Milestones

Next week, my beautiful niece will turn 30. As birthdays go, all those decade turns are meaningful and I feel blessed to be celebrating any and all of those special moments with family.  It’s also the week of Mother’s Day and I can’t help but think about the reality that my own mother did not live to see me turn 26, much less 30.  In Rebecca’s case, it is her dad, my brother, who has missed all of these special days and whose absence is felt every day but even more so when there is a milestone he should have been marking with us.

What this reinforces for me is really how much it matters to try and keep memory alive and to create connections between the past and the present.  None of my children knew my mother, she died when my oldest was a year old and I want them to know who she was and how much she would have loved and valued them.  For Rebecca, who was only 12 when her father died in a tragic accident, her memories are those of a child, a child whose father adored her but who didn’t have a life long enough to watch her grow and to bask in the pride of what a wonderful woman she has become.  In both instances, I try to share the stories, I try to connect my recollections to the younger generation, I try to be sure and include them as part of our family that’s still real and meaningful rather than no longer with us.

When we are fortunate enough to have older adults in our lives, both personally and professionally, we have a chance to continue that connection. We have the opportunity to not just hear their stories but solicit them, capture them and provide opportunities to share them with the next generations.  We also have an opportunity to learn more about the loved ones they remember, of their own as well as previous generations, carrying the thread backward in order to carry it forward.

I know that sometimes family members get frustrated, hearing the same stories repeatedly.  I know they get frustrated at stories that get a little “scrambled,” mixing people or time.  But I think we have to reframe the way we look at these stories, they are pearls that we can string into the necklace of our history.  If we fail to capture them, they are lost, not just to us but for all time.

None of us will live forever and some of us have lives that are cut unexpectedly short.  Regardless of how many years we are given, we can still have an impact that extends beyond our time. We can still be a part of the milestones along the way as long as someone cares, remembers and keeps our memory alive.

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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