Tips for Grandparents Seeking to have a Relationship with their Grandchildren when Family Members Are Estranged

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!

The Freedom and Opportunity of Menopause — Living Fully in the Afternoon of Life

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.


A new, safe community for people suffering from Dementia

This past year has been a challenging one for my husband’s family, especially Richard’s  mother. His Dad, who was in hospital in St. Andrews, Scotland, for nearly six months, has now moved into a nursing home. Richard’s mother and siblings visit him several times a week. Unfortunately Richard cannot get back to Scotland that often, but keeps in regular touch with his mother. This coming Sunday will be their 64th wedding anniversary, but it is doubtful that Grandad will remember, such is his cognitive impairment. Still, I am sure they will share a nice cup of tea and a chocolate biscuit.

As anyone who lives with someone suffering from Alzheimer’s will tell you, this can be one of the toughest illnesses, both for the person suffering and for their family and close friends. This is why I was intrigued by an article my daughter Alexandra sent me while she was attending a wedding out in B.C. last week. British Columbia has just established the first ever Dementia Village so that those who are afflicted by severe memory loss can live in a normal environment with complete safety.

Check it out here! Would love to hear what you think!



Resiliency and Aging

As I mentioned in my last post, this was the theme of an excellent workshop/retreat I attended last month at Conrad Grebel University College in Waterloo, Ontario.

“Resiliency in aging is different from when you were young,” workshop leader Teresa Bryant told us. Bryant is a psycho-therapist and former Director of Supportive Care at St. Joseph’s Hospice in London, Ontario. As she noted, “When you break your leg when you are young, you know it will heal completely. When you break your leg when you are older, you will probably walk differently and have certain ongoing limitations.”

She also noted that resiliency in aging is less about cure or achieving complete healing and “more about adapting to changes” in one’s life. The second half of life is all about negotiating losses and changes in our relationships, finances, and health. Our success in negotiating these changes, to a large degree, comes from our attitudes — in other words, from our inner self. Quoting author and spiritual director Kathleen Dowling Singh, Bryant said courage in our later years is also different from the brash determination of youth. “As with any other muscle, it starts with doing small things” and taking small steps. It often begins by paying closer attention to the people around us and being intentional about spending time in prayer and meditation. Check out the July/August 2019 issue of Aging Well* for more on this important topic and to subscribe to this excellent newsletter.

*Aging Well — Celebrating the Young at
Heart, is an e-magazine published by
Morcom Media Group, with news, features,
and commentary for people as they
age. Published 10 times a year: January/
February, March, April, May, June, July/
August, September, October, November
and December.

Publisher/Editor: Pat Moauro
Associate Editor: Glenn Cutforth


A New Way of Seeing: Clare of Assisi’s “Visio Devina”

The last time I wrote, I mentioned that in June I had the opportunity to take part in a very interesting workshop/retreat on resiliency and aging at Conrad Grebel University College in Waterloo, Ontario. One workshop I found to be unique related to how we view art. Both Richard and I love to visit art museums when we travel, so this workshop intrigued me..

Entitled “Gazing in Art & The Art of Gazing”, it was led by former Regis College professor Maureen McDonnell, who invited us into a different way of “seeing”. This is something that Jesus was always inviting his followers to do — to see things differently. In fact, most great spiritual leaders have called their disciples into a deeper way of seeing life.

McDonnell introduced us to the spiritual practice known as “Visio Devina”, a Latin term which means “Holy or Divine Looking”. Dating back to the thirteenth-century nun, Clare of Assisi, the Visio Devina includes four steps: gazing in silence, consideration,  contemplation, and imitation or transformation. It takes time. It requires quiet and a clear focus. It involves meditation. It is not something to be rushed. Those who practise Visio Devina often come away with a deeper appreciation for the painting or sculpture they are looking at, a new lens on the subject matter, and even a sense of spiritual awakening.

Why not find some quiet time and give Clare of Assisi’s Visio Devina a try?

I’m Back!

It has been a long time since I have updated my blog, but I’m back! My life has been very full since just before Easter, when Kelly Walker came to Siloam and inspired our living for life’s second half! Then right after Easter, my husband and I visited our eldest son in Morocco, where he has been teaching at the American School in Marrakech for the past three years. We had a wonderful time – beautiful weather, gorgeous flowers, delicious meals with fabulous friends, visits to the picturesque countryside, interesting museums, and of course the fascinating souks! While we were there I celebrated a special birthday – the kick-off for a milestone birthday next spring. But more about that later!

