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fall 2015 | Volume 24, Number 4 Musings from Silver Spring with Claudio Consuegra
Claudio Consuegra
Gray Matters

Lately I have been receiving quite a few e-mails from my bank with information about financial planning, retirement, and other related topics. One recently caught my attention as it had to do with gray divorce, which, according to the online link,1 has increased significantly since 1990. As it explains, according to a 2012 study by sociologists at Bowling Green State University, 25% of people getting divorced are age 50 or older, whereas in 1990 that number was just 10%.

So what’s behind the gray divorce boom? According to social scientists, to Americans the meaning of marriage has shifted dramatically throughout the last 50 years. People are not just looking for stability and security but also self-fulfillment and personal satisfaction. There has also been a cultural shift. For instance, the traditional roles of the men as the breadwinner and the women as the homemaker are mostly long gone. At the same time, more Americans than ever believe divorce is morally acceptable, with the percentage who say this jumping to 70% in Gallup’s 2008 Values and Beliefs survey, up from 59% in 2001, and breaking the previous high of 67% in 2006.

With expectations of marriage being so diverse, and divorce being so culturally commonplace and easily accessible, more spouses are looking at the second half of their lives and asking, “Am I better off with or without my spouse?” Now that people who are age 65 can be expected, on average, to live another 20 to 25 years, it seems as if those in unhappy marriages are less willing than ever before to sacrifice the years they have left in a less than wholly gratifying commitment.

As the online article points out, another factor that appears to influence Boomers’ decisions to divorce is so-called light bulb moments. It is natural, as one grows older, to evaluate our quality of life. Many of us have experienced an empty nest, some milestone birthdays, retirement, or perhaps the premature death of a friend, peer, or spouse. Those critical events may prompt us to reassess how committed we are to a relationship that is anything less than ideal.

Since this piece comes from Wells Fargo Bank, it is understandable that they would bring up the financial considerations of a divorce late in life. As they point out, for those older adults who are economically secure, and who enjoy good health, a gray divorce may not have many negative consequences financially and could mark a new chapter in their life. For others, a gray divorce could result in facing financial uncertainty or even devastation.

I have always been opposed to prenuptial agreements because I consider them planning for failure. When marriage is a lifetime commitment, we will do all in our power to see that it lasts and we live happily ever after. I said that one time to a friend, who is a family attorney, and she explained to me that for older adults a prenuptial agreement is advisable. The folks at DivorceNet2 explain that “The reality is that individuals in middle and later life are likely to have more significant assets than younger couples. Additionally, seniors often have important financial obligations in the form of alimony or child support payments, and have likely amassed separate property estates (assets, such as property and money) that they want to leave to their children. Therefore, seniors walking down the aisle often have more to protect than younger couples.”

Seniors planning to remarry often face some or all of the following common concerns:

  • Losing vital benefits, such as their former spouse’s pension payments, Social Security benefits, or medical insurance benefits if they get remarried.
  • Putting their children’s inheritances at risk.
  • Many seniors who are recovering from traumatic marriages and divorces sometimes vow not to marry again- they may have learned the hard way that even with prenuptial agreements, marriages that end in divorce can create costly legal battles and all-out financial warfare.

It is very important that seniors approach the idea of a prenuptial agreement with an open mind. Preparing a prenuptial agreement does not mean you’re planning to divorce or that you don’t trust your new spouse. What it does is help the couple recognize the seriousness of their upcoming commitment of marriage and to plan for it, and also make provision for their individual families when one or both pass away. The same online link from DivorceNet shares three common sense tips to use when you negotiate a prenuptial agreement:

  1. Discuss the subject early. If you have been open with your future spouse, the issue of a prenuptial agreement should not come as a surprise to them.
  2. Hire separate attorneys. They explain, “To help ensure that a prenuptial agreement will be legally enforceable, both spouses must hire separate lawyers. Use only matrimonial lawyers who are familiar with prenuptial agreements. Moreover, make sure that your lawyer has at least ten years of experience. Ask your attorney at the first meeting what the anticipated charges will be.”
  3. Get a witness. Make sure the agreement is in writing, and ensure that the signing is witnessed by a lawyer.
Nobody expects that after several decades of marriage a couple would take the divorce route or that in their later years a person would find him/herself single and with the prospect of getting married again. The fact is that it is happening more often than we wish to believe.
 

