Share Your Lessons for Living Through A Crisis

We are gathering advice from elders who lived through the Great Depression and World War II on how to cope with our current crisis. The Legacy Project is devoted to collecting and sharing elder wisdom, and we’d love to hear from you about how younger people can stay well and hopeful. Please share your lesson in the comment box below. Feel free to share your own wisdom, or advice that an elder shared with you.

(We have shared some lessons for living through a crisis after the comments box.)

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214 thoughts on “Share Your Lessons for Living Through A Crisis

  1. My Uncle Charles game me advice that I think a lot of people in his generation missed out on. He was born right at the hight of baby boomers, but had 8 other siblings to help care of and was enlisted into the army before he was even 20. The advice he game me was that you need to get an education in some way or form so you can have a better life going on. “The more you know the more you know, the better you can do.” He didn’t get that chance, and he wants others to be able to experience it.

  2. After interviewing Thelma Unger, an eighty-seven-year old who has lived a bright life, I gained valuable insight. She emphasized taking advantage of positive opportunities that present themselves. She says one must know what is good for them because no two people are the same and when it comes to finding a career you must find a passion that makes you excited to wake up every morning. The most interesting advice I received from her was do everything in moderation. Whether it be work, leisure, etc. and I found this interesting because I think it reflects an age difference between cohorts. Her cohort certainly differs from the cohort that group up in the early 2000’s and moderation for each has a distinct difference. Her advice continued with not worrying about everything that comes about. Be concerned about the major aspects of life and don’t sweat the little things or you will waste time you don’t have. Finally, Thelma said, “If you don’t have your health, you have nothing.”

  3. I recently had the opportunity to interview one of my favorite people in the world – Elizabeth Burton, my volunteering friend that I met after doing some work at a local museum. Some of the best advice that I have received:
    – Marry out of respect, not love or lust.
    – You can be raised as an atheist but then find your path in religion.
    – Having side jobs enables you to learn more about yourself and your passions.
    – “We’re all just human beings that are a bunch of jerks.”
    – Marry someone that you want to, even if your father is a jerk about it.
    – There’s a way to find a solution to even the scariest looking problems.
    – Be passionate about what you care about. Stand up for your beliefs.
    – Be persistent on things. Keep forging forwards. No regrets.
    – Stop thinking about yourself and start thinking of other people. Listen and see if you can help with anything.
    – Every single person is a good person inside. But everyone’s wrapped up with themselves that no one wants to reach out.
    – Aging isn’t like tests – you don’t know when anything is going to happen to anyone at any time so you gotta worry about today and not focus on anything else.

  4. “Caring is what matters most in life,” nonagenarian Edith Carter told me with heartfelt conviction as I interviewed her for a project on active nonagenarians.

    Every day this dedicated woman made the walk from her retirement cemteer apartment to the rehab wing, spending an hour visiting residents to show them that they weren’t forgotten. “It’s as good for me as it is for them,” she explained.

    Edith’s insistence that “we shouldn’t be bystanders and wait for someone else to help” was shaped by the tragedy of her having been a victim of the Holocaust. She survived unspeakable horrors, not the least of which was losing her husband as well as every other member of her family. After going through complete despair, she created a new life for herself in America. In her sixty years of living in Cincinnati, she took every opportunity to speak out about the hellish events of the Holocaust and against ongoing global atrocities.

    Despite the starvation, hard work, and deprivation of the war years, Edith insisted she was never sick – only “sick in heart and mind” over man’s inhumanity to man.

    Edith was content in her apartment at her retirement home. Friends mattered most to her, and she had companions of all ages. She lived a life of simplicity: a window in her bedroom through which light streamed, meaningful photos and artwork on the walls, and being able to watch world news, listen to NPR, and have a steady diet of reading – these means of connecting and keeping informed were all she needed. She cared nothing about materialism. “Possessions are all just lifeless things,” she noted.

    She suffered terribly each time she remembered the losses of her past, but she delved into her personal history to be able to help new generations understand that hatred and bigotry must never be allowed to scourge the earth again.

