Posts Tagged 'family'

Intergenerational Relationships

Hi, my name is Ariel Sherry, and I am a rising senior at Colgate University with a passion for working with older adults and studying aging. Given that Professor Loe’s Sociology of the Lifecourse class, which I took my sophomore year, greatly fueled my passion for gerontology, and that Professor Loe continues to be an ongoing source of support as I continue my exploration in this field, it’s only fitting that I continue my process of reflecting on this subject by contributing to her wonderful blog.


Ariel with Grandma Audrey and Papa Saul

My grandparents at my soccer game

As my first blog entry, I thought it would be appropriate to talk about why I am even passionate about gerontology in the first place. After all, it’s a question my friends and those who meet me and learn of my interest in gerontology often ask. At first I struggled to answer this question because I had never really given it much thought. Upon reflection, however, it dawned on me that the answer was actually rather simple — my relationship with my grandparents.


My grandparents have always been important and present people in my life. Thinking back on my childhood, it seems that I was seeing or talking to at least one grandparent nearly every week. It certainly helped that one set moved to the same town I lived in when I was very young and that we had a tradition of calling the other set every Sunday to share updates on the important events of the week. This constant connection is the reason memories of my childhood are imbued with many fond recollections of time spent with my grandparents: from Florida visits, to baking and eating yummy treats, to celebrating holidays and birthdays.


I believe that the active role my grandparents had and continue to have in my life has tremendously shaped the way I view older generations. In a book I recently read on ageism, Cuddy and Fiske (2002) describe how one way to confront stereotypes is to meet individuals who defy the expectations set by those stereotypes. In addition, they describe how one’s experiences with certain members of a social group can influence how we perceive others believed to fit that group. I believe that my grandparents served as those individuals who defied the negative stereotypes of seniors as incompetent and led me to perceive older adults, whom I associate with my grandparents, as individuals who are supportive family members and who have wonderful stories and knowledge to share.

Ariel with Grandma Abby and Papa Murray

Visiting my grandparents in Florida


While I’m sure there are other factors that lead me to have a far more positive view of older adults than many of my peers, I think the intergenerational relationships in my life have been extremely influential. This makes me feel even more strongly that more effort should be made to promote and facilitate intergenerational relationships. Not everyone is fortunate enough to have grandparents who can live so close by and take on such active roles in their lives, but there are still many other ways for children to interact with older adults, such that they can form their own opinions about this age group rather than automatically subscribe to the negative ageist messages too often spread in our culture. Whether walking with an older neighbor, organizing a senior to tutor a child, or having children visit senior living facilities, there are countless ways to connect these generations. I think this is a key topic to consider as we think about our aging society, and it will be interesting to see what innovative programs develop.


As for me, I continue to call and visit my grandparents frequently. I also actively seek to make connections with other older adults. I have one friend, who is 97-years-old, whom I visit just about every week during the school year. And, this summer I have plans to go on afternoon walks with a woman just about to turn 101, and I can’t wait to hear her stories and learn about her experiences!


We Miss You, Kochi-Dog

We were one of the families that adopted a dog just after 9/11. Matt and I were just starting our life together. We had planned to visit my family in India, around our one year anniversary. Instead, like many Americans, we sat in front of the TV in shock. Our trip was no longer possible.  Then we saw a funny looking mutt named Snoopy flash on our TV screen during a public service announcement.

the former snoopyWeeks later, we took Snoopy home from the Humane Society. We renamed him Kochi, after the place in India that we were no longer able to visit. Instead, we experienced our first lessons in parenting.  The dog (like us) was one year old. He was hyper and endlessly curious. At obedience class, we learned that we had to be consistent in our messaging, or all hell would break loose.

Gradually the dog fell into familiar patterns, and so did we. There was something deeply comforting about daily routines revolving around our new (slightly freakish) family member.