In this issue of Family Life we will look at the senior years of a person and explore the different dynamics that this special season in their life brings.

References

1https://www.wellsfargoadvisors.com/life-events/articles/gray-divorce-boom.htm (accessed 11-2-15)

2http://www.divorcenet.com/states/new_jersey/prenuptial_agreements_for_seniors (Accessed 11-2-15)

From the Editor with Jeffrey O. Brown
Jeffrey O. Brown
Marriage in the Blue Zone

Joyce Landorf Heatherley wrote, “Of all the multitude of tragedies in growing old, the forfeiting of a dream, the losing of hope, and the failure to look forward to spring are the greatest.”1 Spring hope, as opposed to winter blues. This article hypothesizes that there is a correlation between longevity in life expectancy and longevity in marital expectancy. Blue may be associated with depressive moods or degenerate material, but by no means is blue always negative.

National Geographic refers to blue zones — those select areas of the world where life expectancy is far above the societal norm. In North America, only one such blue zone has been identified. It is located in Loma Linda, California.2 Here one finds an extremely high concentration of Seventh-day Adventists who follow a healthy lifestyle based upon the established counsel of church pioneer Ellen White: “Pure air, sunlight, abstemiousness, rest, exercise, proper diet, the use of water, trust in divine power—these are the true remedies.”3

Adherence to the above principles may yield beneficial results not only for physical health but also for marital health. The Old English rhyme, “Something Olde, Something New, Something Borrowed, Something Blue,” refers to four objects the bride may carry. Something old represents continuity; something new offers optimism for the future; something borrowed symbolizes borrowed happiness; and something blue stands for purity, love, and fidelity. Can marriage, then, have its own blue zone?

Marriage and family therapist Jennifer Chappell Marsh states, “Having a healthy marriage creates a positive impact on each person’s happiness and life longevity.”4 Family psychologist David Olson’s Prepare/Enrich assesses the health of couple relationships through ten core scales within its 125-item questionnaire: idealistic distortion, communication, conflict resolution, partner style and habits, financial management, leisure activities, sexuality and affection, family and friends, relationship roles, and spiritual beliefs.5 To what extent do laws that promote and prolong physical health also promote and prolong marital health?

Concentrations of long-living Seventh-day Adventists are found around the country. Indeed, according to DeWitt Williams, the city of Huntsville, Alabama, home to the historically black Oakwood University, is now called the black blue zone. Results from the Adventist Health Study 2 have led lead investigator Gary Fraser to assert that “the same phenomenon that we see among White California Adventists is alive and well among Black members in the Huntsville region. That’s very exciting and wonderful to contemplate.”6 Do residents of blue zones, therefore, enjoy correspondingly healthier marriages?

Andrew McChesney reports that Oakwood University, “the Seventh-day Adventist-owned university in Huntsville, Alabama, has revised its curriculum to incorporate the eight laws of health backed by the Adventist world church’s health ministries department: sunlight, temperance, adequate rest, nutrition, drink water, outdoors, use of physical activity, and trust in God.”7 Oakwood University has conveniently packaged these laws into the acronym STAND OUT. How do factors identified as vital for physical health correlate with factors identified by Olson as being vital for marital health?

SUNLIGHT — correlates with Conflict Resolution
Research shows that about 20 percent of people with bipolar disorder experience fluctuations in mood when the weather changes. Experts pinpoint lack of sunlight as the reason. Our circadian rhythms, the body’s internal response to changes in a 24-hour day, respond to the amount of sunlight. Sunlight also increases our level of serotonin, which is a neurotransmitter that regulates our appetite, sleep, memory and mood.8 Negative mood hostility is a risk factor for many disorders, thereby greatly increasing the chances of marital discord.

