A good role model can last for life

By Valerie
October 15, 2010

It’s always hard for me to recover from Thanksgiving — the roast turkey, our special sourdough stuffing, the ooey-gooey sweet yam dish, and the calorie-laden pumpkin pie.

The combination of extra poundage and the lagging effects of tryptophan make it oh-so-difficult to extricate myself from the couch. If it weren’t for my four-year-old daughter, I still might be there!

This year, we were thankful to spend the holiday with our niece and nephew who are both pursuing their studies in B.C. Waiting in anticipation of the meat thermometer reading 160 degrees, we reminisced about favourite holiday dishes and enjoyed hysterically funny, disastrous holiday celebrations.

Mostly, though, we were thankful to be together.

Thinking back to my own family Thanksgiving dinners, I’m flooded with memories. In particular, I’m reminded of my own grandmother, affectionately known as Nana J.

I’m grateful on many fronts — my grandmother was a mentor in my earlier days and a true friend despite the generation gap. Her biggest influence by far was in shaping my beliefs and values, especially as they related to aging and the importance of our elders.

September and October remind us to celebrate our aging loved ones, marked by Grandparents Day, International Older Persons Day and the close of Thanksgiving.

Our aging loved ones link the past to the present and the future. As adult children, we are often the bridge between generations and play a vital role in developing relationships. We have the opportunity to define this role, recognize it, honour it, support it, and celebrate it in a way that continues to empower all generations.

My Nana J is the reason I am here today as a gerontologist and eldercare planner. As though it happened yesterday, I remember being at the hospital sitting beside my Nana J, who was near the end of her time. She was 92 years old and battling pancreatic cancer, and I was 24 years old with a Bachelor of Physical and Health Education Degree in hand, armed to fly away on my own.

“Remember that only you can stop yourself from achieving great things. You are very special, Wendy, and you fill my heart with joy. Make those dreams of yours come true and live life with no regrets.”

She gives me the ring given to her by my Boppa J on their 30th wedding anniversary. She tells me just how important her friendship with and love for my grandfather was for their 50 years of marriage.

By passing on this ring, she wants me to carry her friendship and love with me through my life and one day, marriage.

She surprises me by giving me a small bequest with one condition: that I travel throughout Canada or internationally, or that I pursue a higher degree of education. She kisses me and tells me how much she loves me. That was the last time I felt the warmth of her hand.

A month later, I was accepted into Simon Fraser University’s Gerontology program. I boarded a plane headed west, acted on a “calling” for working with seniors, and kept my Nana’s promise close to heart.

Her words and actions from that day still flow from my heart.

Thanks, Nana J.

Wendy Johnstone is a gerontologist and is the founder of Keystone Eldercare Planning. Her column runs in the Comox Valley Record every second Friday.

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