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Our Elders, Keepers of the Keys to Our Family Histories

Published: September 15, 2020

Our Blog took a brief hiatus during the month of August and unfortunately missed commemoration of National Senior Citizens’ Day that occurred on August 21st. However, given that National Grandparents Day is now upon us September 13, we thought it would be nice to pay homage to these two important days together.

The impetus for enacting these National Days of remembrance was born out of very similar missions. President Ronald Reagan signed, Proclamation 5847, on August 19, 1988, establishing National Senior Citizens Day which was designed as a day to thank our senior citizens for their contribution to the community and what they have done to make our families and country better. The roots of Grandparents Day go back to 1956 and a West Virginia mother named Marian McQuade. While helping to organize a community celebration for those over 80, she became aware of the many nursing home residents who were forgotten by their families. She wanted a holiday to bring attention to these forgotten individuals and to honor all grandparents. In 1973, West Virginia became the first state to have such a day. McQuade and others then shifted their efforts to the national level, achieving success in 1978. Grandparents Day is now a national day of observance, celebrated each year on the first Sunday after Labor Day, although it is not classified as a federal holiday.

Both Commemorative Days also provide us with an opportunity to not only honor our elders, but to also reflect on their current condition in our country. Are we providing the kind of care and compassion for which they are so deserving? The pandemic has laid bare an ugly truth about our nursing home facilities that have become nothing more than warehouses for both our forgotten seniors without family ties as well as for those families who are ill-equipped to care for their physically/mentally impaired loved ones alone. Instead, they have had to turn over their loved one’s care to institutions because our current healthcare policies do not readily lend themselves to allowing in-home care for them. The pandemic has also revealed just how vulnerable seniors living in congregate care are. At least 68,000 residents and workers have died from the coronavirus at nursing homes and other long-term care facilities for older adults in the United States, according to a New York Times database. As of August 13, the virus has infected more than 402,000 people at some 17,000 facilities. People of color, as has been widely reported, are disproportionately impacted by the virus due to their inordinately higher, underlying health conditions. They are also, unfortunately, more likely to succumb to this devastating virus.

As I am writing this Blog, I am reminded that today is World Suicide Prevention Day. The American Association for Marriage & Family Therapy reports that Older adults make up 12% of the US population, but account for 18% of all suicide deaths. This staggering statistic is a bell weather reminder that we must not forget those seniors who live alone and who, during this pandemic are now even more isolated than ever.

And further, lest we forget, in 2001, approximately 2.4 million grandparents were raising grandchildren in the United States (Census Bureau, 2002a) 9% of African-American children under 18 years were living in grandparent-headed households, 6% Hispanic and 4% non-Hispanic White

One cannot help, but wonder how many grandparents and seniors were lost over the last seven months and also lament the enormous familial, brain-trust that has been lost. They are and were the source of memories of days gone-by; shared-sound wisdom culled overtime from everyday living; family stories/history; and unconditional love and support. They represent a rich reservoir of information that can only be obtained from them, in effect they hold the keys to the portals of our past and help us to understand who we are today. We were blessed at J.F. Goode Funeral Home to have had wonderful grandparents. We hold fond, heart-felt memories of, “Ma” and “Pa”, Anna “Dolly” Goode and Joe Goode Sr., Founders of J.F. Goode Funeral Home who instilled an incredible work ethic and pride in taking care of the family business as well as beloved Ella Morse, maternal grandmother who gave her love and support unconditionally.

Consider this a gentle reminder to take the time to connect with your elders/grandparents before they depart and you will be richly rewarded for having done so:

• Visit them wherever they may reside. If distance or COVID 19 restrictions make this difficult consider calling them, sharing a video of appreciation or writing them a letter telling them how much you love and miss them.

• Invite them to share their stories and listen fully engaged, asking questions that help to add important context to historical events.

• Review family albums and ask them to put names and stories to those photos of family members and friends that you may not know.

• Host a special Family lunch/supper for grandparents and take lots of pictures of them with the grands.

• Ask them to share the recipe for that favorite dessert that they always made on the holidays

• Listen more and talk less so you don’t miss their pearls of wisdom.

• Check-in on seniors who live alone when the weather is bad or during power outages and ask if there is anything you can pick up from the grocers for them on your next trip to the market.

According to Forbes Magazine, by 2035, there will be 78 million people over 65 living in the United States. People are living longer than they used to. And they’re continuing to work and be involved in the community even as they age. Many older Americans are living productive and happy lives. This is definitely something worth celebrating! Someday, God willing, you will be a senior too...

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