Dan Levitt, MSc., CHE
Executive Director, Tabor Village
Adjunct Professor, Gerontology, Simon Fraser University
Adjunct Professor, School of Nursing, University of British Columbia
Sessional Instructor, School of Health Sciences, British Columbia Institute of Technology
Board Member, Global Aging Network
In 1988, I was a University student sitting in a lecture hall chair listening to a psychology professor share a research study on the impact of loneliness on seniors. She opened up the imagination of the first year undergraduate students to what a difference a simple intervention could make in the life of people isolated through physical or mental health challenges that were no fault of their own.
On the overhead projector the professor placed a transparent sheet with an image of seniors engaged in meaningful activities in a nursing home. That picture projected onto the classroom screen I will never forget. Up to that point in my life – I’d never seen an elderly person cared for like that. I’ve tried many, many times to explain what a moment like that means to a 19 year old, a teenager absorbing like a sponge the mindfulness of changing people’s lives. You see, my great grandfather Abe was diagnosed with Alzheimer Disease and spend most of his days in a wheelchair living in a hospital style nursing home where he was disengaged from the world around him, except when his children including my Grandma Mary would visit, as they painstakingly cared for him.
In 2009 Grandmother Mary was struck with a stroke during her 85th birthday dinner, later that night she was diagnosed with vascular dementia and would eventually move into the same old age institution that her dad lived in and died in. It is not lost on me that at this moment, my mother may be closing in on acquiring the same fate as will I likely will and my daughters.
It is an honour and it is a privilege to share a reflection with you serving together on the Global Aging Network Board of Directors with a footprint in more than 50 countries around the globe.
The age care communities we serve are led by incredible men and women who have inspire us, who challenge us, who sustain us and make our journey to this moment possible. As members of the Global Aging Network thank you for guiding and advancing forward together through our mission, vision and strategic plan. Aged care is an inspirational space in which to work, it is a calling. Each of you are leaders in your communities, countries and globally because of the lives that you impact, the life stories that are written telling how through valuing age, the world is a better place.
The aging journey narrative transcends any culture, geography, race, religion, politics, or age care community. So I want to express my gratitude to all of you who have lead by example and supported the elderly to rewrite their story because they, like my great Grandfather Abe and Grandma Mary they had families that were dramatically impacted by the way they were housed and received care.
Often in aged care we only get a chance to know a sliver of the lives seniors have lived. They were domestic workers and farm workers. They worked in churches and they worked in restaurants and they were teachers, flight attendants, developers, doctors, and nurses. They were captains of their industry in politics and business. They were professional athletes and they were soldiers in the military. They served us in their life, now they are our responsibility to provide them housing and care.
There’s someone else, Mrs. Jacob Smoor, a name I know and I think you should know, too. In the late 1950s, Mrs. Smoor was elderly, at the end of her life and a mother of Katherina, her adult daughter who was unable to live independently. Mrs. Smoor, in her prayers asked what would happen to her daughter when she was no longer alive, where would she live? Who would care for her? Would they show her the same loving care that she did? Mrs. Smoor approached the Elders of Clearbrook MB Church with this dilemma. The Elders prayed and decided along with the support of other MB Churches to build a home for the aged where seniors could live in a Christian environment and receive compassion, dignity and respect.
More than six decades have passed since the elders of Clearbrook MB Church prayers were answered with the creation of Tabor Village. Last month, Clearbrook MB Church was approached to take the next step in an evening meeting with the Elders another awesome challenge was placed in front of them for consideration. That challenge is the rebuilding of the nursing home that they started 60 years ago.
Mrs. Jacob Smoor’s and her daughter Katherina’s story is unique in how a community responded to a call for help. A call to act. A call to change the way people experience living when they are faced with some of life’s greatest challenges. For too long, we have waited for someone else to decide when it is time to rebuild our outdated nursing home. But the time is now.
And I just hope — I just hope that the Smoor family legacy finds a place in our caring hearts, that a new day will dawn a renewed era on Clearbook Road, and their prayers, and our prayers will be heard. It was somewhere in the MB community’s heart more than 60 years ago, now six decades later, when we hear her bold and courageous actions to lead in prayer for the most vulnerable people in our society. Perhaps one day in the near future, our grandchildren will ask us where did people with advanced dementia live, before? And we will proudly answer: our community took the brave step to reinvent the aging journey.
In my career, in my calling, what I’ve always tried to do my best, whether as an Executive Director of an aged care community, in writing, in teaching or speaking, is to say something about how the lives of seniors and the aging journey can be transformed.
To say how we experience loss, how we rejoice and how we grieve, how we serve, how we care, pray, and how we overcome. I’ve witnessed firsthand and met people who’ve withstood loneliness, helplessness and boredom things aging can throw at you, but the one quality all of them seem to share is an ability to maintain hope for a brighter morning, even when the mountain they are climbing appears insurmountable.
So today in this reflection I pray, now, that we will all know that a new Tabor Village is on the horizon! And when that prayer becomes a reality, it will be because of a lot of outstanding women and men shared a vision for a better tomorrow. The one thing we all have in common is that as we age our collective future depends on reinventing the aging journey to cross over into the promise land. My reflection is we will dedicate ourselves to make sure that we become the leaders who take us to the time when no senior will ever have to go to the church or state and ask for help because our community will have created a new campus of care – a centre for living for the elderly to call home. Thank you.