This past Sunday some of my friends and neighbours celebrated Grandparents’ Day. Yes, there is such a thing as Grandparents’ Day! it’s a day on which we celebrate and honour the special people we call Grandma and Grampa OR Nana and Poppa OR Gran and Grandad OR Oma and Opa OR whatever special names we call them. Usually this in an older person, normally but not always the parent of our parent.
For example, our children became very attached to a very dear older friend in our first congregation, whom they called Grandma Shirley. She was a wonderful grandmother to them, and celebrated all their birthdays and Christmas celebrations and graduations and never missed an opportunity share her love for them. She looked after them when they were small and watched them grow up with joy. After my own mother died in 1996, her devotion to them became especially important, even to my husband, whose own parents lived across the ocean in Scotland and could not often visit. When Grandma Shirley died four years ago this month, we were all heartbroken.
Today a wonderful book arrived in the mail: The Spirituality of Grandparenting by Ralph Milton with Beverley Milton. I have just started to read it, but so far I am entranced! And I don’t even have grandchildren! A few ideas from the Miltons stand out even from the first pages:
— Grandparenting is a vocation, a calling: the grandparent’s spiritual vocation is to delight in one’s grandchildren.
— Grandparents come in a variety of shapes and sizes and many styles and kinds, but they have one thing in common: a relationship between older adults and children.
— Grandparenting can be great fun and deeply rewarding; but it isn’t always a happy relationship and it doesn’t fulfill all of a grandparent’s needs or all of the grandchild’s needs!
— The spirituality of grandparenting is more than a nice warm feeling and more than being able to share your religious beliefs; it’s more about praying for or with your grandchildren.
— Spiritual grandparenting is about learning the art of trust from our grandchildren, a lot like the trust we need to have in God.
I am looking forward to reading more about the spirituality of grandparenting in this wonderful book. Why don’t you order your copy too and join me on the journey? Even if, like me, you do not have grandchildren, you can learn a lot about spirituality in the second half of life from this beautiful testament to grandparenting. And who knows, maybe God is calling you to be a surrogate grandparent to someone on your street or in your faith community who is hungering for the wise, warm, unconditionally loving care of a grandparent — just like our kids’ adopted Grandma Shirley!
Two of my friends have recently retired from lengthy careers as teachers. This will be their first Labour Day in years that they won’t have think about getting themselves psyched up for the start of another school year. No more anxious moments the night before Day One, wondering what the new classes will be like or whether this year’s batch of students will be keen to learn or not.
While there will be no “back to school jitters” for them, I expect they will have mixed feelings tomorrow when those big yellow school buses drive by their homes and they know that they won’t be at the school to welcome all those excited kids off the bus. After all, they loved their jobs and were good teachers. “It’s like sweet and sour,” says one teacher who taught for 34 years before retiring from a career he loved. There’s the freedom that comes from not having to get up early every morning and be on top of your game, five days a week; not to mention the freedom from after school coaching or late night prepping and weekend marking.
On the other hand, there is the sense that one no longer belongs anywhere, or worse, there may be a real void in one’s life, a lack of purpose, or deep feelings of emptiness, at least for a while until new opportunities present themselves and a new routine develops. Retirement specialists often say that this is normal. Many even recommend that newly retired people should take a “gap” year. Don’t commit to anything major for a year. Too often people jump into an endless string of busy activities, finding themselves with less free time than they had when they were working and with no clear sense of how they want to live or what they want to do. Best, the consultants say, to give yourselves some time and space to discern where and how God is calling you to serve in the world.
Sounds like a good idea to me! What do you think? If you are a newly retired teacher and this is your first Labour Day weekend when you have not had to think about getting orgnanised for a new teaching year, I would love to hear from you! How are you feeling this week as the kids all head back to school? And if this is your second, third or even fourth year you have not had to head back to the classroom, please let me know how things have gone for you and how you find meaning outside the classroom today.
As for me, I am just about to pack my lunch, lay my clothes out, and try to get a good night’s sleep before heading back to the office tomorrow! I expect I will follow a number of school buses with excited schoolchildren on my way.
