Following last week's passing of poet and memoirist Maya Angelou, people across Chicago have spoken out to celebrate the example she set for African-Americans, women and artists during her life. However, there is one more group for whom Dr. Angelou has been a huge inspiration: older adults.
Dr. Angelou found literary fame in 1968 with the publication of "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings," but to me, that work isn't her greatest achievement -- her later memoir "Mom & Me & Mom" is. Why? Because she published it at 85.
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She is proof that aging doesn't have to mean giving up one's passions or losing one's talents. She's proof that older adults can continue to make meaningful contributions through their final years.
I know this to be true from my 25 years working with older adults at Chicagoland Methodist Senior Services. Every day, I come in contact with seniors who, despite memory loss and physical challenges, have kept their days active and their passions strong. Their stories don't often get told, but legacies like Dr. Angelou's remind us to the contributions one can make late in life.
In celebration of Dr. Angelou's life, my imperative is this: do not give up on your passions because you are aging. With the proper support, you can continue living a meaningful life through your last years. If you're not yet concerned about aging but care about someone who is, make sure they have the support they need to continue contributing in ways that are important to them.
May we all embody Dr. Angelou's response when asked, at age 85, if she thinks about the word "legacy": "Unless the creator's ready for me I'm not going anywhere," she said. "And instead of having 33 books or whatever they are, I might have 40."
President and CEO
Chicagoland Methodist Senior Services