Blended families extend in all directions, with branches that often include several step-children, grandchildren, great grandchildren, nieces and nephews – all perfect sidekicks for the centenarian. Nurturing families are one of the keys to successful longevity and often the result of instilled traditions and cultural influences passed down through generations.
We can all be inspired by multi-generational cultures that abound in distant locations, such as Vilcabamba, a small, isolated town located at an altitude of approximately 4,500 feet in Ecuador’s Andes mountain region, where a nurturing attitude is embraced by all ages. Translated, Vilcabamba means “Sacred Valley,” and for good reason. The valley sustains a year-round temperate climate of 68 degrees that supports a robust variety of vegetables, fruit and grains which helps the villagers flourish within their pristine environment that is void of most modern conveniences. Although residents of the humble village lack the basics, such as inside plumbing, they have access to pure mineral drinking water, which is a priceless commodity by any standard. The lack of material abundance, as gauged by Western standards, is seldom eulogized or lamented among villagers. Instead, they embrace a genuine sense of love, joy and unselfishness that sustains all ages through life’s transitions.
Notable scientists, physicians and respected journalists, including Grace Halsell and Dr. Alexander Leaf, stayed in the region for an extended time to live among the locals and observe the village customs and culture. Besides Halsell and Leaf, many others have taken note of the general attitude in Vilcabama’s residents, as a sense of communal harmony is interwoven through every age group and every level of their lives. The oldest villagers are regarding as the most respected generation, worthy of perpetual admiration and praise, and are often referred to as, “The Ancient Ones.” The small community celebrates and embraces their aging citizens, rather than putting them out to pasture. The youngsters are eager to enjoy the company of their elders, knowing there is wisdom to be gained from each encounter.
The longevity guide entitled, “Healthy at 100,” shares the insights of Halsell and Leaf regarding the amazing cross-generational connections and overall sense of vitality that exists among the locals. The guide suggests Western families emulate the successful traits of these cultures in order to open our hearts and minds to the aging population and discard the notion that getting older is a death sentence that leads to isolation and eventually, the dreaded nursing home, or even worse – a lonely death. Tim Robbins, a best-selling author on the subject, shares this insights:
“If we want to create a healthy relationship to aging, then cultures like Abkhasia and Vilcabamba have much to offer us in how we understand our place in the life cycle. In these cultures, elders are looked up to and appreciated for their wisdom. They feel socially useful and needed.”
Although it requires a village to successfully adapt this kind of attitude toward the elderly, positive attitudes can be instilled and passed through all generations to ensure that respect begins in the home. Emulate the endearing Vilcabamban attitude toward aging and celebrate the accomplishments of older loved ones with symbols of honor and appreciation instead of succumbing to morbid clichés, like ‘over the hill’ and ‘old fart’ that imply the end of a person’s useful life.
Americans, in general, have embraced mobility to keep pace with a society that requires regular travel between time zones, and sometimes even permanent re-location from original family roots. Re-establish broken connections with endearing family members whom have moved away with a Vilcabamban approach that maintains strong family ties through both good and bad times. Keep a record of birthdays, graduations and other important dates in the lives of loved ones to acknowledge their milestones and encourage them to celebrate.
A mutual hobby, game, sport, television show or activity can be the common link to share personal interests with other family members of various ages. Parents with demanding careers and day schedules appreciate older relatives that offer to fill the gaps by providing mentoring time with their kids. After-school activities are the ideal environment to fill in for grateful working parents. Demonstrate an interest in children’s sporting activities, science project or scouting field trips, and offer to tag along or chaperone at the next organized event.
Pitch in with details at family meals and gatherings. Help with meal preparations, or learn a video game to interact with the kids while reaffirming your vitality. Be open to learning about the fantasy world of children’s characters if your grandson expresses his enthusiasm for Buzz Lightyear, and consider dressing in costume with the kids for Halloween activities or special events. Family vacations increase the benefits of spending leisure time with the entire family in a relaxed setting, such as a cruise or seaside cottage rental, while providing ample postcard moments that everyone can look back on and appreciate.
With age comes respect, and perhaps a few other benefits. Pull the age card when all else fails to enjoy the perks of seniority and to receive special favors from younger relatives that you miss seeing on a regular basis. For example, if you would like your grandson to pay you a visit and hopefully, help bathe your dog, don’t be afraid to ask. Extend the courtesy by letting him know how much you enjoy seeing him and invite him to have lunch with you. In return, you’ll probably receive his appreciation, and a bath for Waldo.