Sometimes I think that part of the reason I choose to work with older adults is that I missed having the experience of older adults in my own life. The child of older parents, my father’s parents were both gone by the time I was an infant and my maternal grandmother, although still with us, was of very advanced age and not really someone with whom I had a relationship—or the ability to create a relationship.
My dad used to talk about his mother often and would tell us over and over about “how much she would have loved you” and all the special things that would have bound us together. Even as a child, I remember feeling determined to have my children young so that they would know their grandparents.
As luck would have it, though, the grandparent experience was not entirely what I hoped it would be for my children. Three of their four grandparents were gone when they were very young (or not born yet) and the one remaining, while caring, was not the kind of engaged grandparent I had imagined.
This week I have the gift of having my son, daughter-in-law and 10 month old grandchild with us. He is a bundle of delight with a smile that erupts across his entire face frequently. I cherish that look of recognition, I rain kisses on his sweet face with abandon, and I love seeing him try new things, from food to toys to standing and holding on to the “perfect height” of the ottoman in our family room. I am delighted to sit on the floor and play with him, happy to bounce him (his favorite thing) until my arms ache, grateful to watch him experience everything from the wind on his face when we take a walk to the spaghetti he tried for the first time.
This little boy has four engaged and active grandparents and how fortunate he is and we are. But I cannot help but think about the many elders who live within our residential settings, and settings like ours around the country. How vital it is for families to visit, to bring the children and bring the babies, to give both the elder and the child a chance to know one another.
In today’s world we often find families that can boast three or four generations. And so often we see that taken for granted. Our elders, regardless of health or cognitive ability, still have much to share. They may not be able to crawl after the baby but they can connect, they can provide that continuity that is so often lacking. I was afraid of my one living grandparent. Her English was limited and the few sentence that she directed at me were loud and abrupt and, I will admit, I tried hard not to be left in a room with her on my own. Today I know that there are simple ways to build those bridges, meaningful ways to create relationships, relationships that will help to carry forward l’dor v’dor, generation to generation.