We got back and within two weeks we were off again to Minneapolis where I attended the always inspiring Festival of Homiletics, where I was privileged to hear some of North America’s finest preachers. We made a whistle-stop tour to one of our favourite cities – Chicago – and then came home just in time to get ready for our Church’s Regional meetings in Port Elgin. The United Church of Canada has a new governance model so our annual meeting this year was a bit of a work in progress, as we joined together with two other regions and got to meet lots of new people as well as some old friends I had not seen in a long time. I even got to sell a few of my books, ReDesigning Your Life: A Practical Spirituality for the Second Half of Life.

Then two weeks later I attended a most interesting conference-retreat event on Spirituality and Aging at Conrad Grebel University College on the campus of the University of Waterloo. More about that in future posts too.

In between all these events that have taken me to various far off places, I have been busy with Easter and Pentecost and welcoming new members to Siloam. There has been time for fun too – a delightful musical at the Victoria Playhouse in Petrolia, called “Summer of ‘69”, which celebrated the musical greats of an era that is dear to my heart. For me, that was the summer between elementary school and high school, between grade 8 graduation and the start of the secondary school journey. I had no idea how many songs were made popular during that time!

Two other events have touched me in a special way this past month. One was a beautiful ceremony to celebrate the renewal of vows of a lovely Boomer-aged couple who wanted to re-commit themselves to each other. At the end – and this is what made it so poignant – the husband sang that wonderful old Johnny Mathis song, “The Twelfth of Never.” (He had a bit of help from Johnny Mathis singing in the background, but it was still incredibly moving!)

The other thing that brought tears to my eyes was the passing of a dear Boomer-aged man in my congregation named Brian. I first met Brian when I was doing my internship for ministry thirty-three years ago in St. Marys. When I moved to Siloam twelve years ago, I became reacquainted with Brian, who had since moved to London. Left developmentally challenged as the result of a brain injury at birth, Brian blessed so many lives in his 65 years. Every day since it first appeared on video he watched his favourite movie The Sound of Music, which was released back in 1965. Gentle, simple, compassionate, and kind, Brian taught us all a lot about what it means to love and care for others. Today we celebrated his life and then buried him beside his adored parents, his devoted sister and her family blanketing his casket with beautiful long-stemmed roses.

As I reflect back upon the last few weeks, I notice two trends. More and more I am conducting services to celebrate the renewal of marriage vows made long ago. Over the past few years I have actually had occasion to celebrate more “Renewal of Vows” services than wedding services. The other trend I am noticing is that I am starting to conduct more funerals or Celebration of Life services for Baby Boomers – in other words for people who are part of my own generation. These are trends that are giving me pause for thought. But more about that later!





Kelly Walker brings the luck of the Irish to Siloam on Saturday, April 6th, as he shares how we can find meaning in Life’s 2nd Half!

This past Sunday, on St. Patrick’s Day,  my mother would have celebrated her 104th birthday. Born on March 17th, 1915 to an Irish mother and Canadian father, she represented everything good and lovely about both cultures. There is not a day goes by that I do not think of her. She has been gone for over 22 years, and I still miss her.

That is why it was such a delight for Richard and me to be able to honour her memory by attending a special St. Patrick’s Day Vespers service at St. James Anglican Church in Stratford, Ontario. Tagging along were our good friends Cora and John. John’s father, like my maternal grandmother, also came from Ireland.

The service was led by Kelly Walker, well-known Canadian author, speaker, counsellor,  and singer-songwriter. His Irish ancestors would have been proud. You may have missed Kelly’s beautiful service on Sunday, but you still have a chance to register for his special one-day event on Saturday, April 6th at Siloam United Church, in London, Ontario: Growing Somewhere: Living life after mid-life, when together we will learn how to find meaning in life’s 2nd half! Hope to see you there!





How to Redeem Winter

For those of us who are unable to get away for a break, the winter can seem unbearably long and confining. I have a dear older friend who is even afraid to take her car out to run necessary errands. She is the sole caregiver for her husband, who is wheelchair bound. If she slips on the ice, falls and injures herself, who will be there to care for and support him?

One thing that has brought some relief to her cocooned indoor life is the joy she has found in looking through old photo albums. In preparation for a personal memoir that is soon to be published, she is going through all her old photos to select those what will best represent various chapters in her long and fascinating life. It is a task that has helped her to remember long ago friends and places she lived or visited. For her, it has been great fun and brought back wonderful memories that she gets to re-live whenever she looks at the photographs.

