My younger son Jonathan graduated college this past May, and was fortunate to have a great job offer in hand prior to graduation. From there ensued a flurry of activity – a graduation party, searching for and securing an apartment in Groton (job too far to commute from home), moving furniture out of his UCONN apartment, as well as transporting additional donated “well loved” furniture from our home.

This chaos temporarily allowed me to not focus on the simple reality that although this will always be his home, Jonathan has started on his own path in life. And although my older son Chris is still living at home, he too has a great job and career path and is planning to move out soon. As parents, this is always our goal – to try to provide our children with the best tools and advice we can throughout their life to nurture their independence and growth into adulthood. But along with that comes the reality that your role in their lives has changed, and because you’ve done your job well they don’t need you as much, and in quite the same way. It’s a bittersweet emotion that provokes thoughts and conversation on relevance and meaning throughout the various stages of life, and how those very words and associated emotions impact not only how well we view ourselves throughout those stages, but our overall physical and psychological health. This becomes even more critical as we age, and children, parents, and friends move on or pass away, and we start to face our own mortality.

As both a designer and gerontologist, I’ve witnessed the impact of loss of relevance and contribution as we age – with parents, within senior communities, as well as in the community at large. This need cannot be fulfilled solely with beautifully designed interiors, sing-a-longs, bingo games, lunch outings, or chair exercises. This deficiency of relevance has created rapidly growing percentage rates of seniors suffering from isolation, depression, alcoholism, and suicide. There needs to be a true sense of worth derived from involvement, community, and contribution, no matter what an individuals’ age, physical, or cognitive abilities. Surely there is a better way to integrate and share the skills, knowledge and wisdom of our elders into both their immediate surroundings, as well as the community at large, enriching the lives of all generations.

As for me, my goals are to still be “mom” to my sons, (they still have a lot to learn!), wife, and hopefully one day, grandma. But along with that I find meaning in my role as an advocate and partner for our elders, and consultant to my great clients, planning and designing environments that continue to encourage and foster independence, identity, and most importantly, relevance.