It has been said that love is the tie that binds. The definition of the word bind: a position or situation in which one is hampered, constrained, or prevented from free movement or action. The bonds of love, whether it be family or romantic, can sometimes employ these constraints.
In today’s disposable, replaceable, temporary world, there are many who believe love to be one of the disposables. If they feel it cutting into their personal space and desires, then love is disposed of. If you grew up in the “me” generation which emerged in the 1970s and ’80s, you were born into a society known as the “throw-away” generation. If something broke, they didn’t bother fixing it, they just threw it away and got themselves another one. Everything from TV sets to marriages were discarded and replaced.
This “throw-away” attitude eventually spilled over into our family lifestyle. Americans, more than ever, were depositing their parents into healthcare facilities. It was easier than putting up with the inconvenience of keeping them at home.
Today, the skyrocketing cost of healthcare has made it almost impossible for family members to place their elderly loved ones in these facilities and many find themselves as involuntary caregivers to one or both parents.
Growing up in a large extended Italian American family, the love I experienced was a love that never bound its members but rather bonded us to one another. Like many, whose parents and grandparents came here from the old country, love was a bond that connected rather than restrained us. It’s a strange and unique thing these family ties. Solid as a rock, yet, sometimes fragile, but they can stretch and grow, sometimes nearly to the breaking point, but never sever their connections.
As a World war II baby boomer, I learned early on from Neapolitan grandparents a true reverence for family ties; how the telling of stories, family tales, histories and memories are all a part of that reverence and family bonding. Papa used to say, “Family ties are gentle cords that connect each generation to the other. This connecting cord lengthens and grows to accommodate change, distance and time and in that way remains strong and never broken.”
I’m sure that everyone, regardless of their ethnic backgrounds, cares deeply about their loved ones and their welfare. But it does concern me how each new American culture is gaining a reputation as a throwaway society. I’m also concerned that those of us whose family culture is steeped in the old-world ways and customs may be losing that inborn reverence and respect for our elderly, a respect that was once an inherent part of our lifestyle.
As a young girl, I remember the constant and unyielding dedication displayed by my parents and grandparents to their children and their parents. They believed in an unwritten and unspoken law: “Family – first and always.” In grandma’s day, taking in her elderly parents meant adding to an already crowded household, it meant three or four generations under one roof and it meant staying home many nights. At times there would be slamming of doors, arguments and hurt feelings, but it also meant there would be heard in every room shrieks of joy and laughter, plenty of encouraging words, hugs and kisses, doors being opened and moments being shared, there would be disappointments comforted, and the feelings of sadness and loss shared together. Most of all, it meant being a family.
In each crowded household everyone would find a sense of contentment and special role to play. Great grandpa, who was the eldest, used his expertise as an orchardist to keep the backyard fruit trees producing bountiful crops of plums, cherries, peaches and pears. At harvest time, it was great grandma’s job to preserve the fruit and vegetables for the coming winter.
It was from my great grandparents that I learned the wisdom of patients and to appreciate the little things in life. I observed how content they were to just sit together, quietly, on an old pine bench under their favorite fig tree. How reverently they savored the sweet fruit of the tree, speaking in soft tones to one another. My grandparents were just ordinary people, but to me they were fascinating characters. Though the times the lived in were simple and their lives unadorned, I’m forever richer for having known them.
Today, the yellow pages are filled with businesses that specialize in caring for the elderly. They have life-care facilities that offer patient lifetime care, nursing homes that supply loving guardians and medical needs. These facilities can range in cost from $2,000 to $4,000 per month. Some care facilities may charge as much as $50.000.00 as a deposit for a lifetime care service. There are also less expensive facilities such as the catholic charities that offer day-care service only from 9:30 am to 2:00 PM for a cost of $42.00, and up, per day. Also, there are other organizations that will charge a one-time fee of $150.00 at the beginning of the year. A caregiver will be sent, once a week, to sit with the elderly family member for four hours a day .
It is good there are these long term care facilities for those who want them and require them. As for me, I believe there’s no better medicine for the elder family member than to be a part of their family’s daily lives. To see and hear the sights and sounds of their own household, to smell the aroma of a favorite recipe simmering on the kitchen stove, to hear the sounds of a grandchild’s first tears and laughter. The whole nine yards of sharing the invigorating experience of life-in-progress.
I remember one rare day when my grandmother’s daily workload had dimmed the light that usually sparkled in her eyes. Concerned for her welfare, I asked her how she could tolerate having to care for her ailing parents as well as the inconvenience of having my own family crowding her household. Grandma straightened her back and stood to her full 4’11 1/2”, she drew me close to her bosom and proceeded to tell me one of her favorite Jacob Grim stories. This generational story has remained with me through the years, and now, in my senior years, as my grandmother before me, I’m the caregiver for my own elderly mom. Grandma’s little story never fails to give me pause.
There once was an old man who lived in a village with his son and his son’s wife and child. The old man was deaf and blind and had trouble eating from his dish without spilling it sometimes, accidentally, the old man would drop his son’s fine china and break it. The son and his wife were disgusted by the old man and made him eat out of a wooden bowl behind the stove. One day, the little grandson was working with some pieces of wood. When his father asked him what he was making, the little boy answered, “I’m making a nice wooden trough for you and Mother to eat out of when I’m all grown up.” The next day, the old grandfather was back at the table eating out of his son’s best china. Not another word was said on the subject.
The realization that we will all be there one day is reason enough for compassion.