    Before her death in May of 2010 at the age of 95, Edith spoke frequently in public about her hellish war experiences, all to bear witness to the evil of this time in history and to work against repeating it.

    Edith recorded her memories for Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust Memorial; videotaped a remembrance of the events through which she lived for Project Eternity; filmed a testimony for the Survivors of the Shoah Visual History Foundation; emblazoned her story in the Holocaust collection of the Jacob Rader Marcus Center of Cincinnati’s American Jewish Archives; and confided her past to her granddaughter-in-law, Patricia J. Hruby, who chronicled Edith’s experiences in Two Worlds: A Family Memoir about the Holocaust, Intermarriage, and Love.

    “I try to emphasize that we all have to be part of it – we can’t sit and wait for others to take action,” Edith said. “We must support those far out on the branch.”

  5. Advice that my grandmother has for younger people is to not worry about things that cannot be controlled. Things will work out how they are supposed to and fall into place like they are meant to. She repeated the phrase “life takes care of itself” and I think this is something that is very important to remember. Being over-anxious about things will keep you from living your life and there is no sense in doing that about things you have no control over. This is something I always try to keep in mind. It is important to live your life the way you want to without worrying too much because life is short. I think younger people can learn a lot from older people and vice versa. It is necessary for people of all age categories to communicate and learn from one another.

  6. “No one’s better than anyone else.” — from my father, who was in WWII in the foxholes and observed the officers were just as afraid as everyone else. It’s mostly about questioning status and position, so my formulation is closer to “Question authority.”

  7. As a young boy growing up in the heart of the Great Depression our family had very limited income and hardly any material possessions. I wore hand-me- down clothes that didn’t fit and had no toys like the other kids. I was being raised by a wonderful grandma whose simple advice to a little boy has stuck with me my entire life.
    Knowing I felt out of place and embarassed, grandma told me “keep your head up, a smile on your face, and your shoes shined, and you will be alright”. It wasn’t how I looked, or the toys I didn’t have. It was about having a positive attitude.

    It worked!

  8. “Be thankful for the things in life you have seen through the years. Be thankful you are alive and live life to the fullest.”

    Mr. Weisel served 2.5 years during WWII. He landed on Normandy Beach, fought in the Battle of the Bulge, helped liberate a concentration camp (Nordhausen) and earned a WWII Victory Medal, Good Conduct Medal, Normandy Beach Medal and European-African-Middle Eastern Service Medal. On August 24th, 2003 Mr. Weisel visited Normandy Beach. It was something he always wanted to do. He wanted to go back and visit the place his memory could not erase. While he was at the Utah Beach Museum on Normandy Beach he passed by a room where a meeting was being held. He stopped in and shared his story. They invited him back the next day and presented him with a certificate of honor along with another medal. That day he finally walked on the beach he tried so hard to erase from his memory. While standing on the beach he realized that the bunkers were still there and not much had been cleared. He said, “All I saw were hundreds of dead bodies laying around and floating on the water.” Emotions overtaking him, he added, “You should always be thankful for your life and live it to the fullest.”

  9. My beloved and inspirational Grandmother, Eula Mae Coburn, passed away on 1/1/11, at the amazing age of 105 years old. For the past five years, since she turned 100, I often heard people ask her for her advice on how to live a satisfying life to such an old age. The advice I most often heard her give to people was “Be happy with what you’ve got!” She grew up quite poor, and worked hard during her life, and she was married to the love of her life for sixty years before he died over twenty years ago. She had three children, two of whom she outlived, and she was grateful for every blessing she had, and never complained about anything! She thought it was “such a shame” that people today seem to always be wanting more and searching for happiness, instead of enjoying the moments and “being happy with what they got!” I think of her often, and am trying to heed her wisdom and pass it on to my own children.