Inside the house Kochi displayed the affection of a kitty cat. He rubbed up against your leg, sat at your feet, straddled any part of you he could get close to. After a dog-sitting stint, my mother said she had never before known a dog to wake her up in the morning by rubbing against her bed.

relaxed, but ready to pounceOutside, the dog lost all loyalties. Life in the outdoors was totally governed by scent. Kochi’s MO was find-and-conquer.  (This may go back to his hardscrabble days living on a farm, before we adopted him, and his mixed Husky heritage.) Walking with us downtown, Kochi always sniffed out the chicken bones and pizza crusts hidden under the bushes. The fleeting scent, sight, and sound of a deer running through the park or neighborhood set him off at a fast pace. And always at the most inopportune times, he found and attempted to kill skunks. He must have been sprayed at least 7 times. The most embarrassing tale involved bringing him to a nature preserve and him immediately clobbering a duck (who survived).  Then again, there was also the time he jumped out of the half-open car window (while I was driving) to catch a squirrel; another uncomfortable memory I immediately repressed.

Given the dog’s unpredictability, we wondered how he’d be with a baby in the house. We followed everyone’s advice; Matt brought the baby hat back from the hospital, which he sniffed readily. When baby came home, he licked her face. The baby then became a child who pulled at his tail, teased, and dropped lots of delicious food crumbs. With her, Kochi was cautious, but affectionate. In 6 years only once did he bark at her; when she accidentally jumped on his foot doing gymnastics. The rest of the time Kochi was a gentle friend and brother, utterly patient and forgiving. L became his primary playmate and caretaker, whistling for him to come, letting him outside, and planning his birthday parties.

feeding kochiFast-forward to Kochi-dog’s thirteenth birthday. He ambled up the stairs, after the line of treats carefully set out for him. That year he almost missed the bone at the end of the path of treats. And getting up the stairs wasn’t easy. I started to refer to him as the elder in our house. We compared him to Great-Gramps, the other elder in our family whom my daughter loved dearly. Both were a bit lazy. They moved slower. They had little aches and pains. Both were near the end of their lives. We talked about making sure to give them lots of love before they go.

Around that time, our daughter set up a “salon” in the corner of the living room. Next to the hairbrush and the spray bottle was a pile of rawhide bones. All types of salon customers were welcome, and all went away happy.

Six months lakochi learns to stayter our dear pup no longer lived for food, companionship, and exercise. He walked with pain, barely ate, and slept for longer and longer periods. As my mother-in-law said, “Kochi is only 10% here.” This was a shocking reality, coming from the dog who seemingly had a million lives; he always bounced back. But a non-wagging tail raised questions about his quality of life. And when he stopped eating for good we knew we needed to call his vet.

Kochi’s vet did something extraordinary. She came to the house to help Kochi die peacefully. This decision was and still is especially hard for me. As a hospice volunteer, I help to make human lives comfortable during the dying process. But I never end a life. I was prepared to continue giving comfort care to our dog Kochi. But what was the point, if a few days of pain and suffering could be avoided?

Comfort care at the end of Kochi’s life looked like this: Matt and I peacefully saying goodbye (petting aby the fireplacend consoling), as he relaxed in his favorite bed in the living room, by the fireplace. I say relaxed, because the vet made sure he was drowsy with sedative. But even with his eyes closed, his nose was still sniffing away, sensing that someone new and interesting was in the room. While renal failure and arthritis slowed him down, dear Kochi never lost his curious spirit.

As I write this, I think I hear a deep sigh coming from the living room, by the fireplace. Smacking teeth and deep sighs have for years been part of my writing process, I now realize. During my working at home days, when Kochi relaxed, I did too, and vice versa. And that’s how it was in the end too.

That first night he was gone, we put on headlamps and tramped out into the dark and snowy backyard to find the holes he had dug the summer before. Each hole got decorated with his favorite bones. Later we joked about the squirrels having a field day. Inside, we hung his dogtag on a nail by the door. We lit a candle, and we looked at pictures and reminisced.

