Across generations

When my brother was alive, I called him, on more than one occasion, in a mini-panic.  “Norm,” I would shriek into the phone, “I am turning into Dad!”  He would laugh, both at the message and the tone and then, as he always did, talk me down from whatever ledge I was perched on.  My father was a world class worrier and he was a man who held onto things, especially less than positive things, for far too long.  Like it or not, I see a lot of that in me, moderated to some extent, but still there.  I didn’t choose to be like my father. Given a choice I would have had more of Mom whose kindness and calm knew no bounds.  There is no question that I reflect her as well.  I can always find my way back from a dark emotional place to a place of light.  I have an optimism that, despite my anxiety, finds its way to the surface.  I think that the combination of both of their characteristics, and my own nature, helps me to find balance, albeit sometimes after the scales have tipped a bit too far one direction or the other.

This has been on my mind after a conversation with my husband last week.  We were talking about both the way we reflect our parents and the way we see those reflections in our children.  It is easy to look at the kids and say who looks like whom, whose eyes are like this one or who has the same sense of humor.  I remember when my granddaughter Nina was about 2 year old.  I was with my son and I was holding her as he opened the door.  She reached for my necklace and said “necklace.”  Benjamin and I both laughed and he said “Where did that come from?”  And I responded “Genetics!”  But it is far deeper than that.  I have always said that my niece Rebecca reflects my mother, I have seen it from the time she was a tiny child. My mother and Rebecca both have calm in their core, both centered in a way that comes from an inner stability, sort of that feeling we have when we describe someone as an “old soul.”  Many of us, I think, have those echoes of those who have gone before us.  But rarely do we talk about them.

And, of course, my thoughts turned to our older adults.  I wonder what we would learn if we asked the older adults in our lives about these reflections, about what they see in themselves that reminds them of their parents or other loved ones.  What we would learn if we asked them what they see of themselves, or other family members, in us.  And I wondered what they would say if we asked them which of their traits they would like to see passed down, which of their characteristics they hoped that future generations would embody and why.

We share family stories, we share family history.  We talk about what we share that we see on the surface.  Maybe, around the holidays when we are often together, we ought to dig a little deeper and see what we might find.  Perhaps there will be more that unifies us that our brown eyes or red hair or inability to snap our fingers, perhaps there is another level of treasure, and understanding, to be found.

About the Author
Carol Silver Elliott is President and CEO of The Jewish Home Family, which runs NJ's Jewish Home at Rockleigh, Jewish Home Assisted Living, Jewish Home Foundation and Jewish Home at Home. She joined The Jewish Home Family in 2014. Previously, she served as President and CEO of Cedar Village Retirement Community in Cincinnati, Ohio. She is chair-elect of LeadingAge and past chair of the Association of Jewish Aging Services.
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