Family reunions are a tradition worldwide, I suppose. I’ve read the Kennedy’s do them; I have enjoyed movies of poignant, funny, even deadly gatherings of clans both small and great. Ours is this weekend and as I plan for it, I experience for the first time a bittersweet kind of joy. I really never imagined old age growing up. Yet here I am. As a child I was blessed with grandparents: Mom’s and Dad’s parents, all alive, great grandparents too. All vibrant, loving, hardworking and one by one they have left the stage of life and as I look around I see only my brothers and sister, children, grandchildren, great grandchildren, nieces and nephews, cousins and in-laws by the hundreds.
As I shoulder the mantel, it strikes me that there has been a change. I have lived longer than all my Progenitors. I still play golf, eat out, dance; preach, lead songs at the nursing home and enjoy life as none of them ever did in their twilight years.
I live in a time that did not use to exist. It is the time after living, raising your family, aging, and then avoiding dying. Thanks to medical technology, I have new eyes (implanted lenses), a new heart (quadruple bypass-I should be dead) and vitamins and supplements to ease the pains and quirks of an aging body. After years of hard work and no time to play, I apply myself to my hobbies, reading, surfing the internet; even courting a new girl.
It reminds me of when I was 10. I have become a child again. I understand ageing has a retro effect. As death becomes more elusive and science staves off death, I will become dependent on others even for the most private of functions. My children are caught up in their lives. When we see each other on Saturday, we will hug, share pictures and stories, have dinner, play dominos, say goodbye, wave and go back to our appointed rounds. We won’t ask “what does Medicare cover; how does assisted living work, or do I hire a home health aide from an agency or over the back fence when the time comes I can no longer live alone.”
Since this is a road less traveled, I ask myself what’s next. Will there be another hospital visit or will the repairs simply cease to work? Will I wake up post surgery and then find a bed in a nursing home?
Will the nursing home or hospital call my children and say, "Come get your father”? It is the tendency of people to put off that which most concerns them to the very end. To not deal with old age till it is forced on them. Children should ask what their parents want when they can no longer live alone.
The late Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, in his essay "To Grow in Wisdom," which he delivered at the 1961 White House Conference on Aging said: "What we owe the old is reverence, but all they ask for is consideration, attention, not to be discarded and forgotten."