Artful Aging

Patting Birds

In a classic Peanuts comic, Linus explains to Lucy that when depressed, he pats birds. During these difficult times have we, like Linus, discovered ways to manage our feelings? And if so, what might we teach others about resilience, now and in the future?

Own our feelings. The only certainty we have today is uncertainty. The disruption to our daily lives has been overwhelming, no matter how good our coping skills. It would be unrealistic to expect that we are all “hanging on” in the same way, and we would be remiss not to acknowledge our deepest feelings. There is nothing wrong about admitting to feeling depressed, anxious, frightened, or even angry. One active man over 60 with no high-risk health issues found himself being treated differently by family and friends. “I felt that I had become decrepit overnight,” he confessed. Sharing our feelings with friends and family can be a relief.

Tap into the past. Most of us can identify life-altering events we have lived through. We may have experienced major loss, a recession, war, previous flu epidemics, or the fear of polio. Remembering how we coped previously can guide us today.

Share teachable moments. Young people have little experience in dealing with major life disruptions. Older adults can play an important role in communicating how they managed such times. One mother reported that her young adult daughter had no understanding of the significance of the 1917 flu epidemic until she heard her grandfather’s story.

Learn something new. One of the myths of growing older is that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. While staying home has given us more time to devote to personal interests, one of the most important benefits has been to increase our comfort level with newer technology. The desire to connect has motivated us to learn how to participate in virtual classes, meetings, or an intergenerational family game night through Zoom or other such communication tools.

Stay engaged. Research underscores the strong sense of purpose retirees exhibit, keeping them more active, healthier, and happier. With in-person volunteer activities curtailed, it can be a challenge to rethink how to stay engaged in our communities. One woman organized her neighborhood into making and distributing face masks. Some have created or participated by phone or email to check on other individuals, while others support local restaurants by regularly ordering take-out meals. Staying current with important community information and voting are available anytime.

Look for contentment. Watch a sunset, plant something new, listen to the birds, or be soothed by the sound of rain. While we may not pet birds like Linus, we all can pay attention to the small things that bring us pleasure.

As we navigate these uncertain times, I am reminded of how deeply we are connected. As Chief Seattle (Suquamish Tribe) said, “Man did not weave the web of life, he is merely a strand in it. Whatever he does to the web, he does to himself.”

Linda Henry writes regularly on topics related to aging, health care, and communication and is the co-author of several books, including Transformational Eldercare from the Inside Out: Strengths-Based Strategies for Caring. She conducts workshops nationally on aging and creating caring work environments. Her volunteer emphasis is age-friendly communities.


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