For anyonkochi and his devoted parentse who has lost a beloved pet/family member, you know how hard it is. I still want to feed Kochi the leftover scrambled eggs and Matt still wants to let him out at night.  Three weeks later, we persevere, but there is a huge hole in our lives. We talk about missing him; that’s all we can do.

Of course there is comfort in a life well-lived and the gifts he gave. And relief. Today, thunderstorms are in the forecast, and I am relieved that Kochi will never again have to endure that trauma.


Thank you Mom and Rani, Karen, and Anh – Aunties to Kochi – for the fantastic pictures and memories. I will always treasure these.

If you have a favorite memory of Kochi to share, or a story about saying goodbye to a pet or a loved one, all are welcome here, as usual.

By the way, in case there are questions, it seems appropriate to me that my 100th post on this blog about aging with dignity and quality of life should be about our beloved pet. This blog has been a space for me to grieve and celebrate the cycle of life. Writing is one way I process such things. Thank you for sharing in this process with me, dear, loyal readers.

With love, Meika

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Gratitude and Sadness, Gramps is Gone

May-July 2012 016Dear readers,

I have had a hard time writing, because the elder who inspired my research and so much more, my last remaining grandparent, and one of my best friends in life, is gone.

This week we – Gramps’ family – will gather in his home one last time for Thanksgiving. We travel with hearts full of gratitude and heavy with sadness.

A line from my Gramps’ favorite Streisand songs runs over and over in my head: “People who need people are the luckiest people in the world.”

I now see that I really needed my grandfather, and he was there for me. I feel so lucky to have had 40 years of unconditional love and support from Gramps. I have learned so much about politics, movies, well-being, kindness, and generosity from this man. And I am convinced that Gramps made it his primary goal to boost the confidence of those he cared about. So I always felt needed and loved by him. How cool is that?

I am thankful for the closeness of the family he left behind.  In many ways, Gramps fostered and sustained family togetherness and ritual that we will always treasure. Like modeling gratefulness. One funny Thanksgiving Gramps announced how proud he was that his family wasn’t into drugs. In fact, our success (above and beyond being drug-free) was largely his doing – he ensured that we all had the the college education he wasn’t able to afford. And there he was, cheering for us the whole way.

There is so much left to say, but I will leave it here for now.

I feel deep gratitude for the many gifts my grandfather shared, and the memories…

We will leave a big piece of pecan pie out for you, Gramps.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone.







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Grandparents’ Invisible Work

ist2_2897117_scribbles_grandparentsDuring a recent family vacation, the grandparents were busy as usual. They were working in the background, so their labor was mostly invisible. But their efforts made for a successful trip. Without them, I’m not sure what we (adults and kids) would have done.

*The rental kitchen was stocked with foods we all like (including the picky grandkids).

*Kids had library books to read, piles of them.

*Local restaurant menus were available on the counter. (Who do you imagine picked them up?)

*The youngest kiddos had playmates and general supervision at all times, even while slumbering.

*And believe it or not, the grandparents had even more to give – including compliments, hugs, and intelligent commentary at all times – even when you knew they must be exhausted.

Try to thank them for their efforts, and they’ll likely turn it back on you, saying they thoroughly enjoyed themselves. But this is my attempt to value that work – the work they do on a regular basis for us, their kids.

Grandparents Day is Sunday, September 8th. So let’s honor the fact that:

According to the Census Bureau, growing numbers of children in the United States are living with a grandparent. In 2010, about one in 14 U.S. children (7 percent) lived in a household headed by a grandparent—for a total of 5.4 million children, up from 4.7 million in 2005.

Whether they live with grandchildren or not, grandparents are more involved in their grandchildren’s lives than ever before, whether they live close or far.

Let’s take time to acknowledge the important impact these inter-generational relationships can have.

Thanks to you, grandparents!



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Caring for Someone? This book might help you put it in perspective

31elsewhere-articleInline…or it might stress you out.

