Saturday, August 24, 2013

Loneliness in Abundance

When we got into the car this evening to drive to dinner with son Corin and his family, Mom surprised Herb and me by announcing matter-of-factly that she is grateful to us for "taking her in" and "generously keeping the refrigerator filled with food" - her words.

I am Mom's only daughter and the eldest child. Herb and I began our relationship in Honolulu and lived there in an Asian-Pacific culture for over fifteen years. Of course, my mother, our only living elder, would come to live with us. Where else would she live?

Even when Mom makes me crazy, I fully honor the fact that we invited her to make our home her home. The values of fairness and respect for Mom's right to live under our roof trump my selfish thoughts and selfish feelings.

Mom has thanked us before for inviting her to live with us, but this particular pronouncement arises out of her recent California visit. While there, Mom spent hours in "girl talk" with Aunt Lily and Aunt Sally, reminiscing about earlier years spent raising children and gossiping about friends and relations from their common past. Their stories put into stark relief for her the loneliness that many elders they have known experience on a daily basis.

Mom's weekly outings to the Longmont Senior Center over the past thirteen years have also put her face-to-face with the way that other elders live. Each time another elder gets shipped off by adult children who live in another state to a nursing or assisted living facility elsewhere in Colorado, Mom tells me about it.

I can recall each of those stories, and they make me very sad. In many cases, the elder died soon after moving into a facility and losing contact with her friends at the Senior Center.

Sometimes, Mom and her friends attempt to visit the elders in their new living situations, but often, the distance is just too far along 75-mile per hour highways for them to make the trip safely. Forty miles to an unfamiliar town may as well be an all day drive for elders who drive regularly only to the supermarket, the Senior Center, and the doctor's office.

I often forget that I was enculturated Chinese, which emphasizes collective values over individualistic values. I am lucky that Herb has incorporated the collective values of the Asian-Pacific culture of Hawaii and is genuinely at ease in our family system that is largely based on my Chinese enculturation.

I frequently ponder how it is that this entire first world nation has arrived at the notion that we all should desire to live alone with multiple bedrooms and personal automobiles, and that we all should value most highly the right to make decisions alone without consulting those we love and who love us. I think it's known as independence, but I just wonder . . .

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