Have you seen the British series Last Tango in Halifax?  If you haven’t, and you’re interested in seniors, then you should, because it’s awesome!  The BBC show aired in the US on PBS beginning in 2013.  It’s now available on Netflix, and if you’re looking for a funny, engaging, smart, moving show, I highly recommend it (with, er, a few caveats about plot developments later on)!

Last Tango in Halifax centers around the lives and love of Celia and Alan, a pair of former high school sweethearts who reconnect on Facebook some six decades after she stood him up for a date (accidentally! A note went astray!).  At the end of the first episode, after one rollicking date involving a senior-speed car chase, a police station, and a contentious (to say the least) first meeting between Celia’s daughter Caroline and Alan’s daughter Gillian, the couple announces that they’re going to get married.

The show portrays Alan and Celia’s relationship as practically inevitable.  In an early episode, Celia tells Caroline, “[Marrying Alan] is what I want.  It’s what I’ve always wanted.  I know him better than I know myself.  Can you understand that?”  It may have been only a few days since Celia and Alan found each other again, this line and the show’s first season imply, but their romance is not new. They have a history together, and it’s mostly a matter of catching up and figuring out how to have a relationship now that they’ve had long, full lives without each other.

Those long, full lives mostly involve their previous spouses (both now deceased) and their now-adult daughters.  One of the things this show does so well is contrast Alan and Celia’s sweet, easy romance with the chaotic, conflicted romances of Caroline, Gillian, and pretty much everyone else who enters the characters’ orbit.  When Alan and Celia come into conflict—and they do, because they are human—it concerns their children and grandchildren.  In general, Alan is much more open and accommodating than Celia.  While he expresses disappointment with some of Gillian’s more questionable life choices, he’s never outright cruel, as Celia is to Caroline on more than one occasion.  Later on, this cruelty causes Alan to question whether they can really be happy together.  Later-life romance, Last Tango suggests, requires people to negotiate relationships less as individuals than as members of complicated family networks.

It would be easy for a show like Last Tango to idealize romance between seniors.  Early on, it looks like that will happen.  For example, as Caroline, Gillian, and the grandchildren worry over their whereabouts, Alan and Celia spend a night locked in a “haunted” local mansion.  They’re trapped there accidentally, but they’re fine, and they have a fun time eating chocolates in a historic bed and discussing whether they believe in ghosts.  Their daughters’ worry is unnecessary, and the show’s general attitude seems to be: “Seniors are adults!  They can take care of themselves!  And aren’t they cute?”  It’s all true, but it’s not the whole story.  Like all of us, seniors are complicated.  In the first season finale, after a scene in which Celia expresses bigotry as well as rudeness to Caroline, the relationship nearly ends.  Only a heart attack on Alan’s part and a major mea culpa on Celia’s make it possible for them to reunite.

Here’s a spoiler: Alan and Celia do not marry during the show’s first season.  They do stay together, and as the show progresses over a couple more seasons, they continue to navigate the challenges of later-life romance and marriage.  Last Tango does an excellent job of showing that its aging characters are complex individuals with pasts, presents, and futures.  Alan and Celia are a cute couple, but they’re not just a cute couple.  They are also two individuals with some very not-cute traits, figuring out how to navigate family and love near the ends of their lives.  In short, Last Tango in Halifax does a great job showing that a “third act” romance is possible, and that it’s no easier than romances earlier in life.

I have mentioned before that my Grandpa Marvin lives at Buffalo Hill Terrace.  I am lucky that I get to see him very frequently—almost every working day, at least, and of course at family events on weekends and holidays.  But for most of my life, I’ve had the good fortune to see my grandparents regularly.  I got to know all four of grandparents in some capacity and three of them lived well into my adulthood (my father’s father passed away when I was eleven).

And my good fortune extends even farther than that.  I got to meet seven of my eight great grandparents, and I remember three of them well.  Cream-filled sugar wafer cookies still taste to me like Great-Grandma Lola’s house because she always had them on hand when I visited her as a small child.  I have a lot of memories and associations like that, all because I grew up surrounded by older family members.

I also feel fortunate to have a sense of continuity and connection to my history.  Having grandparents and great grandparents around me has always meant that I know quite a bit about my family’s past.  I certainly wouldn’t have had that without them.

I don’t say all of this just to brag about how lucky I’ve been in my life.  Earlier generations have been important in my life because I get to know more about where I came from.  That also applies to us as a collective society.  Seniors are an important resource because they remember the past and because they’ve experienced social change.  When I talk with Immanuel residents, I get to hear about things like what it was like for women left behind at home during World War II or what it was like to live on a remote farm in Montana at a time when some families still relied partly on horses for transportation.

