Bringing the Generations Closer

Posted on April 8, 2012 by


In a recent article in the New York Times, Jane E. Brody wrote about “Forging Connections for Longer Life,” she cites a book she found in her personal library, Healthy at 100 by John Robbins who devotes a major potion of his book to relationships. I haven’t read Robbins’ book. Probably, one day I will. But it was Brody’s last section of the article, Isolating Our Elders that brought me back to thoughts of my father. Dad was 91, half-paralyzed, completely bed-ridden, on hospice care, incontinent, demented with startling moments of clarity when he and I flew from Florida to Maine in an air ambulance. I was bringing him to a nursing facility less than three miles from my house, place I would walk to daily with my two standard poodles.

Dad and I had never been close. We’d argued; we’d stormed. Dad had isolated himself from all of his family. I was what was left, his only child. Because he knew no one in Maine, I arranged for my friends to visit. My rabbi visited. All of Dad’s grandchildren and great-grandchildren visited. Yet, as much as I tried, I could not provide the integrated generational community that Robbins speaks of, one in which “the generations are not artificially separated.” I have long been an opponent of handing over the care of the elderly to institutions. As Brody says, “the resulting loneliness can be a killer, even in the absence of fatal disease.”

I want to say that it is not just physical distance that separates American families. We have an emotional distance, perhaps forged by our extreme individualism. Yes, our vision and our can do attitude has made us strong and forged invention. But there are times to pull back, to become part of something larger than ourselves. And not just at the end of our lives—throughout.