Now more than ever there is a need for Boomers and older adults to find meaningful rituals to honour and celebrate the changes that are happening in our lives. No one knows this better than the eminent Rabbi Richard Address who has written extensively on this topic. Rabbi Address will be one of our keynotes speakers at Canadian Boomerfest from October 17th to 19th, Siloam United Church, London ON. Check out my article, “Rituals vital to honouring late-life transitions”, which the London Free Press published today to learn more.
One of the best ways our faith communities can support families is by reaching out to those who are grandparents, many of whom are Baby Boomers. Last year we enjoyed two excellent sessions on grand-parenting with Susan McKane, who leads family and parenting workshops at a local Family Support and Crisis Centre: Merrymount Children’s Centre, in London, ON. These were so well received that we hope to set up something on a more regular basis in the future.
Let’s face it. Grandparents today need support and encouragement, as many are facing challenges not seen by previous generations of grandparents, often even raising their grandchildren full-time.
My mentor and colleague in Boomer Ministry, Dr. Will Randolph, offers an important “example of a church which is leveraging Grandparenting as a way of engaging outside of their membership and within with their grandparents, most of which are Boomers.” Check it out! Grandparenting Ministry.
I have been re-reading Craig Kennet Miller’s wonderful book, Boomer Spirituality. Seven Values for the Second Half of Life. In the opening pages he quotes a woman who had been retired for about six months from a very high-powered leadership position in her denomination. In tears, she burst out: “You don’t know what it’s like out there. My church and the senior center treat us like we are mindless infants with nothing to do.” She then went on to say, “They don’t recognize us for what we can offer, for the people we are. I’m not dead yet!”
Miller goes on to say that Boomers have always wanted to make a difference in their communities. The fact that many Boomers are retired or facing retirement in the near future does not mean that we just want to roll over and play dead. Traditional seniors ministry which focuses on Bingo and bus trips will not satisfy our deepest longings and certainly fall far short of honouring the image of God within us. Faith communities need to develop Boomer ministries that will celebrate the many gifts Boomers have to share, help us to grow spiritually and challenge us to serve the world that God loves.
If you would like to learn more about how you can begin to develop a meaningful and inspiring ministry with Boomers and older adults — or if you are seeking ways to grow your own faith in the second half of life — come to Canadian Boomerfest 2018. Craig Miller will be there to share his ideas, along with Will Randolph, Jane Kuepfer, Anne Beattie-Stokes and Rabbi Richard Address, who also have much to teach us on how to reach Boomers and, through them, how to connect with our younger generations. Hope to see you there on October 17th to 19th, Siloam United Church, London ON.
Marijuana will become legal in Canada in October, just in time for Canadian Boomerfest! But guess what? It takes more than a little THC to make the second half of life fun and interesting. Check out my piece in The London Free Press to find out what boomers REALLY need to make life meaningful.
A few months ago I was speaking with an older friend of mine who remembers too vividly the humiliation he suffered because of a severe stutter during his adolescence and early young adult years. Although very bright, people often thought he was stupid because he had trouble getting his words out properly. Fortunately for him, his parents were able to the hire the services of the famous speech therapist Lionel Logue, who had helped King George VI to overcome his stammer. (Remember the recent film and book by the same name, The King’s Speech.) Logue assisted my friend over several years and eventually things turned around for him too. He went on to become a distinguished professor of education with a special interest in helping those in developing countries to reach their full human potential.
Discrimination in all its forms — whether based on race, colour, gender, religion, gender orientation or being differently abled, as in the case of a speech impediment — is horrible because it undermines the image of God in the lives of God’s children, preventing them from living into being all that God calls them to be.
But there is another more insidious form of discrimination that does not get talked about as much as it should: ageism. Bill Plotkin says that we live in “a patho-adolesecent culture”. He writes that it’s time we grow up.