In Richard Russo‘s new memoir, Elsewhere, he tracks his codependent relationship with his mother from his childhood to the months following her death. Richard grew up as the only child of a can-do single mother in the aging mill town of Gloversville, NY. It was his mother who was among the first women working at GE in nearby Schenectady, NY. And years later it was his mother who rode with him across the country in a beat-up car to college in Arizona. Both were ready for a new start in life. And as Rick worked his way through his academic and fiction writing career, earning literary awards, and earning their way out of the working class, mom insisted on living near her “rock” of a son, and insinuating herself into his life. Afterall, she had nobody else.

As I read this book, I thought of my father caring for his mother (both single) at the end of her life, and of many of my friends currently caring for their parents. It is so difficult not to feel resentment or a sense of “burden” as the sole caregiver. Aside from recent work on “zen caretaking,” most of us have a hard time with dependency in a culture that values the opposite. And that’s just the tension that exists in Russo’s tale – a mother who is a die-hard stubborn independent continues this performance for some time, despite functional potential to the contrary. How does a caregiver honor that constant push for autonomy while at the same time being genuine and true?

Richard doesn’t answer these questions – it is only, perhaps, in writing the book after her death, and looking back on their parallel trajectories, that strands of understanding and forgiveness emerge. The reader benefits from starting at the beginning in Gloverville, NY, where mom fought hard for health, love, work, and family.  Learning the ins and outs of their relationship as mother and son helps one to understand how the Russos negotiate the future together, as the stubborn yet resilient Joan and Rick together confront hurdles associated with genetics, health, aging, and even dying. In some ways, Joan was unlucky when it came to health and love. A generation later, Rick was the opposite.

Many readers will probably relate to the traditional caregiving moments, especially when the story becomes a resigned “we moved mom to this place, and she didn’t like it, so we moved her again.” But under-girding the moves, the interpersonal tensions and challenges are the more interesting part of the memoir – the ways in which selves are woven into places and rituals and social mores.

I wanted this book to double as a memoir about one of my favorite authors, as well as a how-to book for caring for our parents. In many ways, it delivers on both. Most of all, it reminds us that whatever stage we find ourselves at, we all tremble constantly on the tightrope between autonomy and dependence.

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Two Heroic Love Stories, for these Dreamy Olympic Days

Glenn, my jolly Danish friend who happens to be in his mid-90s, just emailed to offer me his three set collection of 50 Shades of Gray. The last set he lent me, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo series, left me immobile for weeks. So this time I turned him down nicely.

And yet, romance seems to be in the summer air, along with the 2012 Olympics, which makes for a dreamy sort of effect. And I have been seeing and hearing about romance everywhere I turn lately, particularly involving the over-80 set.

On NPR this morning, I learned about Lena Henderson and Roland Davis of Buffalo, NY, a divorced couple whose second spouses have both passed away. They recently realized that they still care for each another.

Yes, at 85 years old, Lena and Roland reconnected, and came to the common understanding that they need each other in new and familiar ways, 48 years after their divorce. So they are getting married again and doing it up big this time, with four generations of family in the mix.

Now I’m a child of divorced parents, so I may be projecting here, but I think the coolest thing about your mom remarrying your dad almost 5 decades after their divorce (at the age of 85), is that your family can relive that relationship again, hopefully in a good and healing way. And the family can relax a little knowing that mom and dad now have someone looking after them on an everyday basis.

This story reminds me of a long-term romance I only began to understand at a funeral I attended not so long ago. As we all stood at the gravesite of our beloved friend (about whom I wrote in Aging Our Way), a woman who passed away just shy of 100 years old, I glimpsed a small elderly man off to the side, away from the crowd. When I greeted him and he introduced himself, it suddenly dawned on me, who this man was. He was the the one she didn’t want us to know about. Her secret friend. The one who called and delivered kosher chickens, but never when we were around. The one she referred to very quickly, too private to share more. The only other one who visited her in the nursing home.

