An Ode to My Elders: On The Value of Intergenerational Connections

By Lynie Awywen (Follow us on LinkedIn)

Happy Seniors Month! June is Seniors Month in Ontario, a time to acknowledge and celebrate the elderly population. Seniors often experience ageism, a prejudiced attitude that diminishes their importance, limits opportunities and sidelines their perspectives in discussions. In my role as a Toronto Public Library community librarian, I have had the privilege of meeting many seniors whom I deeply respect as my Elders. They have generously shared their wisdom and knowledge with me. In tribute to them and all seniors, I am sharing this post to commemorate Seniors Month.

As a community librarian working from B3 organizations (Black-focused, Black-led, and/or Black-serving), I have had the privilege of gaining invaluable insights and experiences. I believe that effective service planning requires building relationships with community members, centering “soft skills” such as empathy and open-mindedness and understanding the root causes of social exclusion before promoting inclusive services. (Community-Led Libraries Toolkit Report, 2008). Rather than advising community members what they need, my role is to facilitate a collaborative process of identifying their needs, ultimately building capacity and confidence. Through respectful and empowering relationships, I have been able to design and deliver services that truly meet the needs of the community.

Picture provided by author

The most profound and heartwarming aspect of my work has been the deep connections I have formed with the elderly population in the Malvern (Scarborough, Ontario) area, consisting mainly of Afro and Indo Caribbean folks. Working with seniors has highlighted the importance of preserving their stories for future generations. I have had the privilege of hearing fascinating stories from those who have lived through significant historical events and have been able to help them share their knowledge and insights with others.

Conversations with my Elders have taught me some invaluable lessons. In the Notes Between Us spirit, I am using this piece to “pass it on”.  Here are a few of my favorite lessons:

Indulge in something that’s exclusively for you! Take a moment to reflect on what truly brings you joy, without any external influence or opinions. Jackie* has been quietly investing in her personal growth through 1:1 digital literacy sessions with me. She refuses to disclose this to any of her children, even though one of them is a teacher who could offer assistance. She shared that it’s essential to have something just for oneself, away from the expectations and feedback of others. Find a passion or hobby that’s entirely yours and bask in the secrecy and exclusivity of keeping it just for yourself.

*name changed to protect Jackie’s secret!

On the fragility of life: My Elders make it a point to remind me that the beauty of life lies in its impermanence – in the knowledge that each moment is an ephemeral gift that will never come again. Please do not mistake this for toxic positivity. It is possible to cherish and appreciate our experiences without denying or dismissing the full range of emotions that come with them. Through many storytelling sessions, I’ve been reminded that though the weight of life can be challenging and often painful, it is through this journey that we are able to connect with others, find meaning and purpose in our lives, and ultimately emerge stronger and more empowered to face the challenges that inevitably lie ahead. In fact, these conversations have reminded me to continue prioritizing mindfulness + gratitude practices, foster healthy coping strategies, cultivate realistic optimism, practice self-compassion and nurture meaningful connections.

My Elder Hyacinth (pictured in the cover image of this article) tells me her life stories through a collection of gold rings (a Guyanese staple) that cover her fingers. She shares a new story each time we connect: the tragic loss of her only child, the dent in a former engagement ring that led her to be nicknamed ‘Tyson’ (yup, that Tyson) and all the nostalgic stories of our homeland, Guyana.

On time: My Elders have instilled in me a deep respect for time as a finite and irreplaceable resource. Through their lived experiences, they have come to understand the complexities of existence in a way that can only be gained through the passage of time. Their teachings have encouraged me to live deliberately, to accord precedence to what is of significance, and not to let systemic barriers rob me of opportunities.

I am pictured here with Anita during a Black Mental Health Week (City of Toronto) event I organized for seniors. I am smiling extra hard because Anita rarely takes pictures! Picture provided by author

On community: My Elders are a testament to the power of community and the importance of human connection. They have challenged me to cultivate deeper relationships with those around and to give back in meaningful ways. My Elder, Anita, is a leader in her local women’s group and co-chair of the Ubuntu Elder Council which operates under the Ubuntu Village Project at TAIBU Community Health Centre. TAIBU is a trailblazer in delivering community health and social services that are specifically designed to meet the unique needs of Black communities in the Greater Toronto Area, driving innovation and inclusivity in healthcare practices.

Anita also supports TAIBU’s  Malvern Eats, a food program that feeds about 200 community members. Everyone else that crosses her path is also fed, myself included (my favourite are her freshly baked goods). Year after year she receives awards for her selfless dedication to volunteering in various capacities. She will never brag about it — so I will do it on her behalf. Anita is fearless, beautiful and kind.  Her generosity is a conscious choice — a choice that each of us has the power to make.

On death: The wisdom and experience of my Elders has provided me with invaluable insight into the nature of death. Through sincere discussions, they have shared reflections on mortality and the passing of loved ones, offering candid perspectives that I have never encountered before. These conversations have often left me feeling bittersweet, as I recognize the limited time that I may have with them. Growing up without grandparents, the relationships that I have formed help to fill a void and have given me a deeper appreciation for the beauty and complexity of intergenerational connections. I plan to hold a Death Cafe program in the upcoming months.

Through interactions with my Elders, I have come to understand that the aging process is not without its hardships and challenges. Despite the difficulties, however, I have been struck by the richness of the insights, wisdom, and experiences that older adults have shared with me. For that I am deeply grateful.

As such, this is an ode to my Elders…


Notes Between Us (NBU) is a blog about conversations and topics of interest to the writers. The writers are expressing their personal opinions solely. The essays represent their personal beliefs and not that of their workplaces or any organization they are associated with.