This week, the saddest article I read was about Boomer Families – or the lack of families Boomers have made for themselves. There is probably a degree of poetic justice in the solidarity aging of Boomers. Every pillar of family structure was scorned and derided on by the Boomer youth culture. It wasn’t mere coincidence that the rise of divorce and a loosening of the bounds of marriage started in the Sixties. Marriage is the glue which unites and holds families together from generation to generation.
I no longer have the link but one of the stories told concerned a 76-year-old divorced woman who raised two sons alone. Her two grown sons have married, moved out-of-state, and are busy raising their children. She does her best to ensure she is not a burden to them. She keeps up various DIY projects and does her best to pretend Christmas is just another day.
Christmas is just another day to me, but what is a celebration without family to share it with? I cannot imagine living and celebrating anything without my family. And grandparents. My grandparents literally saved my life when my parents tore it apart when their search for personal fulfillment precluded the responsibility of caring for one’s child. I could never have fed my family when times were tough if I hadn’t grown up in Bubbe’s kitchen. I wouldn’t know how to use a hammer or understand that no good deed goes unpunished without my Zaidy. I would not know how to survive without my grandparents. Duty, honour, commitment, responsibility, the importance of kindness and joy were taught and passed on to me by Bubbe and Zaidy. I have done my best to pass on these lessons to my children.
I cannot claim to know the meaning of life, but without a family, living does seem to be a rather singular pursuit of vanity and vexation which cannot stand outside the test of time. I live with my two out of three grown children. Everyone fled the nest at the appointed hour but one came back since being home was better than being alone. One came home with a broken wing, and the third continues to stretch and test his wings. I cannot think of a better time to come home than when you are alone or you need a wing bandaged. We are all stronger together than when we are apart. I don’t police them; they don’t need me to tell them how to live their life. Each of them contributes to the family welfare according to their gift and need.
Today, my daughter and I go to pick up my mother at the airport so she can winter with us rather than being alone in the woods without a soul to know if she lives and breathes. She is 78 and quite frail. We both keep up this polite fiction that she is perfectly all right alone. It took, my daughter and I, literally months of begging, to convince her to come.
We have to give up a great deal of our freedom and space to make room for her. Daughter and I are going back to sharing a room so Momma can have some private space to guard her dignity in. Me, who has always needed to left alone for hours every day; will have no space to withdraw to when the maddening crowd moves in on my psyche. When I was younger, I discovered keeping 1700 miles between us kept us on speaking terms, but I would need to keep a bottle of Jameson close for her annual trek to visit me. By the third day of her visit, I use to show up uninvited at various friends homes with a bottle of whiskey hanging from my hand. Everyone would laugh because they understood my mother had come to visit. It was the only time anyone really saw me drink. I still have a fondness for Jameson’s even though more than a glass plays havoc with my sleep. I expect a wee nip of the Jameson’s, and going nightly to shul will help me cope and keep me on an even keel. Davening, even in a large group, is the closest I feel to being at alone and at peace.
My Zaidy showed me what it meant to live by higher truths. His father had abandoned his family at the height of the Great Depression and just after Zaidy ’s bar mitzvah. Zaidy was the oldest of five children which meant he had to leave school to earn money to keep his family. It was hard and he had to give up his dream of being a scholar and having a house on Avenue Road.
Thirty years later, he came upon his father homeless and begging for money on the street. Zaidy, could have just was kept walking on by him, but instead, he found his father a room to live in. Once a week, every Thursday after work, he would go visit his father, bring him groceries and pay his rent. My Bubbe profoundly disagreed with Zaidy’s actions and even Zaidy’s siblings refused to help, but my Zaidy did this alone without complaint and in good grace until the day his father died.
The higher truth is, I love my mother, and there is very little I would not do for her, even at great cost to myself. She didn’t need me when I was younger but she does now. And if I can make her last years easy and a blessing, then I will move heaven and earth to make it so… because Zaidy taught me the meaning of family and the redemptive power of love.