by Carolyn Rosenblatt, RN, Elder Law Attorney, author.
Many of us Boomers have a living parent still but even more of us have lost one or both parents at this point in our own aging. What does this mean for us within our families? Our parents' generation was often responsible for initiating the family gatherings and events. Holidays and birthdays, special occasions of all kinds often brought family members together, like it or not. They were the connecting force among us. As they leave us, we ourselves become the elders.
Getting old definitely doesn't have a good name in our society. In other cultures and some religions, being an "elder" is a place of honor. The elder is looked upon as a source of wisdom, one to be treated with respect or reverence, simply because of living so long. But our society devalues aging to the extent that some object to the term "elder" itself. To illustrate this, I recall an experience of being asked to write an article from AgingParents.com for another senior-focused publication. The piece included some information about elder law matters. Throughout our country, the body of law that applies specifically to those over 65 years of age is called elder law. That's standard terminology in the books, in cases, and in legal publications. Yet, this nonlegal publication was so set against using the term "elder" they wanted me to make reference to their invented term "senior law". I declined. It does show the fear of this organization associated with anything that could be construed as negatively depicting aging and being older. To me that was ridiculous. They published it anyway, despite the straining to avoid calling anyone an elder.
I prefer the term "elder" to be thought of as deserving of respect. After all, we've certainly made our mistakes in life as Boomers, now aging ourselves. Others can learn from us, and we likely have wisdom to share. The journey to what we have accomplished in our lives may be worth describing to younger people who do and will accomplish things very differently. Perhaps we as the elders can evolve into the best of the role our parents may have had, which was to keep families in communication and in physical contact at family gatherings.
Perhaps we can also assume the role of sharing the family lore, the stories our own grandparents shared with us, and pass those on to the next generations. In my own family, the matriarch grandmother was a source of endless stories, often repeated, that gave us the history of how our ancestors came to this country, how they lived and what character traits they had. I was greatly entertained by these tales and have shared them with my own kids, hoping they will one day do the same kind of sharing. Even if your own family did not have a great storyteller in it, there is still a history that you may know, one that cannot be captured merely by a DNA search for those related by blood. You are the repository of that history, those tales, that family lore. While you are here and can recall it, now is the time to say it, record it or write it if that is your preference.
As we Boomers become the family elders, we can consciously assume the role of "elder" by articulating what we want that role to be. My favorite part of this position, which I now have in my own family, is to answer adult childrens' questions, and to offer them a perspective they can't find with a Google search. Whether they value this at present remains to be seen. But as they grow and mature themselves, their view of what we have to say can also evolve. Do you remember how much smarter your older relatives often seemed as you got older yourself? Without our modeling for them why family face-to-face gatherings have importance, I fear that some might believe a family gathering consists of group texts.
Aging doesn't have to have a bad name. We live the lives of aging people ourselves, our own way, and we show the next generation how it's done. We can step into that place of honor those who went before us once had. We can approach this phase of our lives with dignity and self-respect and will therefore be much more likely to attract respect. My hope for you is that you will not attach any fear to being an elder. There are positives and possibilities to consider about this. You may even find that you enjoy it!
I'm a California girl, born and raised here, with an abiding interest in health issues and particularly, healthy aging. I have always loved working with older people, probably because I had this amazing grandmother. She taught me so much about life, balance, how to be your ... MORE