Lifting seldom-heard voices in order to re-examine traditional social constructs and to cultivate love and empathy

Senior Voices Introduction

“They give birth astride of a grave, the light gleams an instant, then it’s night once more.”

Samuel Beckett, Waiting for Godot

We all are getting older by the week, day, hour, minute. While we are young it seems time will last forever. We have our whole lives ahead of us. As time goes on we begin realizing that it will not continue forever. Things happen to bring our mortality to light: graduation, having children, injuries, our own children graduating and having children, a few stray gray hairs, aches and pains, age spots and fine wrinkles. But seldom do we think of ourselves as the person with white or no hair bent over with a cane or walker.

There are millions of remedies to fighting off age. Lotions, vitamins, diets, exercises, prescriptions, surgeries, hair dye…but the bottom line is the only way to avoid getting old is to die young. We have built within our psyches a sort of cognitive dissonance to avoid thinking about aging. In fact, there’s a name for what we are, an “age denying society.” We don’t think about it because we perceive it as depressing, scary, won’t happen to us. But, if you are one year older now than you were last year, I’m sorry to break it to you, you are aging.

Some cultures are better at embracing their elders. Some African cultures refer to their Seniors as “old gold.” Japan has long been known to revere their elderly, with many of them having been taken care of in the homes of younger generations. Native American elders are looked at as the wisest individuals in their culture and it is an honor for those of younger generations to receive their wisdom. Sweden has progressive programs to allow their Seniors to stay in their own homes as long as possible. In the mainstream culture of the United States however, being a Senior is not as often celebrated with the same degree of respect.

First, we grow up and then we grow old. In either case we are growing. As mentioned above, Seniors are often referred to as being wise, but “Lon,” 68, disagrees. He feels as if he has survived but he doesn’t think he’s wise. Lon continues, “I have no debt, no credit cards, I’m frugal. But I’m bad with relationships. I’m also still looking for my life calling.”

Working through this topic has been tedious and the information has been vast. This has been a larger topic than I originally perceived. There are so many directions I could have gone. But I have had to narrow my focus. Despite my diligence, this series of articles will only scratch the surface of what we need to hear from Senior voices and about life in the golden years.

To stay focused considering this vast topic I have been reminding myself of my mission to lift voices. It has been easy to find the voices of seniors if they are active and moving about in society. It has been enlightening and encouraging to hear those voices, but I am also hoping to lift the voices that are protected or hidden behind desks of nursing homes or assisted living facilities. Some of those voices, I hope, will be first-hand. Other stories will have to be told by those who work with the folks I cannot access. As I write today, I am still in process of seeking out those voices.

Most everyone who I reached out to speak with, regarding their work relationships with Seniors, has been so incredibly busy with their job that in many cases it was difficult for them to arrange meeting or even a phone call. Because of this I can only be led to believe that the system is overwhelmed and that people who work with our elders are carrying heavy workloads.

On a “housekeeping” note, as I did in the Loneliness series, the people in the targeted group, (in this case Seniors) will have their names changed in order for them to express freely. Obviously, the professionals I spoke with about the plight of Seniors will be recognized by name as I pass on information they shared with me.


I found them at churches, restaurants, senior living facilities, online, at AARP meetings, social events, and even at bars. In speaking with Seniors, I found them active, singing karaoke, racing cars, dancing at clubs, starting non-profits, traveling overseas to meet a new love interest, starting new jobs, giving make-up lessons, talking about sex. Yes, not always the typical things that you think of people over the age of 65 doing. “Julia,” 67, even said, “I never think it would be good to be younger! Every year on my birthday I have a big party!”

While AARP starts accepting members at 50, many adult living communities won’t accept residents until age 55. For this series of articles I have decided to stick with people 65 and over. This seems to be a widely accepted age to officially become a Senior. “Kenneth,” 77, jokes, “At my age you don’t need AARP. I’m old enough I get the senior discount without it.”

I found Seniors with exciting lives enjoying their golden years. I met “Maia” 72, and her much-younger husband of 60, as they stopped at a bar after a David Bowie tribute concert. “It was two and a half hours. It was too short!” she complained. I met Kenneth, mentioned above, at a church. He goes dancing every Friday night. He says he goes to “shake his tushie” and that younger women are always wanting to dance with him. “Iris,” 72, is an active friend of mine who enjoys entertaining in her home and does free-lance massage. And I met Lon, 68, also at a bar. Lon has never had kids. He says he would have kids now if he could find someone young enough. However, he is concerned with what people would say about the age difference. Despite this, he has a trip planned to meet a blind date that a friend is connecting him with. The love interest lives in Thailand.

I found reason for concern in the way that we care for our Seniors who are no longer able to care for themselves, whether it be physically or financially. “I’m on disability. Without my husband of 31 years, I couldn’t live alone,” says Maia of her finances’ relationship to her living situation. Iris’ friend, “Nat,” who is 87 lost her husband a while back. Traditional to their age group, Nat’s husband had taken care of all the finances. Iris has concern for Nat because Nat doesn’t know how to do taxes and has no one to speak with about it. She wonders if her friend is even filing taxes.

The Elderly is the fastest-growing population age in the US and in the world. Colorado is the third fastest aging state in the United States. There are several places, Japan for example, that are in crisis mode of problem-solving how to supply the number of care-takers needed for their growing Senior population. In Denver, the Denver Regional Council of Governments (DRCOG) found that by 2035, 25% of Coloradans will be aged 65 or older which is a 125% increase from 2010. (Denver Age Matters Report page 9).

Japan is already at the 25% mark of their population being Seniors. Seeking immigrants for work visas, which is out of Japan’s comfort level, is one way that they are approaching the care-taker deficit. However, strict language fluency guidelines are limiting the number of care-takers coming into the country. The number of elderly in that country will rise to 40% by 2055. Japan also has more centenarians than any country, with a total of 65,692 members of its population being over 100 years old.

According to CNN, of developed countries, South Korea has the highest life expectancy. In 2010 for women it was 84 years of age and 77 for men. By contrast, the USA has the lowest life expectancy of developed countries. Google cites the US life expectancy in 2010 as 75.5. Some reasons cited in the CNN report are attributed to the lack of universal health care, high obesity rates, high numbers of car accidents, and high numbers of homicides. In 2015 the world life expectancy rate was 71 years.

Iris says, “At this point a lot of what I do is preventative maintenance. My mom was over 100 when she died. I could have thirty years ahead of me. I go to the rec center to do chair yoga. I’d love to try skiing, but at this age, if I break a hip, then what? I work on building my upper body strength because my knees and hips are not as strong. I use my arms more to help me get up and down. I do other activities to keep my mind active like playing bridge. Some people I know are learning languages, starting new jobs.”

Because of the difficulty I’ve had with this topic, I cannot tell you exactly how the series will end or even which topic will be posted next week. I continue to work through appointments, phone calls, meetings with Seniors and those who work with them. One thing has been extremely apparent to me as I’ve worked through this. That is that our Seniors really DO need their voices heard. The fact that it’s been so difficult to get to them is proof of that.

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