a link between generations. Not that I interpret one generation to the other, but that I facilitate the conversation they need to have to understand and appreciate each other at an authentic level.
People typically resort to elder mediation because the younger generation has to step into the role of decision-maker and caregiver and they can’t agree on how to do it, and sometimes the older generation won’t cooperate, or gives up too quickly, or simply isn’t capable of playing any role any more in making decisions of any kind. Who knows how families deal with this stuff a hundred years ago.
What I know now, based on what I’ve learnt and experienced, is that it is far less painful to take on that shift in roles in a collaborative and constructive way than to avoid admitting the change until it is too late. So. I’m convinced that the career I’m moving into now is immensely helpful. I expect to be doing this work still for a long, long time, and I expect it to make a great positive difference in hundreds of lives.