94-year-old Emilia inspires me and makes me unafraid of old age

Larisa Larisa Shklovtsova is a project psychologist in Kyiv, Ukraine and works with World Jewish Relief in dementia training and in providing support to older people. Here she writes about her inspirational meetings with Emilia, one of the women we support.

Not all of us will be lucky enough to reach old age. We aren’t in the habit of speaking optimistically about ageing. When the topic comes up, we sigh and drop our gaze. But I regularly meet people who break all the negative stereotypes about ageing. Old age can be a time for joy, inspiration and new discoveries. But it is up to us to make sure that happens.

For me, Emilia symbolises wisdom and vitality. She is a paragon of self-acceptance, and it brings me joy to speak with such a motivating and inspiring individual.

Emilia recently turned 94. It’s not every day you meet someone so actively engaged in life. Regardless of her age, she constantly strives to learn new things and develop her mind. In Ukraine, we so rarely talk about people of that age that you would be forgiven for thinking there are no older people at in the country all – or that, if there are, then they must spend their lives between their beds and hospital wards. But there are plenty of examples of people who are active in their later years, just like this amazing woman with her beautiful, melodious name.

Larisa and Emilia

We met up in a café to talk in a more relaxed setting. Emilia told me that she loves spending time in new places, but the last time she visited a café was to remember a friend who had passed away. This time, the reason was a happier one – simply to spend a little time in good company. After all, the opportunity to socialise is an invaluable gift, without which life would be dull, void of colour and emotion.

I have always loved spending time with people older than me. I have always enjoyed listening to their memories and comparing them with my own perceptions of the world.

Emilia is an elegant older lady with kind, deep eyes and an unshakable, welcoming smile. I often meet with her in our community centre. She may look frail, but inside she is a resilient, complex person. Her speech and movement are unhurried, beautiful in their simplicity.

Emilia reminds me of Miss Marple, with her attention to detail and her ability to speak precisely when needed, choosing her words carefully.

On one of our meetings a few years ago, she told me an inspiring story, which helped me to make some important decisions regarding my health. I suspect that Emilia performs little miracles like these for many people on a daily basis.

Helping other people is her guiding principle, and it brings meaning and colour into her life. And so does travel! We love hearing her fresh perspectives, her stories, impressions and opinions after every trip.

Emilia at the HesedEmilia in an art class.

Emilia considers herself “rather unlucky”, since she was not fated to spend her later years with her husband, who passed away twenty years ago. She always keeps a photo of him in her handbag, as proof that they were a happy couple.

Emilia’s vitality is an inspiration to many. In talking to her, we slow down, stop worrying about trivial issues and return to the here and now, full of love and gratitude to the world in which we live. 

Emilia attributes her longevity to good genes, but I think she is just being modest. I think that the Almighty is protecting Emilia as an example to us all of how to grow old gracefully, with dignity and generosity, finding meaning in serving others – Emilia, thank you! I wish you many more years – may you live to be 120!

With love and gratitude, 
Larisa

This article was originally published in Russian for an online psychology forum.

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