Kelly Walker, who will be leading a workshop at Siloam United Church on April 6th, has some important things to say about winter:

“This season has a great deal to teach us about living and dying. We being to prepare for a slower time — a time when the weather takes us by the hand and leads us into the unknown. It is impossible for us to control the weather in the months ahead. Snow can keep us indoors for days on end. Ice can isolate us. Cold and wind can stall us in our tracks. We are not always in control.” (p. 177, Walker, Growing Somewhere)

Elsewhere Kelly writes that this is a good time for reflection, something we don’t often take the time to do when the weather is pleasant and our health is good. He talks about looking through old photo albums with his aunt and listening to her tell stories about the people in those albums, some of whom Kelly remembers fondly and others whom he only remembers vaguely from childhood and still others not at all.

Maybe like Kelly and my friend, it is time to get out the old photographs and and recall the precious memories embedded in them. If you have an older parent, or an aunt or uncle, who can tell you more about the stories behind those photos, take the time now to talk with them and write those stories down. And if you are now the elder, be sure and sit down with your child or grandchild, or your niece or nephew, and welcome them into the world that is their legacy. And if they cannot be with you in person, speak the stories into a tape recorder or commit them to print. You will be giving your loved ones a rich and valuable gift — the gift of memory. Moreover, you will be bringing some warmth and light into these cold winter days.




Let’s Talk!

This past Wednesday was Bell Let’s Talk Day, a day when millions of Canadians were encouraged to really open up and talk to each other about mental health.

Mental health affects everyone, including those of us who now find ourselves in the second half of life. According to a 2012 report of the Canadian Mental Health Association, those aged sixty-five and older have a higher suicide rate than other generations. Studies also show that the rate of depression in both men and women over the age of sixty-five is 25% of the total population, which is approximately 10% higher than the rate of depression in the population under sixty-five.

Paul Links, former Chief of Psychiatry at the Schulich School of Medicine at Western University, says that his own extensive research in the field also bears this out. He has seen the increase in depression among seniors firsthand in his practice. As he notes, men over sixty-five who have enjoyed highly successful careers are most susceptible to depression and suicide. Links points to the lack of “connectiveness” these men feel to others, their sense of isolation, and loneliness as chief causes of deteriorating mental health among older adults.

What can help to relieve the sense of loneliness that so many older Canadians experience? A clue may be found in the research of Harvard scholar George Vaillant.

In a book called Aging Well, Vaillant, wrote that six factors predicted healthy aging for a group of Harvard men who were part of a study that began when they were all young, back in 1938, and which has continued to the present day. One of these men was the late President John F. Kennedy. Today only 19 of the original members of the study group survive. The six factors that predicted healthy aging were: physical activity, absence of alcohol abuse and smoking, having mature mechanisms to cope with life’s ups and downs, and enjoying both a healthy weight and a stable marriage. No surprises there.

What did surprise the researchers was the role that community played in the men’s ability to age well. “When the study began, nobody cared about empathy or attachment,” said Vaillant. “But the key to healthy aging is relationships, relationships, relationships.”

In fact, the study showed that the role of genetics and long-lived ancestors proved less important to longevity than the level of satisfaction with relationships in midlife.

Canadian author and psychologist Susan Pinker agrees. She argues that social gatherings are critical to our health and well-being, especially as we age. Indeed, the lack of close personal friendships may shorten our lives faster than cigarettes, salt, sugar and animal fat.[1] Real time, face to face contact, can help us to live healthier and longer lives. Chatting with friends on the porch or over the back fence, playing cards once a week, meeting friends every Tuesday morning at the coffee shop, having friends over to dinner regularly, or going to choir practice every week, can actually lengthen your life and bring you more happiness. And get this, study after study shows that these kinds of activities will do far more to promote health and longevity than “slathering on the sunscreen, downing fistfuls of vitamins, practicing mindfulness meditation, or sweating it out at the gym or with hot yoga.”[2]

Again, the key to healthy aging is “relationships, relationships, relationships.” Moreover, “our choice of communities can actually be a matter of life and death.”

In other words, get talking!


[1] Susan Pinker, The Village Effect. How Face-to-Face Contact Can Make Us healthier and Happier. (Toronto, Vintage Canada, 2015.), p. 7.

[2] Ibid.