As my 3 year old grandson likes to say, we have “a big problem” in America. We are living longer but we’re uncomfortable with old age. When given the option, we often put our aging elderly in facilities and special programs where our old people essentially become someone else’s problem. We know that it is better for everyone when our older citizens stay in their homes and communities and live independently—“ aging in place” –for as long as they can. They stay healthier and happier longer. And we have the benefit of their wisdom to enrich our communities and our lives. We used to have extended family networks, small towns and tight knit neighborhoods to support this possibility but now we must create new social infrastructure to help our seniors stay put for as long as they can in safety and with dignity.
Organizations are sprouting up around the country to do this. Northwest Neighbors Connecting founded in Baltimore in 2012 works on the Village Model (89 exist in this country and 123 are under development). It focuses on the needs and strengths of its members so that all members are connected through relationships in community. Members across generations drive, mentor, do errands, coach, tell stories and engage in essential activities with one another. Risyl Edelman, their new director wrote this beautiful reflection to share with the NNC community after the death of her husband’s grandmother last week. Her grandmother had the great fortune to have a remarkable family support system. Most of us can’t rely on that as we age, but I imagine that most of us would like to experience a version of what Risyl describes as our end of life experience.
“My husband’s grandmother – Ruth Edelman – died in her own home at the age of 98. In the last five years, beginning with the frequent falls of her husband of 76 years, and slow rise of dementia, her husband – Marvin Edelman was cared for daily by Rhoda Blackwood and her care-giving service. When Grandpa Marvin passed two and a half years ago, Rhoda remained in place to care for Grandma Ruth, who missed her husband’s funeral due to a fall of her own – and was recovering in Levindale with a fractured hip.
Rhoda and her family and occasional staff never missed a day of care in the last five years. I know my in-laws are BEYOND grateful to them and will sing Rhoda’s praises to anyone who will listen. They encouraged me to invite Rhoda to join NNC’s board, insisting that she is on the front lines of the aging in place challenge.
It has been inspirational to say the least for me to watch my in-laws care for Grandma Ruth. Senior citizens themselves – (they should be well) – they have been there consistently to love, support and provide care in ways that I can only HOPE I will one day be able to aspire to. The fact that my father in law is a physician was very handy as the physical needs of his parents became more and more demanding…
Grandma Ruth’s soul was escorted out of her home last night in the presence of her son and daughter in law, two grandsons and their wives, 9 great grandchildren – plus 3 of THEIR spouses, a close family friend, along with Rhoda and her cousin Paulette. It is a source of great comfort to know the love and closeness of the family – and I feel good that I brought three of her great, great grandchildren to visit her on Sunday.
May we all find comfort in our relationships and continue to value our connections.”
May all of us know the blessing of long life and the privilege of sharing it with people we love to the very end. May we also learn truly to celebrate the us we all will become.