Aging Parents: Generations Share Photos and Family History–a Priceless Intergenerational Activity

Regardless of current relationships, families’ histories are rooted in their common past. It’s a powerful commonality emotionally, in a good way. Or at least it was for us, as six cousins–ages 50’s to late 80’s–gathered for lunch and photo-sharing.

A far-away living child, I hadn’t seen some cousins and 2nd cousins in years. Our parents/grandparents are gone now. They were the American story. Four of the five surviving children of immigrant parents are pictured above (the eldest, born in England, is missing). When we came across this labeled photo, the feelings generated were indescribable. The girl born in S. Africa; the boy to her right born in Canada as the family made its way to the United States. Dad (left) and his younger brother (front) born in the USA.

We sifted through the photos and albums we brought, looking back a century–amazed to see our current selves in some of the faces. Some of us had only seen our grandmother with gray hair. We looked hard at her photo, into a youthful face that I, for one, would not have recognized had our older cousins not confirmed who it was.

We shared stories passed down from our parents–basically the same stories although some of the specifics differed. We looked to our older cousins for facts, finding ourselves in a situation where our elders were the stars with the most to contribute, a situation where even the biggest “know-it-alls” (and I use this expression fondly) took a back seat as we eagerly gleaned new information from those in their 80’s.

One of our older cousin’s mothers was the eldest in the family and, bless her heart, was meticulous about details. Every photo in her album had identification written under it. We realize how important it is to do this for posterity.

iPhones took pictures of the old pictures. We will email them to those who use computers. Some borrowed photos to reproduce for others. Some simply gave photos away.

Our main problem was the fact that we didn’t have enough time together. Not everyone drove. One cousin was picked up early. Another took an extended lunch hour and needed to return to work. We all agreed we had the best time and wanted to do again. 2 1/2 to 3 hours isn’t long enough.

We also realize this is an easily-planned get-together, that’s really a gift for everyone. It’s doable anywhere there are flat surfaces. Think: care center, where photos can be spread out on the bed. This kind of gathering was, for us at least, like hitting a home run when we think about enriching lives….older and younger….and helping parents age well.

Aging Parents: Family Photos Link Generations

IMG_0162Family Photos Link Generations

Photos connect us– to each other, to our families, to our heritage, to our gene-pool. They remind us of our younger selves. They rekindle the ties and feelings we have for those who’ve gone before us….grandparents, parents, aunts, uncles, those we held dear and those we hold dear. Indeed, we may have inherited some of their features, some of their traits. On the other hand, some in the photo album are unnamed. We wonder who they are.

These feelings enveloped me the other day as I began cleaning out my parents’ home of 60+ years. They were accompanied by feelings of frustration as I struggled to recognize people in photos that lacked both name and date. Then it dawned on me:

Invite my cousins and one of their children (total age span about 27 years) to come for lunch, bring family photos, and look over each other’s pictures. We can each help identify unknown persons and–at least in my case because I’m cleaning out–give some of the old family photos to the cousin whose family member is in a particular photo. Fortunately one of my cousin’s daughters is fascinated by genealogy–only hesitates to go on ancesters.com because she fears she won’t surface from her computer for at least 2 weeks.

I phoned her first to test my idea.  She was enthusiastic–(surprise, surprise!) Result: she volunteered to make a salad–the party’s on.

Older cousins, well into their 80’s, sound excited about coming. We know connections are important in helping older people age well; and isn’t looking forward to something  always uplifting? Meanwhile, the younger cousins are coming with energy and enthusiasm.  Is this is a good idea or what??? (We’ll know Tuesday night when I do my next post.)

This coming Tuesday at noon  boomers, elders and those in between on Dad’s side of the family will reconnect. There will be lunch. And we will share pictures and memories from our younger years as we look at and lovingly recall, those who came before us–mothers and fathers, aunts and uncles, and grandmothers and grandfathers. They, of course, contributed to who we are today. 

