Staying Put

When I was in my late teens, I couldn’t wait to set out on my own.  I [erroneously] believed that I would “find” myself “out there.”  This idea seemed to prevail with “my” generation.   A large number of us ended up in college, totally clueless as to how to approach the next chapter in our lives.  In fact, probably to cover our feelings of insecurity, we developed an attitude towards those of our classmates who seemed to have an idea of where they wanted to go.

Apparently, according to a recent article in AARP, this trend towards setting out on one’s own was extremely common among boomers.  Furthermore, that trend has undergone a shift in the opposite direction with youths wishing to remain in their family home.  According to the AARP article, boomers have developed closer relations with their children than their parents had with them.

I can relate to this.  In my family, my parents lived in their world and we lived in ours.  Sometimes the paths crossed, usually around a behavioral infraction on our part.  Other areas where our paths crossed: attending church together, Sunday meals, “hanging out” together on a Sunday afternoon.  When we were younger, our father played with us on those Sunday afternoons.  As we got older, the hanging out took more of an “us sitting with our parents as ‘they’ relaxed waiting until we could excuse ourselves to go play with our friends.”  Did I ever consider speaking to either of my parents about my personal questions, fears, ideas, inspirations?  No.  Now I cannot speak for all my siblings.  My older sister once opined that she looked at our mother as her best friend.  So I have to assume that she felt totally comfortable sharing everything with my mother.  This, however, did not seem to have an effect on her decision to move out and onward.  In fact, we were expected to do so.

Not so children of boomers.  They enjoy being home, have no strong desire to move far away, feel a connection with their parents.  We always talk about the pendulum swinging one way and then swinging in the opposite direction.  This may be what is reflected, although, according to the article, boomers seem to have made more of an effort to interact with their children, in some extreme cases, treating them as equals or even their superiors.  And, of course, now all the pundits are wondering whether this trend of staying at home is “healthy.”

Since the beginning of the human race, families mostly remained together.  Of course, the restlessness of seeking the new does seem to be an inherent quality in human beings and thus there are many examples of individuals setting out.  Much of the mobility inherent in the definition of our society most probably has to do with the fact that we were the “New World”, a world yet to be fully explored.  It was because the United States was “the new world” which needed to be explored and “tamed” that this trend to separate out and move away was such a dominant feature of the American profile.  Now that our identity is starting to congeal, the restlessness of seeking something different seems to have tapered off.  Although many also look at the economy as a source of this trend.  Oh, and then there is technology in the form of television and computers…..where one can travel a thousand miles away and never leave the living room.

© Yvonne Behrens, M.Ed  2013


Fear and Loathing

Am I afraid of getting old?  Hell yes! You might ask why it is, then, that I spend time working with the elderly and their caregivers and focusing on aging by writing many articles that deal with aging.    I work with the elderly because I want to try and change the dire landscape that exists today for the elderly.  What might that landscape be?  One where the “old” person is left to vegetate in a corner, where derogatory comments are made about getting old, where services are constantly being cut and tax monies are used for the young, in spite of the fact that the young make up a smaller percentage than the ever-growing older population.

As boomers, we really do not want to focus on the fact that we are aging, that we are moving into a period in our lives when we will be more vulnerable and needing to depend on others for our care (if death does not find us before then).  We were the generation that grew up with the Peter Pan song: “I won’t grow up.”  We could just as well sing it, “I won’t grow old.”  We do not want to confront our aging process and so we don’t.  By not acknowledging it, we believe it will go away.  We insist that by acknowledging it, we will somehow help it, affirm it in its manifestation.

Two years ago, I had a friend who truly believed that aging was an attitude.  This past year, she is noting changes in her capabilities and attributing it to age.  Yes, folks, it does happen.  The hardware does start to wear down, break, fall apart.

The reason I am afraid of getting old in this society is that we are not humane towards our elderly.  This might have something to do with the fact that we live in a mobile, youth oriented society that does not respect its elderly population.  Also, I happen to fit into the statistic of being a single, certain-aged female with no children or grandchildren.  I have to admit that the idea of finding myself in a nursing home being taken care of or ignored by poorly paid staff scares me.

We live in times where the technological developments of hospitals and the advancements in medication allow us to live longer.  But what has been overlooked is the quality of life our living longer affords us.  Is it really a great thing to live to be 90 years old but have no mind to speak of?  Or have only the choice of living in a potential hell hole wherein one lives a semi-comatose existence in some dark hallway by being fed psychotropic drugs to keep us quiet?

I would rather depart from this life in my ’70’s, when I still have some life in me than be kept alive with absolutely no life to speak of.  (A friend of mine who is in her ’70’s has told me that when I reach that age, I will probably have a different outlook.  I don’t doubt her wisdom on the matter, but I am also a firm believer that life should be lived fully and since we are all going to go at some point…..what is it the comedians say, “Leave them laughing”)  I also do not doubt that I will probably have what I call a “clutch” to life as I confront the fact that I will be departing it.  Ironically, part of what sustains the medical establishment’s focus on keeping individuals alive is something that I believe is a natural part of dying: the clutch to life.

Now maybe this topic seems morbid to those of you reading it, but the fact of the matter is, if we do not confront our aging process and our eventual demise, we will do nothing to change what happens to us as we age and we might find ourselves far outliving our usefulness in a state that we would never wish on anyone let alone ourselves.

© Yvonne Behrens, M.Ed  2013