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Giving thanks to my older relatives

Thursday, October 11, 2012

We have often said that our family make-up has provided good experiences for each family member. For example, I learned much about taking care of babies before I had my own little ones to care for. I had the privilege of having several nieces and nephews who visited their grandparents, (my parents, of course) while I was still a student at home. Their care often was shared happily with me. I loved to be their aunt who took them for walks, pushed their buggies, took them to the movies and even changed their diapers. That was back before disposable diapers and I even became adept at using the safety pins without pricking either my hand or the baby's bottom.

Our own older children had the experience of helping care for their little sister, Susan. There was enough of a time lapse in their ages that they became home-raised baby sitters. Likewise, when Susan became a teenager she had her siblings' offspring to enjoy and learn from. Learning in a family setting through everyday life becomes deeply instilled.

Now, as the youngest of my large childhood family I am experiencing learning about a different phase of life. I think I had the child care aspect pretty well mastered, for better or worse. But learning about getting old is another matter. Each day I feel grateful for one or another of my older loved ones as I experience a new challenge in the aging process.

I was the nearest family member during my parents' last years. Those years were a mixture of learning about facilities, programs, medicines, doctors, and opportunities for each of them. The needs were different and my situation was also changing. But I learned very much about what was available at that time.

Several years later I again was the nearest relative during my sister Miriam's last years. What I had learned from the care of my parents was very helpful, but some types of assistance had changed, and there were different needs. My other older siblings also experienced various maladies of the aging process, but I did not have any direct responsibility with any of them except to try to be a resource and support to their children. Through all of these personal and vicarious experiences I felt I had garnered enough knowledge to be an aging specialist. I had a lot of information in my memory bank.

However a funny thing is happening. I don't need this knowledge to take care of someone else. I need it for me. And I realize that it isn't the agencies and programs that I need to learn about. It is how I feel about the process. I need to know if it is normal to not care if I attend a certain function or not. Is it OK to feel a little shock when I look into the mirror? Even though I know which foods are good for me, am I being needlessly foolish to eat a Pop Tart for breakfast instead of bran cereal?

This type of knowledge I can redeem from my memories. I can remember Miriam, who had been in charge of multitudes of programs and performances in her position as professor of dance at Normal University in Illinois, telling me that she was happier just staying home some nights because it was so hard to hear what people were saying at the meetings and no one listened to her ideas anymore anyway. Likewise, my mother who liked to have the whole family in for meals regularly became very content to have someone else cook meals for her and clean her house.

This information about how others who I loved and respected adjusted to changes in their life as they aged really helps me now. When I get mad at trivial things I think back to times when Miriam showed her frustration also. If I quit trying to listen to the conversation because it's too hard to hear some people's voices, I know that others I loved also did/do such things.

It makes me feel better to know that others also felt this bad sometimes. And then I realize I don't have anything to worry about. I just follow in the footsteps of those I have followed all my life and things will turn out OK as they always have.

And I'm not nearly ready to take the test on all this knowledge. I still have a lot to learn.

Carolyn Gray Thornton
Middle Age Plus