Aging Parents vs.Vacations Plans–continued from yesterday

 I Need Your Help

These 4 words pull people we’re speaking to into our sphere of concern. They become partners with us as we search for solutions. They feel they need to help.  And thus, they almost always respond by giving all the help necessary to get the problem solved. Suffice to say, when we think we’re going to a possible parent’s deathbed, we need help.

And so, in the wee hours of the Italian morning, the airline personnel seemed to go out of their way to get me to my destination in the shortest time possible.

Fortunately I had a Plan A–someone to meet me at the airport should I ever need to make the quick trip back. That part of the plan went like clockwork, which is why it’s one of the “necessities” in yesterday’s post. Many years ago I spoke with my brother and a very good friend about their flexibility should I need to fly back on the spur of the moment. My brother was there, at the ready.

When we got to the house our frail, semi-asleep mother could barely keep her eyes open, and was in no condition to appreciate the new Italian sweater I brought–or anything for that matter. But I knew she was glad I was there.

With a list of Mother’s doctors and an updated list of her medications always in my wallet, (another necessity as many of us know), I was ready to communicate intelligently with her doctors. Turned out medication– too much and some unnecessary–caused the problem. So simple, yet so emotionally and physically draining for everyone involved.

What did I learn? Planning ahead for emergency situations is just plain sensible. When stress is high it’s comforting to know we don’t have to worry about certain things and we do have some control over others. When coming a distance, having someone who cares and shares our concerns there to meet us is welcoming and supportive. And keeping essential information at hand makes communication with professionals more effective and efficient. Last but not least, when the unexpected happens and we can’t do it alone, I NEED YOUR HELP are important words to remember.

I also learned we have good friends who we had to suddenly abandon in Italy. They survived and so has our friendship.

Help! My Aging Father is Going With a Much Younger Woman

How do we feel when a widowed or divorced aging parent finds a new love?

When we love our parent and we’re focused on helping parents age well, what happens emotionally? Are we happy? threatened? suspicious? Now add these specifics: the father is seventy-something-years-old and his girlfriend is four years older than his devoted daughter.

This is the situation and while not the norm, it’s probably not that uncommon. Senior advisor, Dr. Bud, MD. (psychiatrist), weighs in:.

“We know this daughter’s hurting.” But, according to Dr. Bud, it’s not her problem. “It’s a problem she’s going to have to deal with,” he says. I like that phrasing. My instinct would have been to say “It has become her problem.” Dr. Bud’s response suggests there’s a solution..doesn’t just leave it as a problem hanging out there.

Injecting a girlfriend into a family’s dynamics no doubt requires getting used to under most circumstances. But the adjustment can be tempered by the knowledge that having a girlfriend, in and of itself, should be a positive as we think about helping aging parents. It’s an additional and important connection that adds, we can assume, vitality and interest to an aging father’s life.

Indeed we’ve discussed in previous posts the fact that relationships help aging parents to stay engaged. “Social connectedness” is identified as one of the three lifestyle factors that are the most significant predictors for healthy aging,”according to the MacArthur Study on Successful Aging, (which studied people age 70-79). Further proof that relationships help parents age well.

So we ask: would the daughter’s feelings be the same if the girlfriend was a more appropriate age? “This age thing is a problem that’s out of the ordinary scheme of things,” according to Dr. Bud. He calls it “a violation of expectations” (the same is true when a child dies before his/her parents).

Other questions we’re wondering about:

  • Is she worried she may lose her father?
  • Is there concern about inheritance?
  • Is the girlfriend a “gold-digger?”
  • Does the daughter fear her father will be taken advantage of?

Suggestions in Tuesday’s post.

Check out “Newsworthy” (right sidebar). Links to timely tips, information and research from top universities and respected professionals–to help parents age well.

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Resources relating to the three lifestyle factors: social connectedness , UCLA’s summary of the MacArthur Foundation report, Successful Aging