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We’ve made some progress when it comes to aging

My husband and I, both boomers, have elderly, widowed mothers. Mine is 95 years. His, 90 years.

For the past year, we have gotten more hands on in their daily lives — not because they asked us to, but because their failing bodies and minds have required our more frequent involvement.

Our closer intimacy has highlighted their lack of an ability to collaborate, ask for help, to let go. More significantly, they lack the ability to trust that others should/would/could help.

After spending time with them and noticing their lack of capabilities for joining forces, working together or receiving from others, I have become a true believer that cooperation, teamwork and pooling resources are extremely important for the process of healthy aging. I believe that asking for and accepting help from others is a strength.

It is the basic precept of giving and receiving. You need both actions to make it work. When I give to you, you receive, and in that receiving you give back to me and I receive from you. Round and round we go, upholding and supporting each other.

Both of our parents were grandchildren of immigrants. Their grandparents engrained in their children the belief that one must be vigorously independent. Above all else, you do not ask for help, because it could be interpreted that you were weak or stupid — neither of which any immigrant could chance.

In their parents’ striving to create a sense of belonging, they could be under obligation to no one. Survival of the fittest meant that you did not rely on or be indebted to anyone outside the family.

The America of our immigrant great-grandparents was not kind to them. There was so little security and confidence for these new Americans. They were seen as outsiders, foreigners, strangers. Racism, bigotry and intolerance were the norm of early American society. They truly had to protect themselves to create a new home and a sense of affiliation. They taught their children well — their children grasped on to this self-reliance concept like it was a life preserver. “Be Beholden to No Man” was their generation’s mantra.

Fast forward to the 21st century. Our society has moved beyond the survival mode of our grandparents of the late 19th century. In the last 30 years, retirement centers have emerged where “seniors” now go to live and enjoy the companionship and comfort of others their own age, making new friends, giving and receiving support, and having faith in each other to help navigate the aging process. We have learned to trust.

We are so fortunate to have learned the importance of connection and have honed the ability to rely on and trust others. Freely, we reach out to others to give and receive encouragement, making us more well-rounded, happier individuals.

Embracing the importance of companionship outside your nuclear family has become our generation’s formula for aging gracefully. Now that is progress.

Diane Paulson lives in Ashland.

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