Age and the dying of the ties

I’ve been thinking about growing old in America and what it means to have an entire generation of people my age who did not have much experiences with inter-generational households. In particular I’ve been thinking about what it means as far as emotional ties to our elders, their process of aging, our own process of aging and our emotional ties to the people attached to those processes. I say this in the context of having undergone a few revelations lately.

First, my grandmother, mi abuelita, who I spent the earlier part of my life with, became a vital part of our household when Brad and I were preparing for our wedding in December. In a week I saw her step out of her depression and her isolation by being part of our small random community of international artists, musicians, journalists, nonprofit workers and random yoga teachers and people that loved and respected her. I wanted her to stay and to not go home once her two weeks ended and I realized that what I was desperately missing in my own life was that emotional tie to an elder I shared so much of my life with. In speaking to my uncle, Brad and also my grandmother the idea has now been rolling around that she should come live with us. And it makes sense for us to share our lives this way.

Second, Brad’s grandfather has cancer. It has spread to his lungs and he was in a coma a week ago. Brad’s reaction to his grandfather’s illness is vastly different to what my reaction would be if my grandmother were sick. He doesn’t know what to do, what to say and is a bit confused about his role in this process of his grandfather, now in his early 90s, potentially dying soon, though within an uncertain time frame which makes it harder. I tell Brad that if my grandmother had lost 30 pounds and had been in a coma, I would take leave of absence from my job or I would call her everyday. Nonetheless, my sleep would also be a much less comfortable sleep from my 7 hours flight from California to her if I did not somehow make time to go see her. I start to think about his response and know that my husband is not a heartless person. He is kind and I know he loves his grandfather, so why this response? What connection was lost?

The line that connected all these dots today came when I landed in North Carolina and had dinner with my two gay moms, Ellen and Rosemary, both mentors, elders and spiritual leaders. I watched their magical dance all evening as they nurtured, nagged, laughed, and ended each other’s sentences or shared obscure medical knowledge (both of them having doctorate’s). Both are in their 70s, both are extremely well-educated, independent and caring. Ellen’s cancer has recurred and Rosemary has had Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever in the past year and here they were both typing away on their laptops, dog and cat at their side, living their aging with respect and love for each other. I looked and looked and could not put my finger on it, so I started to articulate it not knowing exactly what I was trying to get at. I started slowly. “You are both exceptional people, but how many people, same sex or not, are doing what you’re doing with growing old? How is your cohort dealing with aging?

Ellen looked at me confused and then answered that everyone has to deal with again, all couples or single people have to go through it. Rosemary recommended this Web site. Yes, I said, but I have not real models, neither from television, nor from real life. I mean the last thing I can think of is “Cacoon” and “Pond’s Way,” and it was sad to fathom that amid all the reality tv crappiness out there, there was nothing that put us into the lives of people aging now in America. It was obvious to me, they needed to a documentary made about them. They laughed and said other people had said that. I tell them they are my models for aging and for doing it with style and integrity.

Whatever will come it I don’t know, but these realizations make me more mindful and give me a better framework to work from.