May designated as Older Americans Month

Way back in 1963, the year I was born, President John F. Kennedy, at the urging of the National Council of Senior Citizens, declared May as “Senior Citizens Month,” a time to honor the contributions made to our country by the 17 million American people who, at that time, had reached their 65th birthdays.

Over time, the month was renamed to the better-sounding “Older Americans Month” and was used to call attention to the fact that as many as one-third of seniors were living in poverty and had few relevant programs that met their needs. Fortunately, services have improved for seniors over the past five decades, but the month is still used to keep the awareness of senior issues at the forefront.

I have been accused of unabashed advocacy for seniors, to which I plead guilty. But I should point out I am more an advocate for fairness, justice and the old-fashioned common sense that seems to be an increasingly scarce commodity within upcoming generations. I respect and feel more aligned with the values of today’s seniors than I do many of their younger counterparts. Please recognize that my espousing the merits of older adults in comparison to the demerits of teenagers is because one is currently having a more detrimental effect on my mental health and bottom line.

This year’s Older American Month theme is “Age Out Loud.” According to the Older Americans website, that means to give aging a new voice – reflective of the voice of today’s older Americans. “The theme shines a light on many important trends. More than ever before, older Americans are working longer, trying new things, and engaging in their communities. They’re taking charge, striving for wellness, focusing on independence, and advocating for themselves and others.”

I agree. When I look at the communities in our area, much of the socially-beneficial work that is being done through churches, service clubs and other organizations is by seniors. They have both the experience and the time to contribute to community charities and projects. I have a lot of respect for their know-how, energy, availability and commitment to making the world a better place.

Sure, that’s not every senior. Like in every age group, there are some who champion no cause other than their armchair and TV, or who spend their time and money only on personal pursuits. That’s a given. My respect goes to those who want to make a lasting impact on the world through their positive engagement with other people and investment in the community. They continue to be my role models for doing good better.

One of the best ways to observe Older Americans Month is to thank the seniors who have made a positive difference in your life. Send them a note, email or message; give them a call; take them out for a meal; or better yet, stop by and see them.

The month of May also contains “Visit Your Relatives Day” on May 18th.  I strongly suggest you combine Older Americans Month with Visit Your Relatives Day and spend May 18th visiting your older relatives. I have long enjoyed visiting my older relatives, as well as my older “fictive kin” (non-family members who function as relatives). At the funeral home where I work, people frequently send flowers when someone dies. While that’s nice and much-appreciated by the family of the deceased, it always makes me wonder if anyone ever took the time to send, or better yet, deliver a bouquet in-person while the deceased was still alive.

I’m sure the time taken would have been savored, even if you only hung around for a 20-minute conversation or a cup of coffee. I’ve learned some of my most interesting family information during short, sometimes impromptu visits with aging relatives, often things they were thinking about as they entered the closing years of their lives and wanted to be sure to pass on to other family members.

If the time has passed for honoring a life difference-making senior in-person, share a memory of that person through a photo, a conversation with others or an online post. There’s no better way to promote life-engagement than through acknowledging those who lived fully and helpfully.

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