How the Wisdom of the Older Generation Can Strip Limitations and Point to Longevity

My husband
and I were out of state, celebrating our wedding anniversary when his heart
stopped beating. I was 39 years old and suddenly, despite my best efforts, I
was a widow.

I had no
clue how I was going to navigate this unfamiliar territory. A support group
didn’t feel right for me, and neither did therapy.

I read a
few books and articles and could immediately recognize whether the author had exclusively
theoretical knowledge of grief, or if they had trudged first-hand through the
darkness. I read less than a paragraph of the former. It felt sterile and
textbook, and my life seemed anything but textbook.

internet searches also turned up empty. I was searching for help that I
perceived to be relevant to my situation. Someone who knew the journey, and
specifically at a younger-than-usual age.

So, I did
what I’ve always done when I had questions or needed help. I reached out to
someone decades older than me.

Erma was
already a dear friend. She was 95 at the time and living in an assisted living
community. I visited her every few weeks.

greeted me at her door, asked how I was doing, and no matter my response, she
would put her hands on my face, look into my eyes, and conduct her own
assessment. It felt like she could see into my soul.

To me,
Erma was relevant. She had been a young widow, and later in life she was
widowed again, and later lost an adult son. Unfortunately, Erma knew grief, and
as a result, more than anything, I needed Erma.

She would
say exactly what I needed to hear. “You can do this.” “You’re going to be
okay.” “He is all around you.” “Everything is going to be okay.”

She would
make simple, practical suggestions for how I could put one foot in front of the
other, and these were exactly the steps I took during that first year. Erma was
key in getting me through.

About a
month prior to her passing, as we were saying goodbye for what would be the
last time, she put her hands on my face and said, “You’re going to move forward.”

I replied,
“I don’t want to,” to which she responded, “I know you don’t, but you will.” Her
wisdom was remarkable.

13 months after my first day as a widow, I attended Erma’s funeral where I
learned that her dementia was far more advanced than I could have possibly

society expects nothing of people with dementia. Often, people living with
dementia or other limitations expect nothing of themselves. They feel they have
nothing left to contribute and some wonder why life continues. They quit living
and they quit giving.

On the
contrary, Erma believed that if you have a pulse, you have a purpose. Which may
be why she had such a long life, since having a sense of purpose has been shown
to impact longevity.

In a large
scale, 4-year study of people average age 69, researchers discovered that those
with the lowest life purpose were more than twice as likely to die in the
follow up period compared with those in the highest life purpose category.

What if we
each could be someone’s “Erma,” no matter our limitations? Perhaps your
knowledge, skills, and experience, which may seem common sense or second nature
to you, are exactly what someone else desperately needs.

cognitive or physical in nature, limitations are real. They can become a
massive barrier that is too big to see past, and the more we focus on them, the
bigger they become. Albert Einstein is quoted as saying, “Once we accept our
limits, we go beyond them.”

What if we
redirect our focus, setting our sights on what we can do, despite any
limitations? Listen to a child read, teach a new widow(er) to cook, call a
friend who is navigating a tough time, or teach a vocational skill to someone
about to enter the workforce, are but a few opportunities.

Once we
choose to see past limitations and choose to believe that our knowledge, skills,
and experiences are valuable, the possibilities become endless.

Make a
list of your skills, knowledge, and expertise. If you need help, ask a friend.
Don’t skip tasks that are second nature or common sense to you – list

Then, look
over your list and choose to see the incredible value in it. Afterall, your
list was decades in the making. Next, consider who might benefit from your
knowledge and make the offer.

And what about
when we need help ourselves? What if instead of going to the internet with a
question or problem, we called on the people with the most life experience
under their belt?

Not many
generations ago, society did just that. When problems arose, people naturally
sought the wisdom and experience of the oldest members of society. Many still
do this in the hardware store today. Why don’t we do it in every aspect of

What prevents us from seeking the wisdom of older people? How have older members of society helped you? Do you help younger people when they seek assistance? Please share in the comments below.

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