TEMPERANCE — correlates with Family and Friends
Heavy drinking, alcohol problems and alcohol use disorders are all associated with lower marital satisfaction. Alcohol use (whether by perpetrator or victim) is a contributing factor in domestic violence and aggression, both physical and psychological, whether inside or outside the home. Alcohol and substance use are among the most common reasons given for a divorce, the third most common reason for women and eighth most common for men. It is also one of the most common reasons given for seeking marriage counseling.9

ADEQUATE REST — correlates with Communication
Research demonstrates that sleep affects the dynamic of gratitude and appreciation between couples. Results show that people tend to feel less appreciated by their partners if either they or their partner slept poorly. It was also discovered that a lack of sleep by one partner was likely to result in diminished feelings of appreciation by both partners, demonstrating just how deeply sleep can impact the communication patterns of a relationship.10

NUTRITION — correlates with Partner Style and Habits
Mental health counselor Pamela Higgins maintains that what we eat and drink directly impacts the way we act, feel and think, and ultimately influences who we become. Every decision we make regarding food either has a negative or positive impact on our mind and body. “Mental (emotional balance, alertness and clarity) and physical performance are all directly improved by what we call ‘optimum nutrition’.”11

DRINK WATER — correlates with Idealistic Distortion
Lack of water can affect your view of reality. Research says dehydration can affect your mood and make you grumpy and confused. Persons can generally think clearer and be happier by drinking more water. It can improve mood by making us feel refreshed causing a positive state of mind. Mood changes are not limited to large deprivations of water. Water needs to be consumed regularly because even mild dehydration has been shown to negatively impact moods.12

OUTDOORS — correlates with Leisure Activities
Compared with exercising indoors, exercising in natural environments was associated with greater feelings of revitalization, increased energy and positive engagement, together with decreases in tension, confusion, anger and depression. Research participants also reported greater enjoyment and satisfaction with outdoor activity. Choose outdoor recreation over indoor video games. ‘Nature deficit disorder’ suggests that those who “spend too much time staring at screens may develop attention deficits, hyperactivity, or depression.”13

USE PHYSICAL ACTIVITY — correlates with Sexuality and Affection
Exercise has amazing, life-changing benefits. It can help prevent depression, heart disease, and diabetes, and it can also fend off weight gain and improve circulation and lung capacity. Exercise also sets the foundation for a healthy, happy sex life. Regular exercise boosts circulation, tones the body, and primes the brain for sexual satisfaction. It gets the blood flow pumping, which not only creates rosy cheeks, but also improves arousal. Lubrication, genital sensation, and sexual excitement are all fueled by good blood flow.14

TRUST IN GOD — correlates with Spiritual Beliefs and Family and Friends
Linda Waite and Evelyn Lehrer state, “Marriage and religion influence various dimensions of life, including physical health and longevity, mental health and happiness, economic well-being, and the raising of children.”15 Clay Routledge affirms that religion promotes feelings of belongingness.16 It is more than a personal relationship between an individual and God.
Blue is no longer the depression associated with winter, but now the rejuvenation associated with spring. Adherence to the eight laws of health points in the direction of longevity both in physical and marital health. We cannot all live in Loma Linda, California or Huntsville, Alabama — but by following the principles contained in STAND OUT, we can all still live in the blue zone.”

References

1Heatherley, J. L. (1992). Changepoints. Georgetown, TX: Balcony Publishing

2http://travel.nationalgeographic.com/travel/happiest-places/blue-zones-california-photos/#/swim-lomo-linda_41552_600x450.jpg

3White, E. G. Ministry of Healing, p. 127.

4http://premaritalcounselingsandiego.com

5Anonymous. Marital health: Checkup or check out. Psychology Today (Mar 1995) 28.2, 8.

6Williams, D. S. The “black” blue zone. http://www.adventistreview.org/1524-54.

