I intended to move on from Grandma Hazel today, but reading and re-reading your many thoughtful comments on the four parts of her story has led me back to her and I would like us, instead, to discuss a couple of items that come to mind from this and what we might learn.
First, however, one last mystery I omitted. The story was told in the family that my father's enlistment in the Army Air Corps for World War II was held up because he did not have a birth certificate. Further, it was said, records for the year of his birth, 1916, in Chicago, had been destroyed in a fire so Aunt Edith signed a statement that she had been present at his birth and the government then sent him off to war.
I have always thought this was an odd story. The great Chicago fire took place in 1871, long before my grandmother was born, let alone my father, and even if there had been a subsequent fire in a city building, it seemed strange to me that the records for just one year would be lost.
Curious when I recalled this story yesterday, I searched the web for Chicago birth records. At the services that offer public record searches, 1916 Cook County is available and according to one, there is a record of my father's name for that year. However, public records appear to not be so public. They don't come free on the web and I don't want to pay $30 or $40 dollars right now so until I do, whatever my dad's birth certificate might reveal remains a mystery.
Mysteries and secrets, secrets and lies. One of the biggest things I have learned from five years of blogging is that if I have experienced something, so have many other people, and some commenters on Hazel's story mentioned their own family secrets.
Sharing Our Stories
Unlike younger generations who now catalog the most intimate details of their lives nearly by the minute on Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, etc., our generation grew up learning not to air our dirty laundry in public, which might account for some of the secrets in our families. But that dictum could benefit from an adjustment. As Ciaran noted in the comments:
“By sharing stories such as yours, you help others with similar pasts know that they are not alone.”
And Paula similarly:
“I know I'm not the only reader who feels slightly less alone today because of this story.”
Although I have not mentioned it in a long time, I am convinced that blogging is an almost perfect pastime for elders. It is solitary in the need to sit quietly as we think and write – never a bad thing to take time for a closer look.
It is also social in that blogging expands our circle of acquaintances and friends worldwide. It keeps our minds active and exercised and in telling our stories, it fulfills Carl Jung's admonition in his seven tasks of aging to review our lives as we approach the final chapters.
At a time in life when we no longer have the daily camaraderie of the workplace, may not drive any longer or, perhaps, are not as mobile generally as we once were, some smart people presented us with this marvelous, new way to be in touch just in time for us to benefit.
And as Ciaran and Paula realize, learning that others have lived through similar experiences and that we are not alone with our secrets and lies is a comfort. But unless we share these stories we don't know that, and the secrets and lies are perpetuated.
As I have done before, I urge you to write your stories on your blogs. If you don't have a blog, you are welcome to send them to me for The Elder Storytelling Place. Our stories are not always secrets, nor mysterious or dark. I had a great, good belly laugh last month when Cop Car commented on the post about leaking to say, “I am not dressed without a Maxipad.”
It had taken me months (I can be slow sometimes) of too much clothes changing to figure out that what I had once used for menstruation could now have another practical application. If we talked a little more about things we keep hidden, we would know a little more than we do.
Helping Elders in Trouble
Alexandra commented that “society really needs to rethink how it treats the elderly.” To the extent she may be suggesting a formal government program that would keep tabs in some manner on elders who live alone, that is more intrusive in terms of record keeping and social service visits than is either practical or, for me, welcome. I certainly don't want to answer to a government worker about my housekeeping.
We would all hope that adult children would keep watch, but families are often scattered over distances and children never have been a guarantee of care in our old age. Neighbors and neighborhoods are not the cohesive communities they were in my youth. Most of the houses on my block here in Portland, Maine, are rentals and in many cases, people move in and out before there's a chance to learn their names.
Networks of friends could help by checking on one another regularly with just a short phone call. These days, that probably should be extended to a daily email since many are more likely to keep in touch that way than by phone.
But for this to work on a wide-enough scale, I suspect there would need to be a sea change in cultural attitudes, which seems to have shrunk, about being our brothers' keeper and toward elders in general - which brings us back to Alexandra's original point and without a solution.
The Terrible, Lonely Death of an Old, Old Woman – Part 1
The Terrible, Lonely Death of an Old, Old Woman – Part 2
The Terrible, Lonely Death of an Old, Old Woman – Part 3
The Terrible, Lonely Death of an Old, Old Woman – Part 4
At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Johna Ferguson: There's Something About Tap Dancing