Who’s at your table? Why we should be thankful for the seniors in our life.

Dana Herron Information for Caregivers, Woodland Ridge News
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Being thankful for seniors in our lives

This month, we begin to turn our minds towards all the reasons we have to be thankful. The Thanksgiving holiday focuses our attention on gathering with family and friends and celebrating with plenty of food, fun, and, of course, football.

As you join your friends and family this Thanksgiving, take a look around the table. Make a point to be especially thankful for seniors who are still with you. If you are blessed to have parents and grandparents in your life, make sure they know how thankful you are for their presence.

Thanksgiving gatherings may also provide the perfect time to recognize these special people and embrace their stories. With a little prompting, you can discover a treasure of life experiences, wisdom, struggle, and joy. Talking with older friends and family has always given me a better insight into the world they experienced as well as a better insight into their lives and the experiences that shaped them into the special people they are today.

Putting away the cell phones and turning off the television for even a few minutes of quality time with older family and friends can give you even more reasons to be thankful this season as you learn more about your friends and family. Remember, though, that “The Greatest Generation” and even a few generations afterwards have never really talked about themselves. They have had a far different life experience – and one that was far more private – than today’s social media-driven, constant sharing of trivial thoughts as the norm of social interaction.

With that in mind, understand that you’ll have to ask some questions to get them to talk about themselves. Once you open up a dialogue and show genuine interest in their lives, you’ll be amazed at what you learn.

One of my friends, Bill, told me about serving in the Battle of the Bulge as part of an assignment of reinforcements. His group was dubbed the “battle babies” by soldiers who’d been fighting much longer, but he and his group helped hold the line and they were awarded the Bronze Star. He recalled his first experience with German shells coming in: he was carrying two cans of gasoline and took cover with the two cans beside him, only later realizing how dangerous that was and that, despite the training he’d been through, he truly was a “battle baby.” Others have told stories of rationing, of receiving censored letters from soldiers overseas – lovers, brothers, husbands – whose letters had been censored to protect them. Those at home during World War II overwhelming felt that any sacrifices they had to make were bearable as long as the soldiers had what they needed.

Another friend told me about a skinny dipping experience she’d had as a young teenager. She had never told a soul about going skinny dipping, but there was no one now to chastise her, so she talked and laughed about how the boy she was with dared her to go skinny dipping with him. She was up to the challenge, but said the lake was freezing cold and the whole experience was hilarious. The boy she was with actually worked for her father, and if she’d told anyone, he would’ve been in trouble. So it was her secret – for more than 60 years!

I am so thankful for seniors I’ve met along the way, and all that they’ve taught me. I cherish the stories my friends have shared with me, and I know their families would be grateful for the opportunity to learn more about their loved ones. Encouraging older family and friends to talk about their lives and their experiences also shows that you recognize the importance of their legacy. By truly honoring them, you show how thankful you are for their presence in your life. Maybe some of the questions and topics below will help start a dialogue. The conversation can be captivating and can remind you of what’s most important among your list of reasons to be thankful.

Start the kind of conversation that will leave you thankful for seniors you’ve known and loved

  • What do you remember about Thanksgiving with your family when you were growing up (or Christmas or other holidays)?
  • What type of work did you do when you were younger? How did you begin that type of work?
  • How did you meet your spouse? Tell me about your courtship.
  • What inventions or improvements have you seen over the course of your life that have made the most impact on you?
  • Of what in your life are you most proud? Why?
  • Is there anything funny or crazy that you’ve done that you’ve never told anyone about?
  • Do you have a favorite memory from your childhood? From your married life?
  • How do you want your family to remember you?
  • Tell me what going to school (or growing up) was like for you.
  • Is there anything you really wanted to do in your life, but didn’t get to do? Tell me about that.
  • What one lesson have you learned in your life that you’d like to share with me?
  • Is there any event or person who changed the course of your life? Tell me about that.