The new year is a time that we plan to do things differently, change behaviors, improve ourselves and make a fresh start. For many of us I suspect the resolutions are largely physical in nature, promising to exercise every day or stick to our diet and the like. Mine was to do 30 days sugar-free which lasted about 24 hours! I started to wonder, as I thought about this January phenomenon, whether we reach a point in our lives when we stop making those resolutions, when we accept that January 1 is just the next day after December 31 and doesn’t carry the weight of promises or pledges or plans.
Turns out, as I talk with some of our older adults, that age is not a determinant in whether those resolutions are made but that the nature of these resolutions is different. When asked “What was your new year’s resolution?” the responses were deeper and more emotional than we hear from our contemporaries or younger people. The resolutions that our older adults are making have to do with connecting, like “I’m going to call my grandchildren once a week.” They have to do with creating legacies, committing to finding time to share their stories and their values with the younger generations. Still others are focused on staying healthy, mentally and physically, either with a goal in mind “to be at my great granddaughter’s wedding” or just to strive for a year of being and feeling strong.
These resolutions are not just idle statements that we make and discard, that we create every year and fail to achieve. Rather, it seems to me, these are statements of purpose and meaning, words that are motivating and filled with focus. Maggie Kuhn founded the Gray Panthers in 1970 in response to being forced into retirement at age 65. She chronicled her life in a memoir entitled “No Stone Unturned,” and had some powerful things to say about purpose and older adults. She wrote “What can we do, those of us who have survived to this advanced age? We can think and speak. We can remember. We can give advice and make judgments. We can dial the phone, write letters, and read. We may not be able to butter our bread, but we can still change the world.”
We can help the older adults in our lives to do just that. We do that by remembering that despite age, disease or disability, these are individuals who have achieved and can still achieve. We do that by looking past age and focusing on the person, working with their strengths rather than their deficits. We do that by making our own resolution—to create our own story by helping the older adults in our lives continue to develop and share their stories. Each day we build more of our own legacy, our own history. How wonderful would it be if, in that process, we helped older adults to continue to build theirs?