We visited a small rural church last summer, Bev and I. We were probably the youngest ones present, and we’re in our mid-80s!
People aged 80 and older represent about four percent of the national population, according to a 2021 Statistics Canada study. And we punch above our weight class: StatCan also shows that my age group gives 12 percent of all charitable donations.
In most congregations, however, the share is much larger. From my seat with the choir at Central Okanagan United, I occasionally do an informal census of the people warming the pews. A third to a half would be 75 or older.
I’m younger at 86 than my father was at 66. So let’s stop calling people in the 65-to-80 age group “seniors.” They are not. Call it an “extended middle age.” Because of health care and other factors, Bev and I had a delightful time in our middle-aged 60s and 70s, travelling, volunteering, spending time with family. The golden years.
Then, as we moved into our 80s, health issues forced us to leave our house of 30 years and move into a retirement residence. We are typical. Bev and I had become old. The 150 “wrinkled pioneers” we moved in with are all unique. Every one of us has serious, life-threatening health issues to deal with. But few of us are letting that get in the way of living a life. We speak of adding years to our life and adding life to our years. But it’s an uphill climb.
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Society in general, including many people in the church, seem to think of us as an amorphous assembly of grey-haired sponges soaking up your health-care dollars. The COVID-19 pandemic mostly reinforced this stereotype.
Anything in the media about “seniors” is about the young old — those in their extended middle age. Photos of “old” people are usually of healthy folks in their 50s. Those of us who are seriously old are simply invisible.
Don’t get me wrong. Us geezers don’t complain a lot. Except that we are mostly ignored. Society works hard to keep us amused. My mom, living in Lion’s Manor in Winnipeg, complained that “they keep entertaining us, but nobody ever needs us for anything.”
Well, both church and society need us. Badly. They need our money — the money we put on the plate and the money we will leave in our wills.
More than that, there is a wealth of wisdom, experience and spiritual insight that now is vanishing down the social drainpipe. We oldsters may be our country and our church’s greatest untapped natural resource.
What do we need? Just to be taken seriously.
Ralph Milton is a journalist and the author of Well Aged: Making the Most of Your Platinum Years.
This column first appeared in Broadview’s March 2022 issue with the title “Untapped natural resources.”
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