Memories of Past Help Coping With Present

Memories of Past Help Coping With Present

Jim Stinson, Former Consultant on Older Adult Ministries


Light the corners of my mind
Misty water-colored memories
Of the way we were . . .

As we hear in these words from Marvin Hamlisch’s song, “The Way We Were,” memories of the past, are at best, blurred, and at worst, just plain wrong. We often long for the good old days, as if they were free of problems.

Many older adults tend to gloss over the past. They often romanticize it, neglecting to recall the fear of the Great Depression, forgetting how many were starving and homeless; or see World War II as a time of ultimate bravery (which it was), choosing to minimize the atrocities and devastation to people and whole nations.

Who would ever really want to relive those times, or the times of the Cold War and the dangers of the Arms Race, or Korea and Vietnam?

Sure older adults we know have survived them, which is cause for giving thanks. Sure many were shaped for the better during these days, but the past they often remember was not all glorious. Nor were the days of their youth quite as idyllic as they like to remember. Hamlisch asks the right question in his song:

Can it be that it was all so simple then?
Or has time re-written every line?
If we had the chance to do it all again
Tell me, would we? Could we?

For the truth is, at every time and place, every stage of life, every relationship was, and is, less than perfect. There is real value in remembering the way we (they) were. But that value is diminished if they miss the fact that they adapted to the way we (they) were.

The truth is clear. No one time of our lives is, in and of itself, perfect. The response to the specific time makes the difference. That seems to be the secret of life and its memories. Life is about adapting and making the best of what is there and what is possible.

Helping our older adults reminisce realistically helps them rediscover and reclaim the wisdom of earlier years, the wisdom of adapting and making the best of whatever is. In doing so we enable them to face the moment, finding joy and meaning as life moves on.

We enable them to find there is something about even the latter days of their lives that has meaning and joy built into them.

So it’s the laughter
We will remember
Whenever we remember...
The way we were...
The way we were... 

Help them adapt to whatever is by recalling their experiences. Help them remember the past and thus find the promise of the moment. Help them create more and more moments of joy and laughter!

Feel free to print or share with your congregation. © 2013 Rev. James Stinson