7http://www.adventistreview.org/church-news/story3170-oakwood-seeks-to-be-healthiest-u.s.-campus

8http://www.everydayhealth.com/bipolar-disorder-pictures/biggest-triggers-of-bipolar-mood-swings.aspx#07; http://elitedaily.com/life/sun-improves-your-life/1001631/

9https://www.buffalo.edu/ria/news_events/es/es12.html#sthash.pkzqkDtK.dpu

10http://www.huffingtonpost.com/dr-michael-j-breus/sleep-relationships_b_2687131.html

11http://www.pinellascountycounselor.com/mental-health-nutrition/

12http://breakingmuscle.com/health-medicine/10-life-changing-reasons-to-drink-more-water; http://greatist.com/health/health-benefits-water

13http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/02/110204130607.htm

14http://www.everydayhealth.com/sexual-health-pictures/dr-laura-berman-sexual-benefits-of-exercise.aspx; http://www.health.com/health/gallery/0,,20668823,00.html

15Waite, L. J. and Lehrer, E., The Benefits from Marriage and Religion in the United States: A Comparative Analysis. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2614329/

16Routledge, C. Is Religion Good for your Health? https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/more-mortal/200908/is-religion-good-y

Presidentially Speaking with David Sedlacek
David Sedlacek
Encouraging Healthy Relationships among the Elderly

There are many factors that contribute to the loneliness that often accompanies growing old. However, as I begin this piece, I want to assert the reality that the majority of persons of retirement age and above are living very satisfied and fulfilling lives. I do not want to stereotype the elderly, as is often done, as sickly, frail, or in need of constant care. While it is true that with age frequently comes a deterioration of physical faculties such as sight, hearing, and muscle strength, it is equally true that many elderly compensate for these deficiencies with greater grace, deeper wisdom and more satisfying intimacy. This is all the more reason to support and even encourage our elderly to develop healthy, loving relationships even into their old age.

The death of one’s spouse often triggers a grief response in the surviving partner. As Proverbs 15:13 states, “By sorrow of the heart, the spirit is broken.” The pain of such a loss can be so keenly felt, that the surviving spouse can lose the will to live. However, there are others who would like to remarry and should not be prevented from doing so. Adult children can present stumbling blocks to their parents who wish to remarry. Sometimes, they view a desire for another relationship as being disloyal to the deceased parent. Other times, they may be uncomfortable with the mere thought that their aging parent might begin a sexual relationship when the reality is that many elderly persons are capable of satisfying sexual expression and deep intimacy well into their 80s and even 90s. When children experience their parents’ relationship as contentious, a more peaceful relationship with another person can be confusing and disconcerting.

However well-meaning, adult children, pastors, friends and church members are unwise to discourage an elderly person from falling in love again and wanting to remarry. First of all, empowering our elderly to make decisions for themselves conveys that we consider them competent rather than cognitively impaired. While older adults do experience varying degrees of cognitive impairment, the majority are quite capable of independent, reasoned decision-making and should be treated as such. Even when we have concerns about a parent’s relational choices, we should support them unless we have evidence to believe that they would be harmed by the choice they are making. Even then, our approach should be one of reasoning with them rather than making decisions for them.

Next, “whether sexually active or not, older adults have a continuing need for intimacy – a strong emotional connection to at least one other person” (McInnis-Dittrich, 2009). Loneliness and disconnection from other people leads to unwanted negative consequences in the elderly such as higher rates of substance abuse, depression, and suicide, particularly among elderly men. It would appear that women, as opposed to men, have an easier time developing lasting, meaningful relationships that reduce the loneliness and many elderly report. The National Social Life, Health, and Aging Project (NSHAP) reported that 53% of respondents between the ages of 65 and 74, and 26 percent of respondents between the ages of 75 and 85 reported sexual activity within the past 12 months (Lindau, et al., 2007). Unfortunately, many young adults cannot believe that their parents or other older adults still have an interest is sexual intimacy. They have still internalized the lie that sex is dirty when in reality it is the gift from God that perhaps reflects His image more than anything else.

If sexual prime is defined in terms of the intimacy of truly knowing another human person rather than sexual prowess, an older couple who have been married for many years, who have struggled and overcome together, raised children together, and learned to forgive each other have a greater capacity for really knowing and enjoying one another than younger persons who are just beginning their journey together. When a couple has been physically intimate for many years, they get to know each other, to recognize what satisfies and what does not, and to be acquainted with the body language and verbal cues of their of sexuality.

