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Thursday, March 4, 2010

Senior Momentum: Lost in the Shuffle

Don’t know about most of you, but a lot of the older folks I’ve been talking with seem to share a concern about the fate of small traditions.

Of course, some traditions are so huge and so universal that they just steamroll along on their own, generation after generation. And even though they may morph into nearly unrecognizable events (historically speaking), they prevail. And, within our own small circle, we then work on keeping our personal spin intact.

But, it’s not Christmas, New Year’s Eve, Valentine’s, and Thanksgiving – the glaring ones -- that seem to be at risk. (One way or another, institutions and commerce keep those biggies alive!)
I asked folks their thoughts or concerns about the preservation of small personal traditions. And, I got some interesting responses -- it seems that some grandparents and other seniors even feel a strange responsibility for what they think is being lost! As if they didn’t try hard enough to preserve some patterns.

There was a wide range of thought …
Respect for elders came up a lot: “I don’t like it when little children call me by my first name!” said a woman of 89, “Traditionally, we were taught to look up to our elders!” (And one way we showed it was by what we called them.)

“The integrity of the family unit? Ha! Have you tried to get your family to commit to Sunday dinner even once a month, for sure?” said a cynical Granny.

Concern for community and the needy? “Of course there are organizations! But what has happened to neighbors? I know some people who don’t even know who lives next door!” (A couple I met while walking.)

It was things like the family sitting around the table together for at least one meal a day, playing cards & board games on a Saturday night, (no TV in the background); a yearly family picnic; sandlot ball games (not just parent-driven leagues); and regular family reunions, that came up. Wow! I was really surprised at the passion -- and the sense of loss.

“ It’s the little stuff,” one older gent said to me, “it’s all getting lost in the shuffle.”
People talked about families who seem to … “disperse” -- have their backs turned on each other … young people moving through their lives at high speed, believing they have no time for relating, for pausing. “Just look around!” (a woman said) “Everyone is connected to some device! Children retreat to their rooms, stare at computer screens or TV, and have some gadget plugged into their ear while typing messages into their phones -- not even talking directly to anyone … it seems like we are losing our bonds for closeness! How can you possibly get them to participate in small traditions like sitting in the living room with the family, talking!”

Time forces us to make so many “no choice” changes as we age! It just doesn’t seem fair to lose things where we have all the choices!

I call traditions our family and community “glue.” They give us small, dependable things to look forward to; they help us stay hopeful; they are the very fabric of memories, and one of the bridges between generations. They provide the stories we tell (over and over … and over!) and pass down to the next generation, preserving the non-extraordinary family history -- the part that doesn’t get written down.

A part of aging is the challenge of isolation. It makes the loss of special-things-we-depended-on even more important; it puts a stinger into solitude.

I had a sense that for some of the people I spoke with, losing the yearly this, the monthly that, the phone call from a loved one every weekend, the hand-written thank-you note -- well, it’s large.

When one’s life is so darn over-programmed and over-loaded that fitting in those old family habits, and events feels like an annoyance and an intrusion, it may just be time to pause and take a wider (kinder) view.

For some, those small traditions are the main events.

Zoë Tummillo is a Business & Marketing Consultant/Trainer/Commercial Writer, dba COMMUNICATION CONCEPTS, in private practice since 1974. In addition to Commercial work, she writes “Senior Momentum: A Series of Situations”; and essay memoirs of growing up first generation Italian American: “Pieces of My Path”. To contact her -- email: Phone: 707-869-1726

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