I’m reading Another Country: Navigating the Emotional Terrain of our Elders by Mary Pipher.* It is a phenomenal book filled with her client testimonials and interviews she conducted with older Americans and their families. Pipher distinguishes between the elderly—those old people we avoid because they are infirm or non-communicative or medicated—and our elders—those we seek advice from, interact with, give honor to. Some cultures are better at caring for their elders than others. In her opinion, Americans in general are at a loss as to how to care well for their older family members.
Pipher also distinguishes between the young-old and the old-old. The young-old are in their 60s and 70s and even 80s. They are independent, tour the world, care for grandkids, and cook meals for their family. The old-old, in comparison, are dependent; they need the structure of a senior home or a caregiver.
What makes a person old-old may be age or illness. It may also be the trauma of losing a spouse, moving away from their home and friends, or—and this is often the case—depression due to loneliness.
My grandmother Millie was the epitome of old-old. She was an amazing woman until her late 80s, but a broken hip set her back and she started to deteriorate. My mom, despite her illness, is a young-old woman. She is full of energy and laughter, and when she is stimulated, she conveys a fullness of personality. This is changing rapidly, but as of now, she is very much present.
My dad is turning 79 in a few weeks. He still has enough energy to meet new people and create an artistic life for himself. I would call him young-old, too.
My in-laws remain young-old, despite health setbacks. They are constantly on the go and are planning their next trip to visit Israel (and their 10 great grandchildren!).
My husband and I are on the cusp of being young-old. But for now, we’re playing at being young-young.
None of us want to think about old age. Not our kids in their teens and 20s with so much to look forward to. Not those of us in our middle age who retain the energy to do and be and interact. But as our parents age, we must think about it.
This past Shabbat, I met with friends for coffee. We all have children the same age and this has been one of our connections for the past 20 years. We always have a lot to say and catch up on, and it is a pleasure to share our lives with each other. Yet here we were talking about our parents; we are all in various stages of caring for our aging parents. How interesting, we commented to each other, that our focus in the world has shifted.
This coming week I will travel to my married son’s house to help him pack for a move at the end of August. And then I will continue on to my parent’s house to help them pack the remainder of their possessions. I’m not worried about the travel or the work involved. I don’t find it difficult to jump between generations. But I also don’t look for the difficulties. I look instead to what I gain by being involved in my family’s life, to the shared love and experiences we will build, and to the ability to give in a way that energizes me. I’m not saying it won’t be tiring, or even emotionally draining. I am saying I’m up for the challenge.
I’ve had help from my kids these past few weeks making spreads from scratch for our Shabbat table—like hummus and pesto. And, I have a new favorite, zucchini spread. For some reason, possibly due to the tremendous heat waves we’ve been experiencing, it has been a challenge to find squash and zucchini in my local grocery store. I’m hoping I can find a few by Friday to make this tasty spread.
Zucchini is a rather mild mannered vegetable that takes on the taste of spices you uses in any given dish. Angry red pepper flakes or even sweetened onions can affect your recipe. This spread is augmented by the caramelized onions plus several cloves of garlic. It’s great for spreading on sandwiches for an extra tasty layer or just noshing with crackers as a mid-day snack.
3 large zucchini, grated
1 large onion, sliced (or 2 medium onions)
1 Tbsp olive oil
2-3 cloves garlic, chopped
Salt and pepper to taste
Pour oil in large frying pan then add onions making sure to coat them with the oil. Find a medium flame that is not too high to burn the onions but keeps them sizzling. Cook onions, stirring every 5 to 10 minutes for up to 45 minutes or until onions become soft and sweet and caramel in color. Meanwhile, grate zucchini and place in a muslin kitchen towel to squeeze out excess water. Add zucchini and garlic to caramelized onions, spice with salt and pepper and cook until zucchini is cooked through. Place mixture in blender and blend until smooth. Will keep in fridge for up to one week.
*Mary Pipher Ph.D., Another Country: Navigating the Emotional Terrain of our Elders, Riverhead Books, NY, 1999.