When death separates a couple, these longings for intimacy may not disappear with the spouse. After a period of grief, some older persons may elect to seek this type of intimacy with another partner. Some are content to be by themselves and cannot picture themselves with anyone else, but those who do should not be condemned or viewed as disloyal. A better course would be to affirm their courage in seeking another relationship and to support them on their new journey. Interference or meddling in this process can fracture the relationship between the older person and his/her family. It can create needless pain, breed resentment, and lead to depression in the elderly person. Older persons need support from as many persons both within and outside the family circle as possible.

If we maintain an open heart toward an elderly person’s friend, the probability is high that they will also become our friend. With the wisdom of age, comes, in many cases, the ability to seek godly counsel, to pray for God’s discernment and leading, and the resultant choice of a healthy partner. Support from family members can help to predict a more positive outcome for all involved. The biggest challenge, at times, is for family members to get beyond their own issues of grief so that they can be objective supporters of an older family member who is looking for a new relationship. With much prayer and healthy introspection, we can be that person for the older persons that we love. Even in old age, premarital counseling is still wise. There is safety in a multitude of counselors (Proverbs 11:14).

References
1Lindau, S. T., Schumm, L. P., Laumann, E. O., Levinson, W., Muirchearaigh, C.A., & Waite, L. J. (2007). A study of sexuality and health among older adults in the United States. New England Journal of Medicine, 357(8), 762-774

2MiInnis-Dittrich, K. (2009). Social Work with Older Adults (3rd Ed). Boston, MA: Allyn and Bacon

 

Guest Columnist with Cynthia Powell-Hicks, Ph.D.
cynthia powell-hicks
Having The Talk

“I’ve long since retired, my son’s moved away. I called him up just the other day. I said, ‘I’d like to see you if you don’t mind.’ He said, ‘I’d love to, Dad, if I can find the time. You see my new job’s a hassle and kids have the flu. But it’s sure nice talking to you, Dad. It’s been sure nice talking to you.’ And as I hung up the phone it occurred to me, he’d grown up just like me, my boy was just like me.” 1

Finding time to talk is not just beneficial, it is critical; particularly having ‘the talk’ with aging parents. Aging, downsizing, medication, cognitive decline: these are all words that bring with them fear, worry, and anxiety. Where will I live? Will I take medication forever? Am I beginning to slow down? Will I depend on my children or live with them? Will I have to part with most of our things? Will I have to move far from my friends or my church family?

The topics are very common, but the questions can be very maddening, depending on the seniors and one’s relationship to them. Geriatric psychiatrist Ken Robbins (University of Wisconsin-Madison), states, “Start by realizing that there are fundamentally two different types of parents: those with whom you have a relationship in which you can be straightforward and they welcome your ideas and feedback, and those who tend to be more self-conscious or private and don’t welcome this kind of discussion — and may even find it somewhat insulting.”2

New limitations are always unwanted and often frustrating for aging adults. They may try to overlook, trivialize, or rationalize some of their new behaviors (memory loss, item misplacement), but to the family member it is evident that changes have occurred. Are these changes major enough to require attention? A simple assessment of the senior person in your life can be helpful:

  1. Hygiene – Is there neglect in brushing teeth, bathing, and changing clothes?
  2. Medications – Are the medications being taken as prescribed? Do they remember why they take the medicine? Have the medications run out with no refills?
  3. Nutrition – Do they have proper nutrition? Are they eating too much or not enough? Are their meals balanced? How old is the food in the refrigerator?
  4. Appearance – How does the house/apartment/room look? Does it need cleaning? Are there piles of mail that haven’t been opened? Does the kitchen have burnt pots or spoiled food?
  5. Energy – Are simple task now overwhelming?
  6. Socializing – Have they stopped going outside? Do they still interact with friends?
  7. Safety – Have they said, “Oh, I can drive, I just don’t like to drive, especially at night”? Have they had automobile accidents where they may have forgotten where the brake pedal was? Are they able to find their way back home from a familiar location?

Postponing this conversation with your parents (or with yourself) doesn’t make it any easier. Understandably, it can be extremely difficult for everyone. However, early intervention ensure that transitions have the best outcome. The conversations should be nonjudgmental, nonthreatening, and non-accusatory. A posture of love and support will always facilitate transitions associated with seniors. If they resist, give them a few ideas they can think on (e.g. pictures of a potential new place, the advantages of relocating: the opportunity to repaint the bedroom and bring some of their furniture if they are moving in with your family). Revisit the conversation later.

