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Multi-generationalism. Is it even a word?

The concept of multi-generational integration seems to be less common, less popular than it has been in years gone by.

I need to say that sort of generically because it has been less true in my own life.

At boarding school, it was often easier to have me spend shorter school breaks with my dad’s mother than to get me home to the isolated town my parents lived in. Somewhere along the way I started spending summer holidays with my mum’s mum in England. So I did spend quality time with both of them even though I didn’t know either of my grandfathers, and both Grandmas died before I was 25.

When my own children came along I tried to integrate them with both sets of their grandparents, but I think I wasn’t as conscientious as I should have been. (Retrospection can be hard-hearted!)

My children did grow up as an integral part of my workplaces though, and those workplaces became more and more senior-centric as time went by. All three of them are comfortable around elders – and frailty, and dementia – and engage them in conversation easily. As my years in ElderCare turned into decades, I consistently marveled at the wisdom and experiences and history this demographic took for granted. I will admit to a never-ending supply of role models.

This whole concept hit home this morning with a card from one of those “older” friends. She’s the organizer of a “senior’s” fitness class I taught for a bunch of years. We were together for so many years they were no longer clients, or attendees, they were my friends. Although most of them were old enough to be my mother, they were more like my big sisters and their love and support got me through more than a few trials in my life.

I turned over that fitness class when I moved to take care of my own dementing mother 10 years ago but we’ve kept in touch, albeit sporadically. Recently I was back in town and spent a fabulous morning with a number of these women reminiscing and laughing… they hadn’t changed a bit!

Back to today’s card. After the usual pleasantries, my correspondent started talking about plans for Irene’s 90th.

What the frick! 90?

Let me tell you about Irene! If there was ever a date on the calendar that could justify a dress-up, she celebrated it! You can imagine Halloween… but Easter, Christmas, Valentine’s, St. Paddy’s… you name it and she had appropriate clothing and accessories. She would be full of hilarity and pose unabashedly for photos. On Halloween I would teach our class dressed in some silly costume and I still have most of the pictures of me and Irene being silly together. Her other modus operandi was to engage in the most innocuous of chat, guiding me deftly into a corner where I was met with questions about my love life. Irene was slick, and she was hilarious.

The thought of Irene being 90 was mind-boggling. I saw her a few weeks ago, and despite the fact she was now legally blind, she was the same Irene, full of fun, not missing a trick, and sure enough… she found a way to turn the conversation around to my love life!

90 is getting up there by any standards… although I have no doubt Irene will be celebrating her 100th when it comes along… but this one reminder made me stop and appreciate the huge bonus multi-generationalism has had on my life.

Telling my youngest daughter about my visit with these women set her off on a ride of “OMG, Mom, who was it that…” did something memorable that she remembered even 15, 20, 25 years later.

All three of my children have anecdotes, all good, many funny, about their encounters with these elders that came into our lives.

Is multi-generationalism a thing of the past? Sometimes I think yes, but then I see a video on Facebook, or hear a friend tell a story, or spend another school break with my own grandson… and I know that it will always live on for some people… and many young people now are so big-picture worldly I see them finding ways to share the lives of elders, with the intention of learning.

So I choose to be optimistic. In a world where so many of us are connected only through technology, the pre-technology generation are the gold threads in the tapestries of our lives and they’re a technocolour roadmap in a GPS world.

Do you have memories of a much older or much younger friend who touched your life?