There’s a saying that it takes a village to raise a child. I think it also takes a village to get someone to the age of 100. I saw both of those concepts in action this past weekend when we went to Minnesota to celebrate the 100th birthday of my husband’s Aunt Helen.
Aunt Helen is the matriarch of a big, happy, close-knit multi-generational family. We stayed with one of her two daughters, Barbara, who has two daughters of her own in addition to two sons-in-law and five grandchildren. All live close, or relatively close, to one another and are all integral parts of each others’ lives.
Barbara’s daughters never need babysitters. Their kids range from 2 to 13. Either their sister, or parents will take the kids for the day, overnight, or for a week – whatever is needed. Aunts, cousins, and grandparents go to the meets, games, plays, you name it, for all the children. The three generations have regular dinners and often spend weekends together. They travel together. Sometimes, it’s just the two sisters and their kids. Sometimes it includes grandparents. All eleven of them are going to Disney World together for a week in March.
And everyone visits Helen in her nursing home. She was in independent living nearby till she was 95. Then she lived with Barbara for three years until Barb couldn’t care for her Mom at home anymore. Throughout, Helen participated in most family gatherings and events, so she has been able to be a huge part of her grandchildren’s lives and a big, though more passive part of her great-grandkids’ lives too. It was only a few years ago that Helen lost her mobility and moved into a nursing home. Also nearby.
As an only child of only children, I was in total awe watching all this intergenerational interaction. Everyone is comfortable with and knows everything about everyone else. There is bountiful camaraderie. Jokes, shared memories and teasing as well as support and love all around. Not that there aren’t tensions and disagreements, but overall, the warmth and affection is palpable. Everyone feels important in their little galaxy.
This is wonderful for children and their developing egos and personalities. It’s also essential to give an elderly person connections and purpose to their more limited lives. Studies show that that is something that most people who live to be 100 have in common, along with great genes!
Aunt Helen was overwhelmed when her daughters threw her a large 100th birthday party. The whole family was there – both her girls and all of their children and grandchildren as well as three beloved nephews who traveled very long distances to be there. (I’m the wife of one of the nephews who Helen refers to as ‘the kids’ – they are all in their mid 60’s to 70’s.)
We are pack animals. Through most of history, we have lived in cohesive groups – extended families, clans, villages, small towns. Everyone knew everyone else and was there for each other, for better or worse. Today we have splintered off into self-contained units. The nuclear family is the norm – Mom, Dad and 2.5 children. After this weekend, I’m not sure that scenario is optimum for anyone.
A long time ago, one of her grandchildren told Helen she had to live to be 100. Since then, that has been her stated goal in life. A few days before her birthday, Helen told Barbara that she thinks she needs a new goal. Barbara asked if she wanted to make 101 her new goal. Helen replied, “No. I think I’ll make it 105!’
With the love and support of her own personal ‘village’, I bet she makes it!
Check out: A VERY HAPPY 100th BIRTHDAY, AUNT HELEN – BY TOM CURLEY for more of the story!