The reality of having multigenerational households has its challenges and can cause disharmony in the household. In order to minimize conflict, the family should first consider:

  1. Compatibility – Are we compatible? Are we comfortable living with an aging relative?
  2. Safety – Is your house (bathroom, kitchen, bedroom) free of dangerous items? Develop and review a home safety plan.
  3. Availability – Do you have a first floor bedroom, free from stairs?
  4. Accessibility – Will a ramp need to be installed, or any other modifications?
  5. Desirability – Will the family have the time, energy, or desire to devote to an aging loved one?
  6. Illness – What will happen if the aging loved one becomes ill (Alzheimer’s, dementia or any other health-related episode)?
  7. Assistance – Will your loved one need additional assistance (e.g. caregiver or in-home nurse)?

Plans should be in place in the event of any emergency before the loved one moves in. The plans should be discussed with all persons involved regarding the roles and responsibilities each one will play. Though apparently overwhelming, this can be most rewarding and reassuring. You will know they will receive the best of care by a loved one or a caregiver selected by the family. It is easier to watch your loved one at your home while caring for your own family (spouse and/or children) rather than care for the loved one at a different location. Furthermore, it affords you the irredeemable opportunity for quality time during their final life season.
The Wall Street Journal columnist Sue Shellenbarger wrote, “A humbling truth about being a ‘Work & Family’ columnist is that you sometimes violate the principles you are writing about, even as you write. For much of the past year-and-a-half, I resolved to spend some extended time with my 78-year-old father. In reality, I had only a couple of hurried visits with my father during that time. The call came from my brother: Dad had suffered a severe stroke while vacationing in Florida and was lying in a coma. He never left the hospital, and died eight days later.

“While savoring the present moment with loved ones has been a theme of my ‘Work & Family’ column for nine years, it took my father’s death to teach me how ingrained in me was the unconscious habit of living in the future — a habit that can be a powerful asset in the realm of finance or one’s career, but is often toxic when applied to human relationships.

“All sorts of rationalizations flitted through my head: I will spend some time with Dad when I get ahead of my deadlines, when my daughter completes her choir tour, when basketball season ends, when soccer season ends, when school’s out, when I pay off some debt, when I get organized, when things slow down a little. The missed connections seemed temporary, the relative silence between us so brief. How much value can a few missed opportunities have in a rich lifelong relationship?

“Taking the lesson of my father’s death to heart, I am consciously slowing my life’s pace. Now and then, when I find myself in a peaceful moment, relishing a sweet remark from one of my kids, the words I wish I had spoken to him pop into my head: ‘I’m ready now, Dad. I’m ready to spend some time.’ There is, of course, no answer.”3

We know it is only in a perfect world that everything works out perfectly. Be realistic and flexible when something does not go as planned. Don’t allow it to derail you or distress you. “We know that in all things God works for good with those who love Him.”4 Being prepared for the transition will reduce potential stress for all. Have the talk -- and be grateful for the honor and privilege of spending this special time with your loved one.

References
1Chapin, H. The Cat’s in the Cradle. http://www.azlyrics.com/lyrics/harrychapin/catsinthecradle.html

2Scott, P. S. How to Have “The Talk” With Your Parents. https://www.caring.com/articles/difficult-conversations-with-seniors.

3Shellenbarger, S. My Own Mirage: Our Columnist Ignored Her Own Advice, at Great Personal Cost. The Wall Street Journal, Dec. 17, 1999. http://www.wsj.com/articles/SB945388366398451922 (adapted).

4Romans 8:28, Good News BibleGuest Columnist with Pattiejean Brown


Pattiejean Brown
Love Them While We Can

I admired some of the senior citizens I worked with. They respected me, a female carer. Though their pride was pounded and their dignity dented, they just got on with life. We would bathe them or help them to use the washroom. We would have them get undressed in front of the carer. Some had to wear diapers because they could no longer control themselves. We would get annoyed at them. They didn’t want to be there and many responded to the seniors’ negative attitudes and behaviors by pinching or slapping them. Seeing them in the many nursing homes I worked in, I have often felt ashamed of how we react to our seniors.

