Saturday, June 17, 2017

Our older generation - Part II

     “All I want is a hug once in awhile,” one sixty-something told me.
     That was right after I wrote the column, Our Older Generations Often the Most Forgotten, back in April.  
     I thought I had hit on all the bases.
     Seriously, I had struck out failing to mention a major component of living a quality life in the golden years. Thanks. I appreciate being put on notice.
     Not one, but several people reminded me of that valid point, too, and perhaps, this is where another column came to mind.

     From our moment of birth until we take our last breaths, we need hugs. The simple act of an embrace has profound psychological and physical effects that are essential for our survival. People who receive hugs and cuddles from their spouses, children or even their pets live longer and recover from illness faster.

     Nowadays teachers are hands-off with students in the classroom. There’s no hugging. I am sure there are valid reasons for this policy in light of a new generation.
    I remember being in the beginnings of the transition period when policy changed, and it took some getting used to shifting from one way of thinking to another frankly.  It affected me deeply, and I struggled to find different ways to make each student accept his worth without any contact as such.
      Might I add that I do believe educational bureaucrats sitting in  offices far away from real live classrooms tossed out a humanistic approach used by educators for generations.    That’s my observation.
     Today, to make up for the ruling, whenever I see a former student and we approach each other as two adults, it is with a hug. Both of us are saying, “Thanks for the memories, and having faith in me.”

     Scientific studies reveal that hugs work by producing specific beneficial chemical reactions in the brain and body. You can read the studies yourself. It’s most compelling.
     The obvious benefits of hugging don’t require a scientific study, though. Hugs make us feel loved, safe and secure. They boost our self-esteem, and keep us connected to the world around us.
     Sadly, of all age groups, seniors are the least likely to be hugged, and they need hugs even more as years go by.
     The chemical changes produced by hugging can be a powerful tool for deterring the effects of age-related illnesses such as cardiovascular disease, Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes and cancer.  
     In assisted living settings, many seniors lose the option of daily contact with friends and family members. They have often lost their spouses or lifelong friends, and health problems, disabilities or depression may prevent them from reaching out to strangers. For these reasons, depression and isolation are especially common, but a few hugs a day could prevent or even reverse their despair, and allow them to live fuller, happier lives.

     The other week I was in at the Livingston County Skilled Nursing and Rehab Center in Mount Morris visiting a close friend. As I brushed by other women in the commons room who reached out, I gave their hands a pat along with a smile.  It seemed like the right thing to do. It was only a small gesture, too.  

     It brought to mind the last contact that I had with my mother. As she lay dying I whispered how much I appreciated all that she had done in raising me. I had no way of knowing whether she heard me as her eyes were closed and she was sedated heavily. Then, I felt a slight tug on my hand. I knew. That memory lingers with me forever. I believe I still sense that squeeze of her hand today.

     Most churches have a larger population of older folks in the pews than any other age group. Another reader of this column told me that her church puts on intergenerational lunches, and although her children had only attended one due to school conflicts, it is an amazing opportunity for laughter, and yes, hugs for the elderly and children alike. That’s bridging the gap and serving others on many levels.

     I am the first one to admit that I will often post, “electronic hugs” as a reply on Facebook when I hear a piece of sad news. Well, that works, and it doesn’t quite do it, too.

     The same reader that reminded me about the meaningfulness of a hug also said that we shouldn’t forget that for some folks, the simple act of getting groceries is a complicated ordeal.
     The physical exertion getting in and out of a car, let alone finding a parking place, or someone to give them a ride, is not so pleasant the older one is in society. Seniors are ambivalent about depending on others for such basic needs, too.
     The rest of us should show a little kindness in reaching up to a higher shelf for someone struggling, and give those slower folks a wider birth in the aisles.  Help load their groceries in their car as you pass them in the parking load. It only takes a couple extra seconds. It’s a teachable moment for you younger parents.

    Go out and do something for an elderly person that you might never notice otherwise. I would be willing to bet that you will be rewarded tenfold in your heart for your generous spirit.
     Lastly, go on.  Give that person a hug. It’s good for what ails you. That’s what my mother told me.