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  • Writer's pictureLeigh Gerstenberger

Aging with Dignity

Like many baby boomers my family is on a journey with an aging parent, my mother, who recently turned 95 years of age.

While we had a wonderful family celebration to mark this event near her hometown at the New Jersey shore, I was struck by the fact that as she continues to age, it will be more difficult to help her travel to destinations like this.

Her birthday celebration was also a family reunion which included my brother and his wife who travelled from their home in Florida, her grand and great-grandchildren along with many of her nieces and nephews from California, Arizona, Florida and New England along with some other distant relatives from the east coast. Thanks to zoom technology, Mom’s only surviving brother, who was unable to attend the party in person, was able to participate virtually.

Due to the general process of aging, in recent years mom began using a cane to steady herself while walking and had to give up her driver’s license. Eighteen months ago, we were advised that she should no longer be living by herself. After consulting with several professionals who advised us NOT to move her into our home, we did just that.

While the most recent part of the journey we’re on with mom hasn’t always been easy, she now has regular contact with her grandchildren and great grandchildren who live nearby. In addition, we’ve been fortunate to connect with several caregivers who spend time with mom throughout the week, and several of our friends have gone out of their way to visit with her periodically. We’re also fortunate that a friend from mom’s church on the other side of town also comes to our home to visit with her regularly.

Like many things in life - buying a home, raising children, sending kids off to college and planning a wedding (to mention a few) sometimes the only way to learn how to do something, is to do it. This is proving to be our experience with caring for an aging parent. While much has been written on the topic and of course, every situation is different, I continue to find it very challenging to evaluate and discern what the best decisions might be.

That being the case, I was surprisingly encouraged when my brother insisted that I read Being Mortal: Illness, Medicine, and What Matters in the End by Atul Gawande, the subject of this week’s book review.

Written by a practicing surgeon, the book, while difficult to read in spots, has provided wonderful insights into caring for an elderly parent and an understanding of what mom must be feeling as her present circumstances continue to evolve.

Whether you are on this journey with an aging family member or not, I would encourage you to read this book as you reflect on your own circumstances and how you’d like to manage them as you go through the aging process personally.

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