Dr. Elizabeth Podnieks, co-chair of the Roundtable on Elder Abuse, states that 4-10% of seniors in western countries experience some form of abuse. “Many vulnerable seniors do not report abuse perhaps out of shame, or guilt, or fear. The signs of abuse can go easily undetected.” Ageism is defined as (1) discrimination based on chronological age; (2) the notion that people cease to be persons by virtue of having lived a specific number of years; (3) the use of age to define capability and roles; (4) a process of systematic stereotyping of and discrimination against people just because they are old; and (5) simply being told, “you’re too old.” While they have life, our seniors have so much to give us. Somebody said the mind is a terrible thing to waste.

At ages 102 and 104, the Delany sisters published Having Our Say: The Delany Sisters’ First One Hundred Years. These women are vivid examples of the cognitive potential that exists even late in life. Holding dear to family, faith, and the power of inspiring music, they survived and surmounted segregation until Sadie’s quiet determination led her to become the first African-American home economics teacher in New York City, while the outspoken Bessie became its second black dentist. We rob ourselves of so much when we ignore at best and mistreat at worst our seniors. Attorney-general David Young stated, “Elder abuse is too often a silent crime. Too often seniors are abused by their family members, caregivers, neighbors, and others.” Let’s assist them while we can.

The well-known image, My Wife and My Mother-in-law, is an example of pictographic ambiguity. This is where a single drawing has more than one image contained within it, depending on how you look at it. Can you see more than one image? The picture shows a young woman intimately connected to an older one. (Clue: the chin of the young woman becomes the nose of the older lady).

It is imperative that young persons not let go of seniors and it is vital that seniors not lose touch with young people. In the inevitable cycle of nature, winter love, staring futility and finality in the face, is reborn and rejuvenated when connected with spring. When the trunk of an apple tree is rotting in the center and about to fall, a wise gardener will want to preserve the fruit-bearing qualities of the mature tree. So she will graft a sprout from the old apple tree on to a branch of a young, strong apple tree. In the spring, when the sprout begins to grow, not only will it bear apples like the old tree, but the tree will grow a variety of apples it has never grown before. Grafting, then, brings mutual benefit. It enriches the life of the young and preserves the life of the old. We saw this when, in 2013, my grandmother-in-law in Jamaica turned 100 years old.

Though appreciated, we may forget the congratulatory cards received, even from the Queen of England; but we will never forget the bond Gran formed with her great-grandchildren, all in their early twenties. They soaked up the wisdom of this venerable woman of God, sometimes with laughter, often with tears. Our son Jamel asked Gran’s views on love and relationships. She said that “wanting to find love and form relationships is good and natural, but look beneath the surface. Don’t fixate on the pretty person, instead find a kind, courteous, and considerate companion. Don’t judge a book by its cover.” When you make it to a hundred, I think you get to know what’s important and what’s not. Let’s learn from them while we can.

Winter love is like a giant sieve that strains out what is important and what is not, what is worth arguing about and what is not, what is worth fighting against and what is not — even what is worth crying for and what is not. Winter love has experienced loss and moved on. It has had more than its fair share of heartaches and heartbreaks, but it has come up smiling. You will need all your life skills to see you through winter and the death of friends, family, even the death of your spouse. That’s why it is called the dead of winter.

At such times, you have two choices — suffocate or resuscitate. One leads to death; the other leads to life. While death presides over winter, it does not have to penetrate it. Its shadow does not have to be its substance. Its presence does not have to be its permanence. Winter love is not about preparing the dying, it is about repairing the living. Repair unfulfilled dreams, repair unfinished projects, repair broken relationships — before it is too late. At General Conference Session in San Antonio, Texas, we got the news: Gran passed, July 2015 — aged 102. Let’s love them while we can.

Christian songwriter Bill Gaither wrote:
“The folks that taught us our first words still have much to say.
The silver secrets of the world lie beneath those crowns of gray.
As they approach the end,
We change our role from children to best friends.
We must love them while we can.
For time just seems to hurry by and the days slip into years.
And the moments that we have will disappear.
So love them while you can.”