When I was a kid growing up in small-town Green Bay, Wisconsin, the Odd Fellows Home was the only long-term care (LTC) facility around. We did know one woman who spent her final months there, a widowed friend of my mom’s named Sadie who’d spent her adult life cleaning other people’s houses and taking care of other people’s children. But she was the only one; all the other old people we knew lived with their children and grandchildren.
That’s just the way it was: families took care of their own in those days. But that was then and this is now, and somewhere along the line everything changed.
Today, the elderly are little more than a liability to many of today’s young people – perhaps most. Even when we’re talking about our own old age, we see ourselves as little more than potential millstones: I don’t want to be a burden to my children, we say. They have their lives to live, after all. Oh, sure, when I was able to help out with babysitting or cooking, that was one thing, but now I’d just be in the way.
So what happened?
You don’t have to be Hercules Poirot to figure it out. Clearly, the rebellion-crazed, lust-filled, pleasure-seeking hippy generation that came of age in the ‘60s changed the heart of this nation.
We thought we knew everything, we baby boomers. Most important, we knew not to trust anyone over 30. After all, older folks just wanted to ruin our good time. Their greed had landed themselves in joyless gray existences in which men were slaves to capitalist corruption and women were slaves to men. And they were all jealous of us; they wanted us to be as miserable as they really were, beneath those facades of contentment and purpose.
But that's a secular assessment. I think something much more insidious and evil took root in the ‘60s. I think that was when Satan himself finally succeeded in trashing the 5th commandment: Honor your father and your mother.
It’s the first of the commandments governing our relationships with each other rather than God, and may therefore be the most important of all. And yet for some reason, my generation decided to jettison it.
Honor our fathers and mothers? You’ve got to be kidding! We won’t even trust anyone over 30, let alone honor them!
Hear the hiss?
Way too many of us bought it, hook, line and sinker, and our parents paid the price. And soon enough we will, too.
One of the many ironies is that we felt guilty about what we had done – after all, God has written His law on our hearts, so that deep down we knew it was wrong to turn our backs on the elderly. We felt so guilty, in fact, that we put into power people who delight in slapping useless regulations on the facilities we put our parents in. And those regulations are so costly that they’ve caused a cascade of financial problems that will ultimately threaten the very existence of even the finest LTC facilities.
Fortunately, it’s not too late for many of us. We can choose to take our parents into our own homes as they become unable to care for themselves. Or, if that’s impossible, we can do whatever it takes to find the very best facilities, where their bodies, minds and spirits will receive even more attention than we could possibly give them. And we can then make spending time with them a top priority in our lives.
We can’t turn the clock back to the 1950s. But we can at least live as if the last half century never happened.