What I Learned from Working with Seniors

Seniors outside
When you work with seniors, you have access to the wisdom of those whose time on this planet is short compared with those who think old age is a long way off. But before you tune me out and say, “Yeah, life is precious, make the most of it, I’ve heard it before,” stick with me because I have something for you that’s new.

I’m constantly smacked in the face with how our plans don’t always work out. Since I deal in real estate, I’m party to major life changes in people’s lives. I see their plans, their hopes. How they are going to move to be near the grandkids and enjoy them while they’re young. How they will move to San Diego from the Midwest where they can actually enjoy the outdoors. They often take their time making a decision like that because moving is a big deal and it takes a lot of work. It’s easy to put it off.

So then I get the phone call that one spouse or the other has passed away, or has had a reversal in their health, and the plans must be put aside. Not till a later date, but forever. No grandkids, no nice weather, no travel and sightseeing. It’s a depressing thought and it sucks.

My dad just celebrated his 84th birthday and he told me that he’s lived 30,660 days. And how many are left? A few hundred? A couple thousand at most? And how will he spend them?

The first obvious take-away from realizing that you only have a finite number of days is not to waste them. To you that might mean ticking off things on your bucket list, or not living with regrets for all the things you haven’t done. You might want to hike down the Grand Canyon and back up, but what if your legs can’t carry you the distance? Consider this: you might become too weak to accomplish that hike long before you actually reach the end of your days. So the “expiration date” on some of your goals might arrive sooner than you think.

And here’s a second bit of wisdom I learned from seniors: when you realize how little time you have on this planet you don’t waste it on useless fighting and making life worse. Want to draw a line in the sand with your spouse and have a cold war for a couple of days? That’s a couple of days that could have been filled with love and warm memories gone forever. Why do that? Why snap at each other and insist that you’re right? Flushing time down the drain is just not wise.

The bible gives us this prayer: “Lord, teach us to number our days that we may gain a heart of wisdom” (Psalm 90:12). When you realize you have an actual number of days to live and that number is getting smaller, it seems dumb to throw them away and not make them the best days you can.

I remember the time I was in Needles, California at the McDonald’s on 3rd Street. It was 6am, right when they opened. I was meeting with a group of geocachers before setting out exploring for the day. Geocaching is an outdoor sport, sort of an adult version of hide and seek using a handheld GPS. Most of the people there were seniors, and they used the sport as a way to keep active and create new experiences in their lives.

The meet and greet was scheduled to end at 6:30am and right on time Fishin’Jack, the man who organized the event, stood up and said “We’re burning daylight!” That quote from a John Wayne movie in 1972 seemed perfect for the situation. Many times we plan to do something and then get bogged down talking about it and planning it to death. Fishin’Jack got it right and I try to remember that whenever lethargy and procrastination set in.