Topics on Aging

By Juan Gallo

What Does “Love” Mean to Seniors, and How Do We Share Love with Them?

February 23, 2024

What does love mean to seniors?

Valentine’s Day has passed, and with it a busy season for Heart2Heart. 

Every year, we host a flurry of events and deliver hundreds of handmade cards to help our seniors feel special and loved. This year was no exception. We even held a successful, heart-themed Age My Way event in our own building on Feb. 16. 

The day to celebrate love has passed. But love is still on my mind. 

That is partly because the second anniversary of my mother’s death is still ahead of me next month. One of the things my dad and I talk about a lot is the companionship that he had with my mom. 

When we say the word “love” in our culture, we often evoke romance. We think of hearts and roses and maybe those cheesy teddy bears stuck in balloons that were sold on the side of the road last week. 

Romance is one facet of love. But it’s not the full picture. 

Romance versus Companionship 

When my dad refers to my mom, he talks about losing his best friend. He describes her as the beautiful woman she was, of course. 

He mourns losing the person that he was always hanging out with. He misses his lifelong partner. That’s not always the romantic expression of love that we see play out on the Hallmark channel. 

Love, from the perspective of our seniors, takes on a different glow. 

The Biblical Complexities of Love

In the Bible, the word we translate as “love” is actually several different words in the original Greek. There is eros, the passionate, romantic love. This is the root for our English work “erotic.” 

Anyone who has been in eros will tell you that while it’s a strong emotion, it’s not a feeling that endures the test of time.

Another type of love is storge. This word could be translated better as affection. It’s a simple, more familiar love that applies to a wide range of things. In his book “The Four Loves,” C.S. Lewis describes storge as humble —  the type of love that lives alongside things like “soft slippers, old clothes, old jokes, the thump of a sleepy dog’s tail on the kitchen floor.” 

On the opposite side of the scale is agape. This is a rare, unconditional love that’s used when the Bible talks about God the Father giving up his Son for humanity. It’s the word Jesus uses when he says in John 15:13, “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”

Lewis thought philia was an overlooked type of love in our modern age. This Greek word describes friendship or kinship. Philia is a mutual sharing that takes time and effort to develop. It’s a partnership toward a common end. It’s travelers on a shared journey. 

Philia is the type of love that I think my dad misses most when he’s mourning my mom.. 

Maybe people desire different types of love at different phases of life. Or maybe our older neighbors have the wisdom and the advantage of hindsight to understand the true value of philia over the transactional connections that fill much of our modern lives. 

The Work of Love

One of the primary roles of Heart2Heart is helping seniors restore what’s been lost. In today’s culture, it’s often companionship and socialization that’s missing at the end of life. There’s a want for philia

Our goal is to connect volunteers to seniors and provide opportunities for socialization and companionship. Beyond that, we also encourage seniors to go out and seek those philia connections again. 

We also educate the community about the needs of seniors. We’re the 911 dispatchers who receive the calls of distress. We spread a message of awareness. Then we train and equip a contingent of volunteers who willingly answer that call

I’m often blown away by the agape love of our volunteers, as they give away their time, and sometimes their resources, to strangers. Over time, that selflessness develops into warm philia sharing. 

Another role we’ve taken on is connecting seniors to services. There are some needs that can’t be easily addressed by the hours of volunteers. 

Our patient advocates connect seniors to community resources that might be available to them. They help seniors qualify for federal resources available through the Broward County Area Agency on Aging, also called ADRC Broward

Ultimately, our goal is to see seniors served in the name of Christ and with that unconditional agape love he offers. We want to provide answers to the questions they might have about faith and the end of life. 

We want seniors to experience agape. And we want to restore philia to their lives. 

According to Hallmark, the season of love is over. However, there are plenty of ways to show seniors that we care. Love can come by way of a gesture, or a note, sharing a picture, and a memory. Remember that philia love comes over time as we share moments. 

Even if the moment is shared laughter over the absurdity of a teddy bear stuck in a balloon. 

Read more about:
Juan Gallo
Juan Gallo is the CEO of Heart2Heart Outreach, where he oversees the mobilization of volunteers to provide hope, share love and restore purpose to the lives of the aging population across South Florida.

He also serves as a local pastor and as an adjunct professor at Trinity International University, where he is teaching a course on diversity and aging. Juan has a master’s degree in counseling and psychology and is a licensed mental health counselor intern.

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Juan Gallo

This blog is a frank conversation about what it means to age in our society.

I want us to consider what a wider range of diverse experiences when we talk about aging. I want to reflect on how we, as a community, want our neighbors and our mothers and fathers and our grandparents to live out their latter decades of life. I want us to consider each one of their voices as we strive to meet their needs.

Join me for weekly discussions about what it means to be a senior in South Florida and how we can and should respond to the growing needs of the aging population.

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