Posts Tagged 'Aging in place'

“How many of us are left?”

At our annual lunch at his favorite cafe by the Hudson River, Glenn usually gets around to the question he’s been wanting to ask.

“So, how many of us are left?”IMG_4024-001

Last year, when he asked this, I was fresh off of the memorial of dear Alice. I swallowed, and told him that about half of the original group of 30 that I profiled in my book were still living. And then we talked about how hard it is to see so many go.

This year the losses were even more personal. My grandfather was one of them. He used to ask the same question that Glenn likes to ask. And he’d want to know about the living – the guys in particular – like how Glenn and Eddie were getting on.

When I told Glenn that I thought only 1/3 of the group was still living (10 individuals), he seeemd to connect with that. “We’re all going downhill,” he said. “I’ll be 97 in two months.”

You may recall that Glenn liked to play pranks to get people laughing. To lighten the mood, I asked him if he had played any jokes on anyone recently. He said no, but he had a big surprise for me. (Each year there is big news of some sort that Glenn builds suspense about.)

Out of his file of papers and pictures, he pulled out a bill for a five-day emergency room stay. $25,000. “My doctor told me my heart wasn’t right, so I had to go to the emergency room.” That was the big surprise of 2014. Luckly, being a veteran meant his bills were paid in full, at least in this case.

Glenn lives for his family. An our annual year-in-review lunch, he brought along a file folder full of evidence of his kids and grandkids’ success, and by association, his pride. There was a picture of a fancy yacht, and an amusing story about his grandson’s summer job cleaning that thing with a toothbrush. Then there was a dog bakery menu – evidence of a job his granddaughter’s boyfriend got in New Zealand. And there was his daughter’s recent book on translating – and a free copy for me if I so desired.

After running through the year’s events, he turned to me and says, “Now it is your turn, run through your highlights.” Uh….. I say something brief and they redirect to questions about his kids.

I imagine his kids must have known something was up when he was wheeled into the emergency room. He talks to most of them every day or every other day, and all of a sudden there was silence. I asked if they came to visit recently.

“All of a sudden, when I was in the emergency room, they all had business in New York. They all came to visit, one by one.”

Now back and home, Glenn resumes his daily calls and/or emails with his children (one in Haiti, one in Paris, one in Washington state, and one in Washington DC. He says he can’t do much, and he misses being active. Walking to the mailbox leaves him out of breath. But he did say that he had his Danish friends over last week for lunch.


Lesson Eight: Care for Others – Aging Our Way

Newsflash! The oldest old in America care for their families, their communities, each other.

We’d expect the opposite, right? That the very old are cared for, not vice versa. But in the vast majority of cases, the evidence is there – all around you, to debunk this theory. Here are three elders featured in my book who care for others:

Juana: She wakes up early to make rice and beans for her children. She’s 94 years old. Her daughter lives downstairs, her son lives in another city. Both still depend on their mother for lunch. And she depends on them for rides.

Margaret: She checks in on her neighbor Jackie every day at 4pm. It is just something she does in her senior apartment complex. One day, she stopped by for a visit and asked Jackie (a former nurse) to check her vitals. Something was wrong. Jackie called 911 and saved Margaret’s life.

Eddie: He errands for his friends and family. He picks up groceries, books, and even underwear for his uncle in a nursing home. At the end of the day, he always has a good story about the things he picked up for others. A good story is what makes his day.

Then there are semi-famous nonagenarians who are community activists, like Grace Lee Boggs (age 95), whose love for Detroit and the environment continues to inspire, worldwide.

Just this week in the Wall Street Journal, Yumiko Ono reports on Japanese elders made homeless by the tsunami who are providing support for each other in the form of a regular knitting club.

The stories are a-plenty. As a sociologist, I like to call attention to what I call reciprocal care networks. These networks, made up of non-kin, and kin alike, are vital to those aging in place, those who feel isolated, and honestly, vital to all of us who want to feel part of something larger than ourselves.

These networks are also crucial in constructing resilient communities.

Whatever you call it, the message is the same. Elders are not only care-receivers, they are also caregivers. Even into their 90s.

So when we hear talk about global aging societies as a “drain” on resources (as I keep hearing on the news in relation to Japan, for example), let’s remember that elders add value to our families and communities in a multitude of ways.

This is the eighth in a 13- post series on living well, adapted from Aging Our Way: Lessons for Living from 85 and Beyond

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Meika Loe

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