Across the Generations
“Act your age!”
How many of us grew up hearing that admonition? I know I did and I suspect many of you did also. The probblem for me is that I still have trouble believing my age, let alone acting it. How in the heck did I become a 67 year old man? I am nearly five years into retirement, and nearly three years into a second career. And I’m a grandpa, married to a grandma!
This past week was a great one, because I got to spend time with both my grandsons. Dinner with 17-month-old Cresten, here in Edmond. And a weekend with Max, 4 1/2, at his home in Dallas. One of the very best things about being an old man is these two little guys.
This next week will be a little less great, because my attention is focused on the other end of my family, my 100 year old father and my 94 year old mother. Mom is trapped in the prison we refer to as Alzheimer’s. My sisters and I talk often about how furious she would be if she realized that this is her existence. For the first time since 1947, Mom and Dad live apart and it is not what any of us wanted.
Dad was born in 1916 in Amsterdam NY, where his father was building mansions for the carpet company moguls who lived there, near their mills which depended on hydro to power them. His parents were immigrants from Newfoundland. His father had captained a fishing schooner and taught himself to build houses. He went back after a few years in the US to find a bride. My grandmother was described as a spinster on her immigration papers; she was 24. When everyone in Amsterdam was done building mansions, the family moved to Brooklyn. Dad grew up there and is a proud graduate of Brooklyn Tech. Like his father, there were very few things he couldn’t build, and he had a good career in the audio visual industry. At 30, Dad went back to “the old country” for a wife. He met my Mom in Toronto through a relative, and a few months later they married and settled in New Jersey.
Mom was an RN, and was raised in Newfoundland. She grew up in what is called an outport, which in those days had no road connections to any other towns. They came and went on small boats. Her father was a merchant with two general stores, a lumber mill, and eventually a small electric power plant. Mom is the last survivor of nine children, two of whom died at birth and two of whom had special needs. Up until a few years ago, Mom and Dad took care of each other in a lovely home on Cape Cod, where they retired in 1980. And then things started to change, and it reached the point where Dad was doing all the caregiving.
Last year my sisters and I made the difficult decision to relocate Mom and Dad to live near one of us so they could have the help they needed. They graciously agreed, and last April they moved to Michigan, four miles from my sister’s home. (Dad had decided Oklahoma was too hot!) Betty is a retired social worker and has been amazing at seeing that Mom and Dad’s needs are met. Over the summer, both our parents became ill and had to be hospitalized. Dad bounced back fairly quickly but Mom had to go to a rehab facility. Once she was ready to be discharged, the time came to move her to a memory care unit rather than returning to assisted living with Dad. This has not been an easy transition but she is less aware of her surroundings each week. She still knows Dad when he comes to have lunch with her every day, but it takes a little more explaining each time. This week Mom will move to a different memory care building, still on the same campus as Dad, but one focused on people with even greater needs.
In the meantime, Dad is using his former caregiving time well. He is on the exercise bike every day, is reading a biography or history every week or so, and has recently decided to study the writings of St. Paul in depth. He uses a walker but his mind is still excellent. I am so grateful that Dad doesn’t act his age!
To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven. This time will come to your family, if it hasn’t already, and perhaps hearing our family’s story will help you.