Not long ago the last of my parents’ siblings, my father’s youngest sister, passed away. In the moment of her passing, I joined, like many others, the oldest generation alive– the senior generation of our family. This is a new sensation for me. My “elders” are all now gone, and I can no longer ask their advice or hear their stories. It feels strange. As little ones, teenagers especially, and young adults, we all thought of the older generation as, well, old.
As I wrote recently in a Myth Buster – Old People Should Just Get Used to Getting Old – every year we experience new challenges in the journey of life. When a generation dies, suddenly we become the older generation, and this takes many of us (hand raised, here) by surprise. This new role comes with some difficult adjustments: internally—noticing the wrinkles and gray hairs, seeing the extra time it takes to do certain things, and externally– the prejudice felt by younger people toward older folks. When the last of our parents’ generation dies, we are forced to reckon with our own mortality, and, as I often say, to realize there is more sand in the bottom than in the top.
The advice I offer to this generational shift so many of us experience is to lean into this new chapter of life and find the gifts that await us. That awareness and acceptance takes time. As a gerontologist, I continually reveal those gifts to my clients and readers. Now I must embrace them, as well.
As I listened to the various cousins and friends speak about my aunt at her memorial service, I realized she had been the glue holding the generations together. Often in a family, one person emerges as that keeper of the family history– one with all the original papers for the DAR, or the photo albums going back to the first days of photography. My aunt became that person in her early thirties. She was always our go-to gal for the questions about our gene pool. She knew whether anyone in the family had suffered from a particular disease, or why some of us were covered in freckles. She kept all the family stories in her head and freely shared them with us. That link to my history, to my father, my grandparents, and beyond is now gone. In its absence I feel a part of who I am has also disappeared.
How I wish I had asked more questions…
What are some of the things you experienced when you became the older generation?
Until next time…Be Vibrant!