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Development Orphans: A Clarion Call

Article submitted by Joy C. Davidson, End of Life Coach, Pastor, Author, Speaker, owner of Joyful Transitions, LLC. Joy can be reached at 720-244-2660.

Many of our elders, our older adults, are developmental orphans. They have been abandoned and we are the ones that abandoned them. Did we purposefully abandon them? No, I do not think we did. I know I did not intend to abandon my elders, but abandon them we have done and, in many ways, continue to do.

Is this an enditement? No. It is, however, strongly worded. Many of you reading this article already work in the “senior industry”, because you have such a strong heart for our elders. You might be a family caregiver. This is good; It is very good! There are not enough of us though. We have older adults that we care for and older family members that we love and care for that are about to fall through the cracks if we do not realize that our most important task is yet before us.

In this article, I continue to summarize important details from How to Say It to Seniors: Closing the Communication Gap with Our Elders by David Solie, M.S., P.A. (This article is a continuation from my most recent article “Agendas & Advocacy” posted on Senior’s Resource Guide (, July 2013. To really properly follow my thoughts here, I encourage you to first read AND digest that article).

In the previous article, I reference the loss of the communal society that we knew and lived in prior to the industrial revolution, the communal society that was collateral damage as families began to spread to distant cities, distant states, and even distant countries. The perspective that life experience and its cousin, wisdom, brought to the lives of younger adults through their elders has become a rare cultural event. As a result, David Solie says “we’ve become overscheduled, hyperstimulated, and culturally grumpy. We are so burdened by the pace of our lives that when we must interact with older people who cannot keep up, we run out of patience trying to fit them into our schedules. We have forgotten – or never learned – how to value our senior adults’ advice”.

In that communal society, the younger generation would have spent time with the older generation gathered around the kitchen table, the fireplace, the front porch, the barber shop or the town square listening (really listening) to their elders sharing stories (possibly repeatedly) of past events - not because of “diminished mental capacity” - but because sharing these stories and answering questions are two ways in which older adults examine their life to find meaning in the events, to help themselves discover their “core” values, and most importantly, to discover how they want to be remembered. In facilitating this growth, the person listening is functioning as their loved one’s legacy coach.

Older adults of generations past experienced many of the same losses our older adults today experience: Los of Physical Strength, Loss of Peer Group (the deaths of family and friends), Loss of Identity, Loss of Physical Space, and Loss of Financial Independence. Yet those older adults of generations past experienced the valuation of their wisdom and the validation of their continued existence that the older adults of recent decades have only rarely experienced.

Older adults have a time-consuming as well as energy-consuming task of reviewing their entire life and identifying the legacy that emerges. Whereas older adults of generations past were assured of a safe place to relinquish control, a necessary prerequisite to the emergence of their legacy in order for them to complete their developmental agenda, today’s older adults face a culture and society, perhaps even their own families, that are reluctant to slow down to really listen to their stories, patiently draw out and identify their legacy. In doing so, we run the risk of creating thousands, perhaps millions of developmental orphans.

This is not an enditement, nor is it a criticism. It is a clarion call. Our cultural change toward a person-centered model of care in our independent, assisted-living, and skilled nursing communities as well as the smaller group homes is a wonderful step in the right direction. However, I dare to say that there is so much more to be done and the time is important, perhaps urgent! Our greatest generation is on the verge of falling through the cracks and becoming developmental orphans unless we commit to a concerted effort to slow down and listen without an agenda (without a To Do List dancing in front of our eyes).

Do you hear the story coming? I do. Do you have pen and paper handy, a pocket recorder, or a computer?

“I remember a time when ………………”

More about Joy Davidson and Joyful Transitions, LLC

Founded in 2011, Joy C. Davidson and Joyful Transitions, LLC, are a voice of experience working with older adults and their families as they face changes, seek late in life purpose, and search for the resources and confidence to live a powerful life. Our support is available through speaking and educational presentations and curriculum.

© 2013, All Rights Reserved by Joy C, Davidson, Joyful Transitions, LLC

Posted August 2013 on