August is a month with several days designated for celebration. Aug. 11 is National Raspberry Tart Day; the 13th is International Left-Handers Day; the 15th is National Relaxation Day; and Aug. 19 is National Potato Day.
One day in August is a bit more serious. It is National Senior Citizens Day celebrated on Aug. 21 each year. President Ronald Reagan proclaimed the first National Senior Citizens Day in 1988. He wrote, “For all they have achieved throughout life and for all they continue to accomplish, we owe older citizens our thanks and heartfelt salute.” Prior to 1988, some celebrated a similar day on Aug. 14; the day in 1935 President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed legislation for the Social Security Act.
Several websites describe ways to celebrate the day: Stay connected to loved ones, encourage physical touch and eye contact, make small talk, start a family history project and practice random acts of kindness.
As I was reviewing these suggestions, it occurred to me that my family and I just had such experiences. Here’s the context.
Several months ago I wrote a column on the legacy of a house. It referred to the home of my sister in Philadelphia who unexpectedly died at age 81. The column dealt with saying goodbye to the things in her home that triggered cherished memories, a different goodbye compared to a funeral.
Although the memory of a loved one remains, what else is there after the rugs, paintings, clocks and candy dishes are gone? The answer is relationships.
I recently hosted what we have called the “All Girls Weekend” for family members. My sister, had she lived, would have hosted her third one in Philadelphia. As the next in line I volunteered. Thirteen women arrived from New Jersey, Oregon, Arizona, Colorado and both northern and southern California to spend a weekend together. The oldest was 91; the youngest was 7.
The weekend was a tribute to our 91-year-old matriarch and my late sister. What better way to celebrate Senior Citizens Day (a bit early) than to continue a legacy of fostering family relationships among the generations.
In retrospect, the All Girls Weekend embraced recommendations for celebrating Senior Citizens Day. Given that many were in their 60s and older, the model seemed to fit.
STAYING CONNECTED TO LOVED ONES
Although technology provides new ways to stay connected, face to face without the screen was the best. And knowing you are not alone is a gift.
ENCOURAGE PHYSICAL TOUCH AND EYE CONTACT
We kissed, touched, hugged and made eye contact with our 91-year old cousin – and with each other. The simple presence of a friend or a hug from a family member can make us feel better. In many cases that feeling has a physical basis by increasing cortisol levels and reducing stress.
START A FAMILY HISTORY PROJECT
A cousin had started a family tree and asked us to fill in some of the blanks. The project is on-going. The compilation of my sister’s recipes is serving as a gastronomical history project.
MAKE SMALL TALK
Small talk is considered polite conversation about unimportant or uncontroversial matters. It’s considered conversation for its own sake. Examples from our weekend: the merits of various chocolates brought as gifts; the amount of waiting time to consume a homemade cheese cake after it is baked; which dessert to eat among the eight home-baked goodies; the optimum amount of sun screen to use; which path to hike and of course when to have breakfast, lunch and dinner.
PRACTICE RANDOM ACTS OF KINDNESS
Financial gifts went to undisclosed recipients; safety was ensured to those who had some limitations; and the expression of love and caring for one another were ongoing.
One may wonder why the weekend was girls only. Women tend to connect and bond a little differently than men. A co-ed reunion is in the works.
Although celebrating Left Hander’s Day, Raspberry Tart Day and Potato Day have their place, Senior Citizens Day touches the core of our humanity – to remember, to honor and embrace older people who touch our lives, our communities and our nation. It can begin with just the family.
Send emails to Helen Dennis at firstname.lastname@example.org, or go to www.facebook.com/SuccessfulAgingCommunity