Novelist Cathie Pelletier shares tips on aging well at County expo
PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — Senior citizens, caregivers and their allies in aging gathered at Northern Maine Community College Tuesday for the fifth annual Aging Well Living Well Expo.
Organized by the Aroostook Agency on Aging, the expo featured a keynote speech by Allagash-born novelist Cathie Pelletier, 21 exhibitors and more than two dozen presentations on topics ranging from navigating Medicare insurances to the health benefits of moderate amounts of chocolate.
“It’s amazing to see all of the partners we work with all in one room,” said Joy Barresi Saucier, executive director of the Aroostook Agency on Aging.
The event was sponsored by The Aroostook Medical Center, Cary Medical Center, Northern Maine Community College and WAGM, along with a range of other contributing organizations.
Attendees at the expo could sample vegan ice cream, have their blood pressure checked or learn about long-term care insurance and senior citizens programs in the region.
“This is the Aging Well Expo and it isn’t actually only for older people in our community,” Barresi Saucier said. “We’re all aging. At some point in our life, we’ll all need to access these resources or services that are offered. Many of us are at a time when our parents need these services, so for caregivers, this is a great opportunity.”
Before the keynote presentation, Aroostook Agency on Aging board chair Rev. Ken Phelps spoke about the importance of engaging senior citizens and learning from their experiences.
“I like to go for a walk every day. Recently I was walking through Mantle Lake Park and I found an older gentleman sitting on a park bench at the edge of the lake,” Phelps said. “I learned that he moved into Leisure Village just as my parents did in 2011, to be near one of his children. He was a senior technician at the Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland and he worked on the first supersonic wind tunnel in America.”
“The rest of us want to hear your story,” Phelps said. “It inspires us and encourages us. When you tell your story to others, you’re reminded that you’re unique and important.”
Cathie Pelletier, who grew up in Allagash and went on to have a successful career in writing, told attendees at the expo that they don’t need to be good writers to document the stories of their lives for the next generation.
“I want people who don’t want to be writers but want to put their memories on a page for their children and grandchildren as a special gift,” Pelletier said.
Pelletier developed a questionnaire booklet that people can follow to guide them through the process of documenting their stories for descendents. The booklet is available through the Aroostook Agency on Aging, she said.
While some people may not think their recollections of life are of interest to their family, Pelletier said that children of deceased parents value having that connection.
“If you opened a trunk and found 30 pages that your mother or father had written about their lives, or your grandparents … you’d treasure every word of it. That’s what your children and grandchildren will have.”
Pelletier also shared a range of stories from her family and the experiences of losing her sister and father. She recalled her fond memories of her older sister Joan, an educator who died in 2015 at the age of 69, three months before her father died at the age of 95.
“Some people come very close to perfection and one was my big sister Joan,” Pelletier said.
In the months before Joan died, she saved legions of letters between her and Pelletier that have since been valuable as a way to remember her, she said.
“The mind is a time machine. It can take us to the future. But as we get old, its job is to carry us back in the past in a heartbeat,” Pelletier said.
“Write your life story,” she said, adding that photographs also will be something younger generations will want to keep.
The questionnaire available through the Aroostook Agency on Aging can serve as a guide for starting the process, she said.
“All you have to do is answer the questions. If you answer the questions, you’re going to have a book to give your children.”