Honoring the elderly was an important part of my childhood. As a child, I sang at nursing homes, visited aging neighbors and relatives, and learned from their vast life experiences.

Not everyone has such opportunities in their lives, to serve and learn from the seniors in their lives. It is never too late to start. I would like to share some of my experiences and hopefully it may provide ideas for how you can honor, serve and learn from the elderly in your own life.

Honoring the Elderly

As Simple As A Smile

Nellie is the first elderly person, besides family, I remember. Nellie was an 80 year-old woman who lived in our small community. At five-years old, I loved visiting Nellie. She always greeted us with a smile and a cookie. At the time, we didn’t live near family so, naturally, Nellie became our surrogate grandmother. I don’t remember much about our visits but I do remember the joy she expressed when she opened her door and saw us standing there. I couldn’t help but love her.

Nellie taught me serving those around you can be something as simple as a smile.


The Extraordinary Ordinary

Whenever my Grandma Nielson came to visit, we knew what would happen. She would organize us into a mini-cleaning crew, assign us a broom, vacuum, or mop and put us to work. “And when we’re done, I’ll take you out to lunch!” she would exclaim. I’m not sure she knew this, but it wasn’t necessarily lunch that motivated us to work together but rather the love we had for her and her willingness to come and spend time with us, even if it was working together to clean our home.

Spending time with my Grandma Nielson taught me honoring the elderly can be as simple as joyfully spending time together doing ordinary things.


Home Is Where The Heart Is: Family Traditions

Christmas breakfasts, crazy off-key renditions of “Happy Birthday”, napkin-hat reunions, and hail-storm vacations; we all have fond memories of family traditions.

I’ll never forget the Thanksgiving meals with my Grandma and Grandpa Adams. My father and his three brothers would regale us with the comical adventures of their youth; working on their grandparents farm, swinging from ropes over rivers, and stealing watermelons… narrowly escaping the wrath of their farmer neighbor. I remember cousins, aunts, uncles, and grandparents laughing to tears. Such fond memories.

The time spent planning, prepping, and carrying out such traditions are worth every effort. The memories created through these activities can carry us through times of difficulty for these memories bring us home, even when we are far away.

Thanksgiving at Grandma and Grandpa Adams’ taught me family bonds are strengthened by joyful traditions.


My Arms Around Her

Great-Grandma Clark was born in England in 1899 and immigrated to America in her youth.  She lived through the tumult of World War II, lost her four-year-old son in a tragic car accident, taught my future Grandmother-in-law Shakespeare classes in her refined and memorable British accent. We visited her at her home many times before she became bed-ridden and needed to be placed in a full-time nursing facility. She eventually lost her ability to remember, to hear, to see, and yet my mother continued to take us to visit her as often as possible.

At 8 years old, I didn’t like the smells of the nursing home. I didn’t like seeing my great-grandmother unable to move or talk with me. I remember feeling sad and wondered why we kept visiting when she could no longer respond to us.

The wisdom acquired through age and experience has brought me answers. We visited my great-grandmother because she raised my grandmother who raised my mother who raised me; because she sacrificed for all of us; because I came to know myself better through knowing her; because, even though she could no longer put her arms around me, I could still put my arms around her.

Great-Grandma Clark taught me to recognize the sacrifices made by those who’ve come before and to honor those sacrifices by becoming the best daughter, sister, mother, and, hopefully one day, grandmother possible. She taught me, through our continued visits, a deeper and more abiding love; love not dependent on reciprocation. Visiting grandma taught me the responsibility and joy of family.


Do Unto Others

“Honor” means to show respect to those who have made a sacrifice for us. We honor our elders through serving and learning from their examples; we honor them through small acts of kindness, spending ordinary time together, joining in family traditions, and being there for them in their times of need as they were there for us.

Taking a little time out of our lives to serve and learn from these incredible individuals, wells of knowledge and experience, is worth every effort. In so doing, we will not only become a greater people, a people more united in purpose and in love, we will be teaching the next generation how to serve and learn from us as we acquire our honorable titles of “Elderly”.

Katie Burton

Katie Burton

2017 Torchbearer Intern