Yesterday I listened to a CBC interview with a Toronto psychiatrist who was being asked how strangers can be helpful in preventing suicides on the TTC (Toronto Transit Commission). Sometimes a kind, friendly word — a bit of small talk — can be the difference between someone jumping to their death on the subway tracks and saving a life.
There is solid evidence to show that depression increases for Canadian men and women after the age of 65. Plus there is an increased of risk of suicide for men in the final third of life. For those of us with family and friends experiencing depression or suicidal thoughts, it is important to encourage them to get medical help and counselling. But there is another gift we can offer those suffering from poor mental health: friendship. In fact, David Bieble and Harold Koenig assert that “healing…can only occur within the context of supportive relationships.” (New Light on Depression.)
University of Aberdeen Professor of Theology John Swinton looks to Jesus as the model for the kind of friendship that is needed. When we observe the friendships of Jesus the primary thing we notice is his ability to see the whole person, the person behind the sickness. The first thing he does after healing someone is to send them back to their family and their community. Jesus knows that true healing depends to a large degree on being in relationship with others. People who are hurting don’t just need doctors and counsellors. They also need friends who will listen to them.
While committed friendship is never a substitute for medication and psychotherapy treatments, it can greatly aid in the recovery process. Offering a kind word, sitting with someone through a difficult time, listening to their concerns, and just being there for them is what friends do. Indeed, sharing a coffee and engaging in a bit of small talk, can sometimes mean the difference between life and death.
Someone has said that “All that children need today is access to the internet and a grandparent!” There is much wisdom in this statement, especially the second part of this statement. Spending time with grandparents has been shown to be highly beneficial and very therapeutic both to the children and the grandparents. Often it is the grandparents who serve as the link between Church and the younger generations. Certainly grandparents are in a unique position to pass on their legacy of family stories, faith and values.
But what happens when couples split and children must divide their time between each parent and two separate homes? Whenever I speak with the grandparents whose children have undergone a divorce, one of the most common complaints is that they no longer get to see their grandchildren that often. And that’s sad!
This is why a recent article from Next Avenue caught my eye. The article offers some excellent guidelines on how to maintain a relationship with grandchildren amid estrangement. Check it out!
Someone asked me the other day what was the best part of my summer holidays and I said, “Oh, that’s an easy one! It was connecting with friends who go way, way back — back to childhood, back to high school, back to my university and seminary days.” Connecting with family and friends across Canada, in the USA, Australia and New Zealand. It is fun to catch up with these dear friends and family and learn what they are doing in the second half of their lives and how they are making a difference.
This morning I read a wonderful article in The Atlantic Monthly by Liza Mundy called “The Secret Power of Menopause.” Mundy notes that most of us do not realise how unusual it is that “non reproductive females persist.” In most species females continue to bear offspring until they die. Not so with the human species. Many women, at least in the west, live long past menopause and enjoy many years of productive living after they have raised their children.
In fact, some years ago anthropologist Kristen Hawkes came up with the “Grandmother Hypothesis.” In her research on the Hadza and other tribes, Hawkes deduced that women were able to bear and raise multiple children only because of the presence of grandmothers — post-menopausal women who could find and feed infants who had been weaned but who were too young to find their own food.
Very few other species enjoy such a long postmenopausal life. One exception, Mundy notes, is the killer whale. She refers to the work of Darcey Steinke, who observes that in the ocean non-reproductive females play a vital role in guiding their young to the best salmon, thus ensuring their survival. As she writes, “The wild matriarchs have given me hope. They are neither frail nor apprehensive, but in every way leaders of their communities.” I love that!
It reminds me of what Carl Jung said long ago: “The afternoon of life is just as full of meaning as the morning; only, its meaning and purpose are different…” Now, in the second half of life, we too can play an important role by sharing the wisdom of our years in helping to guide the next generation.