We can learn a lot about a culture by observing how its people treat their elderly. I have been very fortunate in my life to have spent most of my younger years traveling all over the world and being witness to three, four and sometimes five generations living together in the same household. It is, indeed, a beautiful thing to watch the young ones learn the wisdom handed down from the grandparents while simultaneously accepting aging and dying as part of the natural life cycle. And, conversely, for the grandparents to have a continued sense of purpose and meaning through the lives of their children and grandchildren keeps their minds and spirits from leaving prematurely. Ironically, while I was traveling the world appreciating the ways of other cultures, my own grandmother was dying of Alzheimer’s disease in a nursing home with countless others whose bodies and minds were in various stages of degeneration and whose families, no longer able to take care of them, had deposited them for safe keeping. That was 25-years ago. There came a day five years ago when it was time for me to do the same for my mother as she had done for hers. After being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s five years prior, I finally had to move her out of the home she had lived in for forty years. Even with her live-in caregivers, she had almost burned the house down twice. But how do you decide whose hands you shall entrust the care of your mother to? In this culture where multiple generations of family barely come together for the holidays let alone live together in ways that can support our aging relatives, this has become a dilemma of epidemic proportions. Who is going to care for our sick and aging parents? During the countless hours I have sat holding my mother’s hand in silence, I have pondered what we, as a culture, have lost by distancing ourselves from our weak and elderly. Most noticeably, we have lost our ability to look at aging and death as a normal and, yes, necessary stage of our lives and so we avoid confronting it at all costs. Fortunately for us, one of the gifts of being a multicultural society is that there are many ethnicities here that have immigrated from cultures that are more relational – more family oriented – than the dominant Euro-American culture. Many who come from cultures like the Philippines, Mexico and other Latin American countries are natural caregivers because they come from cultures that are high on the relational scale. I have been blessed to have found such people in my journey with my mother.
This series is dedicated to my mother and others like her who we love yet, are unable to take care of, as well as those who love them, care for them, and ultimately, will escort them into the light.
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