When my parents first bought a house in the small town of Lumsden, Saskatchewan, it was more a retirement community than anything else. The nearby capital city of Regina was growing fast and considered the place to be for young families, while Lumsden’s population was mostly aging couples that had lived in or around the town for years.
Because of that, I had plenty of interactions with seniors as I was growing up. Mrs Cox, the widow across the back alley, made me a baby blanket shortly after I was born. My next door neighbours the Sagins grew a beautiful garden and would often let me help select a bouquet of flowers to bring home and put on the table. And when I was a little older, Mrs. Neidermeyer from church taught me how to make the most delicious biscuits I’ve ever had in my life.
Thanks to those early interactions, I’ve always understood the value that seniors bring to the lives of those that love them and to the community as a whole. When they’re not helping their family in dozens of different ways (including providing childcare, doing chores and even offering financial support), they’re contributing in the community, whether that’s by interacting with the younger generation the way my neighbours did with me or by volunteering, something 78% of Canadian seniors currently do.
But of all the seniors that I’ve known, none has been a bigger influence on my life than my recently departed grandfather. Born in England, he married my grandmother in Finland and lived there for years before deciding to immigrate to Canada with his wife and four children when World War II threatened to reach the Finnish borders. They lived and worked in British Columbia and my mother eventually moved to Saskatchewan to attend law school, where she met my father and bought the small Lumsden house where I was raised.
My grandfather had a fascinating life in his youth but personally, I only ever knew him in his senior years. And it’s those years that shaped my opinions of him, my belief in the importance of seniors in our lives and my views of what it truly means to be a good person.
My grandfather ran a large nursery in the Vancouver area but when he retired, it was clear that he wasn’t the type to kick back and relax. He dove into his retirement years with the same energy and passion that he had given his business. He was an avid volunteer and logged hundreds of hours working at a crisis call centre in Vancouver, listening to the stories of those in desperate situations and offering compassion and thoughtful advice to those that needed it most.
He also put his past horticultural skills to work volunteering with the Swaziland government in Africa. The landlocked nation in South Africa was slowly converting most of its natural wilderness to pastureland for cattle and he worked to help properly record and categorize native Swazi flora before it was potentially wiped out. I visited him in Swaziland in my early twenties, sleeping on a padded mat on the packed dirt floor of his little village hut and loving every minute of it. He fell in love with the Swazi people and their relaxed way of life, and returned three more times to volunteer in the country.
Grandfather found life to be an endless source of creative inspiration and after his retirement, he published numerous books of poetry. His work was well-received in creative circles and he was regularly asked to come and do readings for university classes teaching poetry.
And on top of all of that, he was a constant presence in the lives of his grandchildren. There were fourteen of us in all and he never forgot to send a birthday card or missed attending a wedding as long as he was alive. When my oldest son was born, he drove from Vancouver to my small Saskatchewan home town just to meet him and spend a few days with me.
My grandfather passed away about two years ago at 89 years of age. As much as I miss him, I truly believe that nobody could have packed more living into 89 years of life than Grandad did. He decided against looking into treatment options for the cancer that took him and as hard as I know it was for my mom and her siblings to do, they accepted his right to say goodbye to the world.
What strikes me most when I think about my grandfather is how many of his accomplishments came after retiring. It was in his senior years that he became a published poet, that he travelled the world helping others, that he saved countless lives volunteering in the crisis centre. It was in his senior years that he provided his wisdom and patience to others to help them become better people as well. And right up until he died, he spent his senior years being a constant source of comfort and inspiration to his family.
A recent survey showed that younger generations of Canadians view advice from the seniors in their life as a more important and valuable gift than money or financial support. For me, that was certainly the case. And as much as I love and admire my grandfather, he’s just been one of the amazing seniors that I’ve had the honour of knowing in my lifetime. From volunteer work to family assistance to invaluable advice, seniors offer so much to our community in so many ways. Check out EverythingZoomer.com to read more about how seniors across Canada are giving back and making a different. You can even vote for two of four semi-finalists on the Love Every Age contest that recognises active seniors in Canada. And, always remember to take the time to visit with a special senior in your life today and show them how much they matter to you!
I took this photo just after my grandad's funeral a few months ago on a bridge he used to often walk over in Vancouver . It would have felt weird sharing it right then, but the more I see it, the more I love it. The flower looks like the only colour in the picture. My grandad brought colour to people's lives the same way. #tbt