The Child and Aging Adults

By Ludmilla B. Turkevich

Society’s concern for senior citizens these days is certainly justifiable and praiseworthy. We see and hear of so many dire cases around us that at times we even forget that aging is not synonymous with misery. We must be reminded of the healing power of sympathy and understanding, albeit instinctive and spontaneous. We must be reminded that help and consideration from an irrepressible young soul, or a child’s loving smile and hug, can pull an unhappy, grumpy oldster out of his abject doldrums and longing for a quick resolution to life.

At a recent meeting I spoke of this very important and vital relationship between the generations. Later one of our church leaders told me about an unforgettable experience of his own in Florida. Nearby his church there is a typical adult home where several of his parishioners reside. One pleasant autumn day he rounded up a group of amiable children from his parish and drew their attention to the lonely figures living there, and their need for some input from outside. At first, he took the youngsters only for short visits, but before very long friendships began to form between the generations. Both sides began to wait for the visits and cherish them. They would pair off, or make small groups and chat, play gin rummy, checkers or even chess, or just sit together and look at a favorite program on TV. This was companionship, devotion, and concern for each other.

Thanksgiving came along and Father suggested that the youngsters might want to start making Christmas presents for their special new “pals” and an extra one for somebody missed in the “count.”

The children responded enthusiastically and the commotion and excitement of these budding Santa Clauses was a joy to see and hear. Glue, colored construction paper, scotch tape, staples, finger paints and scissors went into full-speed operation. There was no time for nonsense or mischief; it was Christian love in its sterling state. Christmas Eve came and Father took the children with their presents to the adult home that was so familiar to them by now. It was agreed that as they went through the corridors, a child was to drop into each room, distributing the gaily wrapped presents to the residents in turn. All proceeded with appropriate decorum—“one present at a time.” Then suddenly one irrepressible (and always generous) lad grabbed six packages and dashed ahead to present them to several persons sitting patiently at the end of the long, dismal hall. What Father saw this, he ran after Johnnie, preparing a stern rebuke. But, when he caught up with the returning culprit, Johnnie was smiling radiantly, and behind him huddled several happy persons opening gifts with exclamations and tears of deep joy.

“Johnnie, why didn’t you wait your turn?—one by one, I said.”

“But Father, I simply couldn’t wait my turn! I wanted them all to be happy at once!” Johnnie replied, on the verge of tears. “I just couldn’t stand having them wait over there. . . and look so very, very sad! I wanted everyone to be happy! HAPPY!”

Father’s scolding was never delivered. This child’s spontaneous eruption of love and kindness was so beautiful and truly Christian that the question of disobedience vanished.

This episode brings out the tremendous good that can be generated by thoughtful guidance of children in dealing with the elderly, infirm, and neglected. There is a natural affinity between these generations and it can be made profoundly meaningful and lasting. For aging adults, children are intrinsically the most precious of gifts and a vision of continuity. For children and young teenagers, the aged are a source of love, knowledge, and wisdom who afford a sense of history——religious, ethnic, familial, and social. Both generations cherish this relationship.

The late Dr. Ludmilla B. Turkevich served as Chairwoman of the Section on Senior Adults, OCA Department of Stewardship and Lay Ministries.