Author and speaker Missy Buchanan says that “most of us believe that aging is an enemy, something we must battle with daily.” Sadly, this kind of thinking has infected our faith communities. Buchanan wants people to see how we can use the gifts that come with aging to help build the kin-dom of God. By obsessing about youth, our congregations deny many important gifts that accompany growing older: introspection, self-awareness, reflection, patience and wisdom, not-to-mention the valuable ability to look at things from a third-person perspective — all things that are crucial in a world bent on self-destruction through climate injustice or nuclear weapons.
So the next time you look in the mirror and moan about another wrinkle or a new grey hair, remember that these are the badges of honour of a full and long life, and a reminder to share your hard-earned wisdom with others!
As some of you may know, I had surgery on both feet this past Friday. While I am blessed to have a caring and supportive husband and the prayers and healing energy of many friends, I am also getting a ‘bit’ of an idea of what it must be like to suffer from mobility issues. When I do walk, I am like Frankenstein, on my heels and waving my arms about frantically. It’s quite a sight! It can also be dangerous, as I discovered last night as I teetered at the top of our stairs and nearly fell backwards to the hard ceramic floor below!
While not in excruciating pain, thankfully, I am being forced to rest more and to pace myself, something this workaholic boomer does not like to do! So far walking up and downstairs — which I do very slowly, carefully and not often — has been the biggest challenge. That and showering! Between Richard’s failing hearing and my compromised mobility, we make quite a pair! Is this a sign of things to come?
The advances in healthcare and bio-medicine have had major implications for the longevity revolution. But as we Boomers live longer, we face new health challenges. Recent studies have shown, for example, that while baby boomers are living longer than earlier generations, by roughly 20 years, we are not necessarily healthier. We are less likely to smoke, have emphysema, or a heart attack, but we are more likely to be obese, have diabetes, or high blood pressure than the previous generation at similar ages. We are also more likely to have mobility issues.
Vicki Freedman, a University of Michigan demographer, has noted that disability levels have continued to decline among the oldest people (ages 85 and older) but held steady among Boomers. She said that she and other researchers “had expected baby boomers to be doing better, given advances in public health and education during the lives of the baby boomers.”
These findings will have a major impact on the rising costs to healthcare as well as implications for family members who may need to provide more care for ailing loved ones. May they encourage us to find new and creative ways to care for ourselves and others, and nurture and cherish our health while we have it.
One afternoon, a few years ago, while my wonderful sister-in-law was visiting from the U.K., we were having lunch at a nice restaurant in St. Jacob’s. The waiter was very solicitous, and asked a number of questions to ensure that our dining experience was a pleasurable one. My sister-in-law was very polite but also somewhat bemused by all his questions: ‘Would you like brown bread or white? Would you like that toasted or plain? Would you prefer mayonnaise with that or mustard? Would you like the soup of the day or tomato juice? Would you like a garden salad, spinach or Caesar? Would you like French, Italian, Balsamic, Thousand Island, Blue Cheese or Caesar dressing on your salad?’ The waiter repeated the same litany of questions with my brother-in-law, my husband and me. After he left, my sister-in-law laughed and said she had never ever been given such an array of choices. On reflection, it did seem a bit over the top; but we all had a good laugh about it and enjoyed our meal together.
I thought about that experience in the restaurant as I was reading Reginald Bibby’s latest book, Resilient Gods. Being Pro-Religious, Low Religious, or No Religious in Canada. Bibby argues that the 1960’s, when the first wave of Boomers became of age, “brought with them a number of key cultural and social trends.” (p. 21) One of these trends had to do with “the legitimization of choice.” (p. 22) Whereas the past had been characterized by certain moral and religious absolutes, now there was flexibility and freedom. Now people could have different views (certainly different from their parents and grandparents) “on things like racial intermarriage, women being employed outside the home, [pre-marital sex], sexual orientation, family life and religion.” (p. 22)
Churches soon discovered that if they were not open to a certain amount of flexibility and freedom, then they could expect to decline. This is true of congregations that do not invite feedback or input from their members and adherents.
This is just one of the ways that the culture has changed since the Boomers began to make their presence felt back in the sixties. Congregations that want to grow may need to offer choices when it comes to style and time and place of worship and other activities or spiritual opportunities.
Now will that be French dressing on your salad or Creamy Garlic?