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 A Community of Women

by Betty Soldz

The theme for Older Americans Month is "America: A Community for All Ages." According to US Assistant Secretary for Aging Josefina Carbonell , this theme was selected in recognition of the national community in which we live, and in tribute to the American family which is the strength of our Nation. This theme reminds me of a phrase coined by Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton when she was First Lady; "It takes a village to raise a child."*

I would like to suggest that it takes a village or a community to help all of us live long and rewarding lives. When we were children, most of us relied on our parents. Our grandparents and many times neighbors and friends were there for us when we needed them. Grandparents were role models for us and our parents and our community. When we reached adulthood and married, we relied a great deal on our spouse, family and friends as our village. Some of us joined organizations that helped those in need and thus became part of their community.

After we retired, we remained a part of the community in which we lived by volunteering in innumerable ways to assist others. As grandparents we are now the role-models for our grandchildren. Once our children have grown and left home many of those who have spouses turn to them for their companionship and well-being. However, since women outlive men by approximately six years, they need to remain a part of the larger community.

As we grow older, we need the support of a community or village even more than we did before. This assistance may come from community agencies, religious organizations and, if we have them, our families and friends. Actually we know that families, when we have them, become our main caregivers when we are older. It is, however, the responsibility of the village, not just families, to provide the services needed by elders so that they can remain engaged in the community. It is also the responsibility of all of us to help each other. If we are family to others, they will be family to us when we are in need.

As George Vaillant, MD, states in his new book Aging Well, "It is not the bad things that happen to us that doom us; It is the good people who happen to us at any age that facilitate enjoyable old age."

If we have been part of a village we will have friends in our older age. Research seems to show that relationships with friends leads to increased social support as well as life satisfaction. Although friends may not be able to give us the physical support when we need it in later life, they can act as companions and confidants which is important for our mental health.

I know of some women who have formed "friends in need," groups to offer help to each other when needed. Some of the support they have offered is going to the grocery or pharmacy for each other when one is ill, taking each other to the doctor, or just visiting, talking and listening. Although families will probably be our main caregivers, it is important to have additional people who are part of our support group.

For some, their adult children will be their source of support and contact. Our children may supply emotional support by listening to our problems and giving us comfort. Some provide parents with financial support. Some help with home repairs and some provide transportation. In fact, 95% of elders living in the community and needing care receive at least part of that care from family members. Others in our family that are part of our "community" are our siblings, grandchildren and maybe, due to the long lives we now live, even our parents. All of these may offer us emotional or physical support.

Feeling part of a village and actively contributing to it, and benefiting from its support is a major factor in quality of life in later years. Therefore, as we celebrate Older Americans month, honor our families as well as all who make up our community.

Editor's Note: The UN is holding a landmark session of the General Assembly bringing together some 60 heads of State and government and close to 6,000 participants including children. This is the first time in the history of the UNs main legislative and deliberative body that its session is formally devoted to the situation of young people under the age of 18.


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