Assisted Living, Senior Housing, Independent Living, Mature Community, Meals on Wheel, Home Health; all of these have become familiar aspects of modern-day living. As sophisticated facilities and services emerge to meet the needs of a maturing population, we must sometimes rethink our connections to parents and grand-parents.
In America, multi-generational homes are not so common anymore, though they are making a comeback, with a twist. Ever heard of an in-law suite? In any case, it is clear that we are taking steps to prevent isolation, though I sense there is still a long way to go. It is only in the recent past that extended families stopped sharing quarters for most of their lives. People have become more independent. In a few short years, this has lad to compartmentalized families and family dynamics and it does not apply to elders only. How many of your siblings live next door and how often do we speak with them?
Another aspect of modern life that has a great impact on the family structure is technology. Computers in general and email in particular have changed the ways we communicate overnight. They have opened the entire world to us, yet by the same token they have contributed to shifting our attention away from those within earshot. It happened so fast. Not long ago, our parents were still learning proper penmanship in school and writing home from college using a paper and envelope.
My father-in-law lives in a fine, assisted living apartment here in Vermont. Since he moved there from a familiar neighborhood, leaving behind acquaintances and a great many squirrel, turkey and other avian friends, his daughter was concerned that he might feel too isolated. This concern turned into a learning curve and eye opener for all of us.
At first, she installed a computer on a nice secretary desk in his living room and proceeded to show him how to use email to stay in touch and later a wonderful new communications novelty called “Skype”. It did not take long for everyone to realize that he was simply not interested. He is, after all, a product of the classical training era. As fascinating as computers may be, they are simply not of “the same class”.
One afternoon, while we were visiting, his son attempted to get him involved in a Skype conversation with his grand-son. Awkward silences that occasionally blanket live conversations are nothing compared to the silence in front of a Skype screen. Grampy finally leaned over to me and said, “Why should I use this when I have a phone?”
Over time, my observant and creative sister-in-law noticed that though her father had difficulty holding a pen securely, he took great delight in writing letters to some of his few remaining friends. Could we take up pen and paper instead of enjoying the rhythmic clicks of our keyboard and swiftness of email? Well, it turns out we did not have to.
Today, on Grampy Murray’s table, amongst other treasures, sits a binder he proudly opens to share with visitors the many letters and pictures he has received via snail mail from children and grand-children that never touched a pen in the process. Some forward thinking individuals have created an online service called “SunnyGram”, providing keyboard literate folk a touch-of-a-button approach to correspondence Grampy’s way.
It is interesting how things come full circle naturally and, probably, inevitably.
Find out more: SunnyGram