Seniors are able to take their memories of the past and turn them into wisdom for the present.  We all benefit from this.  When we have seniors in our immediate families, we learn more about who we are as individuals.  When we pay attention to the seniors in our broader communities, we learn about where those communities came from.  This can help us make critical decisions about where we want to go in the future.

I am lucky because I had and have wonderful grandparents and great grandparents with whom I got to spend time.  Retirement communities like Immanuel can be resources where many families and individuals can come together to learn more about the world and to preserve and record the wisdom of the past.

Susan Allison loves reading to children.  Her passion for helping those younger than herself goes all the way back to own childhood, when she helped her grandmother in the church nursery.  Susan grew up in Lawrenceville, Illinois, where her parents first ran a clothing store and later managed an apartment building.  Her first work experience included helping her father with his property management duties.

Susan grew up surrounded by family.  Her grandfather was a minister and her grandmother ran the church nursery and daycare.  When she needed some help, Susan (then a child herself) offered to come take care of and play with the little ones.  She loved it!  Helping in the nursery became a regular part of her weekly routine.

As Susan grew up, she continued to enjoy spending time with children.  She also continued to be grateful for her family’s support.  Susan married and had a child of her own, but her marriage didn’t work out.  Her parents helped make sure that she and her son were secure and that her son had a solid start in life.

Susan realized during her son John’s childhood that one of her favorite ways to spend time with kids was to read to and with them.  She enjoyed it because, in addition to being a fun activity and a way to spend time with her son, she felt she was teaching when she read to him.  She’s carried her warm feelings from this experience with her own child over to her work with other children. “I feel like I’m doing good and helping children learn about things when I read to them,” she told us during her Passions Project interview.

In spite of the pleasure she gets from reading to children and helping them learn, Susan never considered teaching as a career.  “I don’t have the patience,” she says.  Instead, she’s found other ways to continue incorporating work with children into her life, even now that her own son is grown.  These days, she reads to groups of children who visit the Immanuel Skilled Care Center.  Sometimes, when the weather is nice and a ride is available, she goes to read to kids at the nearby daycare.

Now that she’s older, Susan enjoys different aspects of her interactions with children.  She’s in a wheelchair, and she’s learned that kids are curious about it.  They really enjoy the chance to wheel her around, and Susan likes this, too.  Reading to kids and interacting with them continues to give Susan a sense of purpose, and she appreciates the way children tend to take people just as they are.

Susan discovered her passion for caring for kids early in her life when she helped her grandmother in the church nursery.  Now, she’s one of the “grandmas and grandpas” the kids from the daycare come to visit.  She truly found her lifelong passion!

As the new year begins, we often think about what we’d like to do differently.  A lot of people make New Year’s Resolutions, in which they set out specific goals for the coming year.  The Immanuel Foundation has several New Year’s Resolution, and you can help us meet them.  Here’s what we’re resolved to do in 2019:

  • Grow our fundraising presence!  A lot of people in the Flathead see Immanuel Lutheran Communities as an important resource for seniors in our community.  Not everyone knows that Immanuel is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that seeks philanthropic support.  But we’ve been fundraising in the Flathead Valley for over sixty years.  You can help by spreading the word!
  • Grow our Partners in Caring Monthly Giving Program!  Partners in Caring give a set amount every month on a recurring, automatic basis.  These gifts, no matter how small or large, are reliable for Immanuel and convenient for donors.  With one action, you can give steadily throughout the year (and beyond!).  All you have to do is visit our Partners in Caring page to set up your donation via credit card.  If you prefer to give by secure bank transfer or, if you’re an Immanuel employee, with a payroll deduction, just call or visit the Immanuel Foundation office.  Thank you.
  • Grow our Vehicle Donation program!  We accept the donation of any unwanted vehicle.  It can be a car, truck, boat, motorcycle—or even an RV.  All you have to do is visit our vehicle donation page—or call 855-500-RIDE (7433).  A representative will take your vehicle information and set up a pickup time.  You won’t have to do anything else, and your gift is tax deductible.  Don’t have an old vehicle?  Let your friends and family know, just in case they have an old one that can benefit Immanuel.

We’ll also be hosting at least one event here at Immanuel Lutheran Communities in 2019, and we hope to take The Passions Project photographs on the road so others in our area can see these wonderful pictures.  Whatever we do, we hope you’ll resolve to join us in whatever makes sense for your schedule, your budget, and your desire to serve seniors in the Flathead Valley.  Happy New Year!