I met Raynia Carr about 18 years ago, when our now teenagers were just babies. We were neighbours and then friends, navigating the early years of parenting and the roller coaster of emotions and unpredictable moments that went along with it.
Now, we bond over our shared love for our dogs, long power walks and girls' weekends away. The one thing that has stayed consistent over the years despite the ups & downs, is that Raynia remains one of the kindest, most thoughtful and most genuine people I know.
And she always tells great stories.
Raynia, a geriatric social worker who spent many years working with seniors and their families, has taken her pivotal life experiences and her personal learnings from her career, and connected them in a beautifully written and engaging new book, titled: “Moments: The Stories That Make a Life.”
Read our Q&A with Raynia, below, about the important connection between kindness and aging well.
What inspired you to write the book?
Moments was born out of something that wasn’t intended. I live in Toronto and was part of a writing group during the pandemic. The other writers were based in Montreal, and we met over Zoom for about a year. As COVID did for so many, it was a time for self-reflection and re-evaluating purpose. The stories I found myself writing were personal reflections taken from all stages of my life that also incorporated my experiences as a medical social worker.
As the pandemic started wrapping up, so did our group. One night, I was looking through what I had written and realized the stories were a compilation of the lessons I had learned over many years. I started imagining each story as a chapter, and I noticed how they were connected by moments. I pictured it as something to leave for my kids and a way to thank my aging parents. From there, the book was created. Have my kids read it? No. But hopefully, they will one day. Have my parents read it? Yes - so they say - several times. Ultimately, I decided to publish the book because I figured it would be worth it, even if one person found meaning in it.
How do the pivotal moments in our life help to shape our life story?
If you were asked to think back on your life — the choices you made, something unexpected that happened, a path you found yourself on — you might notice that even the smallest of such moments contributed to who you are today.
We aren’t always conscious that moments have the potential to shape who we are and what we become. But paying attention to them is where the gift lies. In my book, a few chapters speak specifically to kindness: Gratitude, Endings, Smile and Old. However, the way I see it - the whole book is an ode to kindness — recognizing that the moments of your life count for something, is an act of kindness to yourself.
As a social worker who often worked with families dealing with difficult issues and decisions, are there a few moments of kindness that stand out?
I have been a medical social worker for most of my career, working in almost every clinical area of various acute care hospitals, from the Intensive Care Unit to Emergency departments, and everything in between. Those experiences, over time, deeply impacted how I viewed and lived life. I regularly draw from the wisdom of patients’ stories I have heard. To me, they were my true teachers.
I observed much from the dynamics that played out in standard hospital rooms. In other words, the spaces that contained four hospital beds as opposed to semi-private ones with two beds or a private one with just one bed. The ability to draw a curtain hardly shields a patient from their roommate’s vulnerabilities. Usually, the only thing in common between patients in a room is the medical or surgical section of the hospital where they are placed. Even then, a broad scope of illnesses affects each person differently, as well as their distinct personalities, histories, life experiences and cultures.
Some of the kindest moments unfolded over my career in those standard rooms where I witnessed patients or their families offering kindness to one another or with another patient who may had been lonely and had no visitors. I recall being struck by the organic nature of kindness, whether it was simple words of encouragement called over from one hospital bed to the other after someone had a bad night, or just by the simple banter that took place between those who were unwell. Naturally, I witnessed the opposite of kindness as well — but herein lies the key: kindness is a choice. Any two people can have the same situation before them, but each can respond to it in entirely different ways. The way I see it, if we talk about our ultimate path to well-being and healing, kindness wins every time.
Aging is a theme in the book and especially how aging impacts us as individuals, and how it affects our families. What do you see as the connection between kindness and aging well?
Aging has always been an interest, starting with my educational focus and then carrying over to my career in hospitals and corporate social work, and now, within my private practice. We live in a society that tends to favour youth and can discriminate against being older. Unfortunately, ageism is real, and it gets reflected in our attitudes toward older people, as well as through stereotyped representation in film or television, how we define beauty standards or the value we place on caring for older people in our society.
Over the last thirty years since my career began, I have observed improvement in some areas, but there is a long way to go before we address much of it. When we come to our latter years, many realize that kindness is what sustains us. We especially need to be treated with kindness for many issues related to aging, whether it’s facing a difficult diagnosis such as dementia, experiencing challenging life transitions, or coming to terms with the approaching end of our lives.
What does kindness mean to you? And what kind of an impact can it truly have?
To me, kindness isn’t something you do; it’s a way of life. Similar to the practice of mindfulness, it is a shift from doing to being. It means being kind in all actions, from the smallest to the largest, and using it to filter how we see our world. Kindness doesn’t mean being a saint, nor is it necessarily about self-sacrifice. It’s about approaching all aspects of life with curiosity, an open heart, and compassion. It is then that kindness can be incorporated as a guiding life principle, and the other things flow from there. The beautiful part about it is that every single one of us has kindness as an option, and it’s up to us if we choose to embrace it.
Learn more about Connected - Raynia’s counselling service focused on issues related to aging, and read her bi-weekly blog.