A soft knock on my home-office door around noon always means it’s time to eat -- whether I’m hungry or not. I smile as I open the door. There stands my Mom, with arms outstretched, holding a large paper plate filled to the brim with a sandwich sliced in half, potato chips, butter pickles, a side of potato salad, and several cookies for desert. She warms my heart every time. Mom has come to bring me my lunch.
Several months back, Mom moved in with us, and her new focus in life is feeding Joy Loverde EVERY chance she gets. Having an Italian mother means food and love. They go hand-in-hand, and I mean to tell you she loves me a lot. I haven’t the heart to tell her that I’m not typically hungry when she hands dishes out the huge lunch-time meal. That would be a major blow to her worth as my mother. Instead, I graciously accept the plate of food with a big smile and thank you.
Ever since her husband, Bill died Mom’s been at a loss for creating some kind of purpose in her life. Feeding Bill breakfast, lunch, and dinner used to be her number-one focus – that is until he died and then that role was replaced by me. The feeding of her family has always given Mom hours of daily pleasure. Every meal is carefully planned, prepared, and presented. Cooking for one is not something my Mom has ever known how to do.
Coming home from grade school around three-thirty every afternoon, my siblings and I went straight to the kitchen where that evening’s dinner was already a work in progress. Every meal was prepared from scratch. The smells emanating from Mom’s kitchen would rival the best of Italian restaurants. No wonder most Italians prefer home-cooking over eating out.
I bring all of this up to make an important point. Creating a purposeful life as we age is one of the key elements of successful aging. In spite of aches and pains, successfully aging older adults make the effort to get out of bed, get dressed for the day, and hit the road running with a project or two. They are working, they are volunteering. They are teaching and they are blogging. All-in-all, successful agers are givers.
Roger Landry, M.D., president of Masterpiece Living repeatedly tells us, “When life seems pointless, finding meaning in our later years heads off depression and isolation.” And never is finding purpose in life more critical than in the family caregiver process. In our American culture, which is pretty much void of honoring the aged, we almost always have to take it upon ourselves to help our elderly loved ones find a way to help break the vicious cycle of loneliness, neediness, depression, and self-centeredness among the older people in our lives. The rewards are many. When our elders are engaged in living a life of purpose, it lessens their demands and dependence on us.
Encouraging your elders to pursue a more productive and engaged lifestyle can begin by asking them the kinds of questions that will help get them out of a rut. Perhaps the following questions will rekindle their zest for living a meaningful life:
What interests you?
What is important for you to do right now?
Is there a special talent that you can teach someone else?
Can you think of anyone who can use your help right now?
Have you considered volunteering for a cause that's important to you?