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Last chance to love the Silent Generation

It was something my pastor said in a sermon some twenty years ago: “I’ll go visit them for you, but I’ll be robbing you of a blessing.” He was encouraging us to go and visit the lonely, the sick, and the discouraged. I hadn’t thought of his words until this past week when I was moving my mother-in-law into an elder care community.

Born in the years from 1927 to 1946, children of the Silent Generation were expected to be seen and not heard. They worked hard — as a child my mother-in-law was a migrant worker. But now, they are our elders — and even though they bear the name Silent Generation, they have stories to tell. Many are in senior living facilities — lonely and silent again for lack of connection.

Restrictions have made it harder for family to visit, but at the facility where I was moving my mother-in-law, the center director shared with me that for many residents, no one ever visits or calls. Ever.

Bernadean Farris
The author Karen Farris' mother-in-law, Bernadean |

Since COVID restrictions have been mandated, I’ve been mostly concerned for teens and the socialization they have been missing. I never considered those in their sunset years. Many of the elderly only have brief interactions with those who bring their meals. The television is their socialization. They have no one to share their stories or to talk about the life they now live.

As COVID began its deadly scourge among the elderly, sacrifices were made in elder-care facilities. And the biggest sacrifices were made by the elderly residents who could have no visitors at first, and then only one visitor per day, through a screen porch — with the visitor masked and sitting outside.

When I moved my mother-in-law from the home she once shared with her husband, my eyes were opened and my heart was chastened. I didn’t realize how lonely these elderly folks are. Her new apartment is surrounded by those from the Silent Generation. Many lack the know-how to write their stories on computers, but they have wisdom to share! If only people would take time to visit.

On moving day, as I made dozens of trips with boxes full of clothes and treasured belongings, I met two residents, Brian and Bill. They were happy for the conversations we shared while I waited for the elevator — I was wearing an N-95 mask and face shield —keeping a six-foot distance.

Brian began his teaching career in a one-room school house in 1945. After he married, he moved to the city and finished his teaching career, retiring in the mid-1980’s. Can you imagine the changes he saw in educating children? I found out some, but I hope to hear more about his experiences. Back when he started, boys brought rifles to school so they could go and hunt when he rang the final bell.

I could spot Bill easily — he always was wearing a neon-orange baseball cap. He smiled broadly and explained that no semi-truck would accidentally run him over in his wheel chair. Bill is one of those “sharp as a tack” elders who can regale stories of the 1940’s with ease. He mentioned World War II and his role as a gunner on flights over enemy territory. But he prefers to talk about the America he loves. He served in the military until he retired.

I will be heading back soon — scheduling visits with my mother-in-law, as well as with Bill and Brian. I know there are others who could use a bit of my time.  I look forward to learning more about teaching in a one-room school, and what working in the military was like through American war and peace.

The Silent Generation are mostly behind closed doors, being kept safe, but let’s not forget they are there. Go, visit, make a new friend, share your love, and then share their stories. It’s our last chance.

Karen Farris saw the need to help underserved kids while serving in a youth ministry that gave her the opportunity to visit rural schools on the Olympic Peninsula. She now volunteers her time grant writing to bring resources to kids in need. She also shares stories of faith in action for those needing a dose of hope on her weekly blog, Friday

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