Monday, January 11, 2016

When Our Parents Age

My grandfather came to this country in 1920 when he was 12 years old.  A few years later, his father died and he had to become the breadwinner in his family, which included his mother and two sisters.  In 1920, the male life expectancy was 53.6 years.   That means that my great-grandfather died young (figuring mid-40’s).  But if the life expectancy was basically a few more months than I have enjoyed in my life so far, then my grandfather was not alone in losing a parent at a comparatively young age.  The same grandfather was with us until the age of 89, and his older sister died a few months before him at 91.  Back in the day, my dad would inform me, multi-generational families living together were not unusual.  Both of my parents told of their entire families living within blocks of each other (in my cases: Brooklyn, Philadelphia, and Bayonne).

Fast forward and we find families disbursed throughout the world, living in smaller family units.  There was a guest with us for Thanksgiving that had lived in Asia for a number of years, before settling in Cambodia these past 8 years.  He made a life – got married, has a child and owns a Mango farm.  He would visit the US once or twice a year to see his parents.  His parents are now in their mid-80’s and asked him to come back.  Traveling that distances takes about 18 hours.  By comparison, the trip my grandfather took to the US, in the hold of a steamship, took about a week, not including the time kept on Ellis Island for checkups and processing into this country.  

My father is 80, has had multiple back surgeries and suffered a stroke 2 years ago.  My mother-in-law is younger, had a heart attack 4 years ago and recently had congestive heart failure and a minor stroke.  Neither of them is as nimble nor spry as they once were by how we still picture in our minds.  I know that the older they become, the more chances we will have to face something more than a cold. When we were younger, the weight of the world was not so much upon us.  As maturing adults, (I guess that I have to admit that at some point in my life) we carry the weight of our families and our parents.  We have become known as the Sandwich Generation, a phrase coined in 1981 by Dorothy A. Miller and added to the Merriam-Webster dictionary in 2006, to describe the generation raising their children and taking care of their parents at the same time.  To be honest, I never thought about this happening, because as a child, you always see your parents as the ones that raised you, looked after you and were always there for you.  We are happy to be there for them now, as they were once for us.  That is what families do; we take of each other, no matter what our ages are.

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