  10. “Social Graces”
    A 93 year old woman named Ruth (my mother) recently told a story about coming to age in her teenage years during the Great Depression, made worse for her family by the Dust Bowl on the plains of North Dakota. This was not the first time that her family had suffered hardships, however. Her grandmother, named Martha, immigrated to North Dakota alone in 1890 to marry a man named Jens, whom she knew only from a letter, a man who had come to the United States earlier with his family, only to have his first wife and two daughters die from typhoid fever. Jens originally came to this country from the same area in Sweden as Martha, so he knew about her family having three daughters. Despite having never met these young women, he wrote to one asking her to come to North Dakota and marry him. She declined, but her sister, Martha, accepted, knowing that she wanted to begin her family in America. The young woman packed up her nice linens and clothing, traveled to North Dakota, surprised to find that she would be living in a sod house. Jens and Martha worked their farm together, raising five children, but it would be 4 years after their marriage before they were able to build their home and move out of the sod house. The story continues explaining, that for all three generations, holding onto their “social graces” brought them all through hardships, war, and strife to find their lives very successful after all.
    She shared this, because despite hardship and trying times, her family kept together no matter what came their way. Ruth emphasizes that from her experience, she feels it is important in life to remember one’s “social graces” throughout both good and rough times. Admittedly, this included Emily Post’s Etiquette, the official handbook on manners. The “social graces” that she prefers to mention are:
    1. Integrity.
    2. Graciousness
    3. Generosity.
    4. Character.
    5. Thoughtfulness.
    6. Humor
    7. Positive Outlook
    Our country is undergoing some difficult financial times, affecting many families. Many of those out of work today have been hard working, contributing citizens, but now find themselves living with hardships and uncertainty. But for all of us, it is not how we conduct ourselves in good times that will define us, but rather how we conduct ourselves in difficult times. We can keep our “social graces” at work each day by:
    1. Be honest and fair.
    2. Treat others with respect, both in word and deed.
    3. Give of yourself and your salary to those in need.
    4. Show strong character.
    5. Be thoughtful, not just hurried, in making decisions that affect others.
    6. Remember humor is almost always appreciated.
    7. Be positive, and avoid pessimistic attitudes.
    Our country has worked through problems in the past, and it is likely we will again with hard work, perseverance, tenacity, and sacrifice. We are asked to do more with less during these times, and we all appreciate having the opportunity to come to work each day. Think about the relevancy of these “social graces,” and consider whether there is significance for them today.
    Christy Fair, 62

  11. I truly believe that when both the mother and father stand strong and are united(whether divorced or not) that their ” adult” children will stop the demeaning, dismissive, belittling behavior towards one of the parents. It’s harder to knock down one parent when there is a united front…AND….No man should EVER let a child, adult or not, speak to their mother in ANY demeaning way!!.NO EXCEPTIONS…

  12. My grandmother Wilma shared some good remedies to help people that are struggling with mental health. She shared that being inside confines you and can have an effect on your mental health. “If you have someone that’s struggling with mental health take them outside for a walk by the water just get outside”.
    My grandmother shared that prayer helps her. Before the pandemic my grandmother went to prayer at our church a lot now nothing really is different. She still is in a prayer group over the phone. She expresses to me that technology is so important now, it helps her so much and keeps her connected. Family is so important during this time because if you have at least someone you can have help with mental health, someone to be there for you to take you out and spend time together. There are ways to communicate with family other than face to face but it still is heart breaking to not be able to hug your loved ones.
    My grandmother expressed that her mental state has not changed because of her faith in god and her prayers. I asked her how we can help people that we can’t see and her answer was one simple word: pray. My grandmother says if we can’t help them directly we can pray for them.
    My grandmothers faith gives her strength to continue on and hope that this pandemic will get better.

  13. I talked to a man named Mr. Bird. We had an interesting conversation about the challenges he faced in life and how we dealt with them. He used to be in the military and they made him cut grass which was not included in his role. The advice he gave me was when you are doing something that’s not in your job description do your best and push through it!

  14. I had a conversation with Mr.Bryd. We had an interesting conversation about his life and the struggles he had to go through. He used to be in the army. During his time in service, he was told to cut grass. It bothered him because it wasn’t in his “job description” but he did it because a figure of authority ordered him to. His advice to me was whenever a person of authority gives you a task to do that’s out of your job description, do your best regardless and preserve through it.