That day at her gravesite, I met her secret caretaker. I saw it in the twinkle of his eyes. I’m guessing nobody else was in on the secret, but us three.

So, in these long dreamy August Olympic days, as we watch the youth of the world live out their dreams (or not), let’s not forget the love stories of their grandparents, heroic and mysterious (and flawed) in their own right.

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An Unlikely Friendship, 60 Years Apart

Erin Knauer and Chandran Kaimal participated in the Digital Life History Project at Colgate University. Here is Erin’s moving account of the strong inter-generational and cross-cultural friendship that emerged from this project. You can see the digital story they made together (honoring Chandran’s immigrant experiences) here.

When I first met Chandran, I saw a kind little old man, who seemed a bit shy and willing but embarrassed to open up to me. He couldn’t really fathom why I was interested in hearing his story. During graduation he touched on this, saying that he had resigned/expected no surprises to come in his old age, that he would not develop such a close relationship since he had formed them all when younger. And this ended up not being the case with our close friendship, which has broadened to include my family.

Our first conversation consisted of a broad overview of his life, and the more I learned, the more fascinated I was. I think the real reason behind this is that I am the daughter of a Colombian immigrant who came to this country with nothing, and eventually, with hard work, made something of herself- a rags to riches kind of story. So I felt we immediately had this base connection, something by which he could understand me, in terms of my identity, (cultural), much better then anyone else I know.

I’ve listened to all my mom’s stories my entire life (occasionally unwillingly), and I love them. Chandran’s stories were very similar in many regards. He told me about his continuous struggles to assimilate, the sacrifice of leaving your family behind for your own prosperity/path, and about his close bond to his children and what he carried from his culture and traditions to them.

From the first session, we talked for hours, finding more similarities in his and my Mother’s stories, comparing their experiences living the American life/dream, and how they raised their children. He could truly understand my perspective on things, my sense of belonging to no place or culture, calling three separate countries home, feeling like an outsider amongst ‘my own’ people, and he could see how that lead me to study anthropology.

The more I talked with him, the more I wanted to see him and spend time with him, since he was an escape from school and gave me guidance. In this way he took on a grandfather role, and he considers me one of his granddaughters. This resulted in a kind of mutual helping and counseling, where he helped me de-stress and begin to believe in myself, and I helped by listening and, on a few occasions, giving him my perspective on something that troubled him. And we usually did all this talking over dinner, which made it even more special and made it feel more like I was coming home when I walked through their door.

In the following semesters we made it a point to meet at least once each time, so we could catch up and he could hear about how I was doing with school. I really wanted him to meet my family, especially my mom, and so the last night I spent at Hamilton before heading home, Chandran and his wife Lorraine invited my parents and I to their house for dinner. My mom and Chandran traded stories over what I had told each about the other, which was quite fun to hear. They also compared their immigrant stories and exchanged perspectives they developed through living as Americans and having families here.

I asked Chandran if he would come to my graduation, for which he most graciously agreed, and so when I came back in May, I came back early and stayed stayed at his house. That gave us a little time to catch up, and in the evening my parents and sister arrived and we enjoyed another wonderful dinner. My sister also hit it off with him and she now corresponds with him, in regards to cooking Indian food. And so our family bond grows!

I look to Chandran as a comforting, kind, and understanding figure who I can talk to about anything. My grandparents died when I was little, so he has replaced/represents them in my eyes. I love the wisdom he imparts so willingly to me, and that fatherly love he has bestowed on me, and I’m so thankful I was lucky enough to receive it.

I hope this answers your questions and please let me know if you have any more. Sorry I made this so long, but I feel this is the least I can write to give an honest description of our relationship. I will keep in touch and let you know how things work out for me. Until then, please continue those life history interviews, because us students need to slow down and listen to the wise from time to time!



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The Author

Meika Loe

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