Making Health Care Decisions for Aging Parents: The Baby Boomer Dilemma

  “Each generation supposes that the world was simpler for the one before it.”  Eleanor Roosevelt What Mrs. Roosevelt says is true, but life has unquestionably become more complicated for one age group today. People between the ages of forty-five and seventy are often referred to as the “sandwich” generation because of their dual roles as helpers to their own children and grandchildren, and also as caregivers for their aging parents who are living longer. Baby boomers have become, by necessity, important health care decision makers on both ends of the spectrum, from child care to elder care. Sometimes even more responsibility can arrive in the blink of an eye: What do you do if there is a sudden change in your parent’s health status? One minute they seem to be holding their own and the next minute – disaster. My friend Marilyn knew that something had changed dramatically with her mother when she arrived one morning to find mom sitting on the floor in the kitchen. Until that moment, her mother had seemed increasingly frail, but still independent. At age 86 she still ironed her pillowcases and prepared her own meals in the house she had lived in for forty years. That morning life seemed different and scary for both of them. “What happened,” asked Marilyn as she tried to check for broken bones. “I don’t know. Do you know where we are?” Her mother gazed up from the floor with a faraway look. A trip to the emergency room revealed nothing unusual according to lab tests, but Marilyn realized that her mother’s ability to live on her own had changed. This sudden event marked their entry into the tricky passage towards total dependence in which her mother would need a […]

Grandparent’s Day and 9/11: A story of resilience

Most of us associate the month of September with the tragedy that occurred on 9/11/01. We don’t think of Grandparent’s day which traditionally arrives on the first Sunday after Labor Day.  Seldom do we consider these two events side-by-side in relationship with each other. For my friend Paula Clifford Scott, September 11, 2011, was especially cruel and poignant because, not only was it Grandparent’s Day, by chance, but it marked the 10th anniversary of the death of her only daughter and granddaughter. On 9/11/01, Juliana Valentine McCourt, age four, and her mother, Ruth Clifford McCourt, departed from Boston on American Airlines flight 11 headed for a vacation in California. Ruth’s best friend, Paige Farrelly Hackel (Godmother to Juliana) was on the second plane, United flight 175. The dream trip for mother, daughter and Godmother included the Deepak Chopra Center for Well-being and Disneyland.  Before departing for the airport, Juliana explained to Grandma Paula how she had decided which of her favorite stuffed animals would accompany her on the plane. “Bunny Rabbit can stay with you, Gramma,” she said, “he’ll take care of you while I’m gone.” Eight children between the ages of two and eleven died in the three planes lost on 9/11.  How do grandparents survive with just the memory of the tiny hands and fresh faces of their grandchildren and the knowledge that they themselves are still here, alive?  Knowing that the unspoken order of life and death – who should depart this earth before the other – has been so tragically turned upside down.  Deep sadness, rage, disbelief, guilt, even becoming physically debilitated […]