Sunday, August 15, 2010

Is “The Third Generation” Really “The Golden Age”?

Both the terms The Third Generation and The Golden Age are metaphors to describe senior citizens who are 65 years old or more. The question begs to be asked. Is the third generation really the golden age? You can answer this question at the end of this blog.

Ever since I was a little girl I enjoyed being in the company of seniors. I have so many pleasant memories of the time I spent with my Bubby Nevitt a”h, my mother’s a”h mother.

Bubby lived a couple of blocks from us in Montreal and I would go to her apartment after school and visit. She would always greet me with a big glass of milk and cookies. Although she had lived in Montreal for over 45 years, she could barely speak English, so we conversed in her broken English and my broken Yiddish.

Today, I converse with my grandchildren in broken Hebrew and their broken English. I correct them and they correct me. History is repeating itself!

Bubby and I had wonderful conversations. We laughed at each others language skills, with Bubby correcting me and me correcting Bubby.

Bubby loved to play cards and her favorite game was “war”. We would always play a game or two whenever I visited. I think she somehow cheated so that I would always win.

Sunday was family day and my mother and her siblings and all the cousins would visit Bubby. I didn’t like having to share her with my cousins.

 I remember so vividly, one day after school, I went to Bubby’s apartment to visit her, but Bubby wasn’t there. Instead, my mother and aunts were busy packing up Bubby’s belongings.

I asked where Bubby was, and my mother told me that Bubby was very old and having a hard time looking after herself, so the family decided that she needed to go and live in a nursing home. My Mother told me that I could still visit her on Sunday. I will never forget the sadness that I felt.

 One Sunday morning, my mother said that I couldn’t visit Bubby that day because she had pneumonia and was very sick. I begged and begged to be allowed to visit, but the answer was still no.

Three days later, the day before Erev Pesach, my Bubby passed away. I was thirteen years old and my mother allowed me to go to the funeral so that I could say good-bye. Forty years later, on the day before Erev Pesach my mother passed away. My Mother and Bubby have the same yartzeit date.

 Seventeen years ago, I worked at Shalom Village, a Jewish senior’s residence and nursing home in Hamilton, Ontario. I enjoyed visiting and talking with the residents. My mother-in-law a”h was one of the residents. At first she had her own apartment and when she became ill, she moved into the nursing home.

Being an only child, my husband and I had the task of packing up her belongings and selling her furniture. I couldn’t help but remember my mother doing the same task so many years earlier. What a painful responsibility!

The seniors at the home had amazing stories to tell about their lives and their families. Some were survivors and others were lonely and just wanted a visitor.

On most Friday mornings, I would make an Oneg Shabbat for anyone who wanted to join. I would invite a guest from our community and would serve juice and a baked desert.

Two of their favorite guests were the Rabbi who was the principal of the day school and a young man who had a beautiful voice and personality to go with it.

He would sing Shabbat songs and well known Yiddish songs that many of the residents grew up with. Everyone would join in either by singing along or just clapping their hands.

The Rabbi would tell wonderful Shabbat stories and would keep everyone ‘glued’ to their seats.

At first the attendance was small, but with word of mouth, and my mother-in-law bragging and shepping nachas that her daughter-in-law ran this program, our attendance grew. Before long both Jewish and non Jewish residents were coming to the program and having a wonderful time.

Several months ago, I was flipping through the T.V. channels to see if there was anything interesting to watch.

I came across a documentary that had just begun. It was about the elderly and how they are perceived and treated by their families. Since I had an interest in the elderly, I watched the program.

The show had a panel of 5 seniors, 3 men and 2 women between the ages of 66 and 85. The hostess was a young woman in her thirties and she asked the panel to introduce themselves with their name, age and a short comment.

The first man said he was 66 years old and that he was very able to look after himself and his affairs, but since he turned 65 and retired from his job his family treats him as though he were an imbecile. [his description, not mine]

Next was a woman who said she was 80 plus. Truthfully you could see that both nature and time were good to her. She said that she had always been a homemaker doing all the cleaning, cooking and baking. Today, she has a woman who comes in to clean [her decision] but she still loves to cook and bake. Her family thinks that her cooking days should be over and are always sending her food and deserts, things that she never eats.

Third panelist was a man who was around 70 and still worked part time to help pass the time. He told the panel that his family was always after him to quit the job because, in their words, he doesn’t need the money. He said that he loves his job and his coworkers.

Fourth panelist was a woman that was disabled and in a wheelchair. She said that she is a very proud and private person and doesn’t like to have others, even her children do things that she can do by herself.

The last man on the panel introduced himself as a young 85 year old senior who was Jewish. He went on to say that in the Jewish religion, there is a very important commandment to honor your parents. He said in his opinion, honoring your parents doesn’t mean imposing their will [the children] on your parents.

The hostess asked what he meant about imposing their will. He said that children should respect their parents and help only when they are asked. He went on to say that his children think he should be living in a seniors assisted residence instead of living on his own. They think that he needs ‘protection’ from the world, that they are con men out there to rob him blind.

This gentleman also said that he knows that his children only want the best for him but they don’t understand that even though he is a senior, he is still capable of looking after himself. He still drives [something they don’t like either], is relatively healthy and is very active.

The lady in the wheelchair then said that her children also want her to go and live in a nursing home and be ‘catered’ too. “They never walked into a nursing home.” She continued.

As the program went on, the hostess asked about children who ignore their senior parents. How do you solve this problem?

The consensus was that education was the key to solving the problems. If children learn at a young age respect of elders and being available if needed, most senior wouldn’t be ignored. Parents also have to learn that they don’t have the right to ‘demand’ that their children be at their beck and call.

The program ended with some very important tips on what seniors would like from their children.

1. Instead of just doing, give me the courtesy of asking. For example…can I cook or bake something for you, or what would you like me to do to help? Except no, not this time.

2. Treat me as an adult. I may be a senior and do thing more slowly, but I can still think and do for myself.

3. Let me ask you for help sometimes if I feel I need it.

4. Pick up the phone and call to ask ‘how are you today’, or what are your plans today?

5. Remember my birthday. And if you are fortunate enough to have both parents remember our wedding anniversary.

This past March, I wrote a poem on Miriam's Words that was also published on Chabad’s The Jewish Woman site called The Third Generation. I just wonder how many seniors are sitting at home right now and waiting for the phone to ring or a child or grandchild to visit…….

Now back to the original question. Is the third generation really the golden age? I would love to read your comments.