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Cherishing Our Elders

I recently attended a family reunion on Mayne Island, just south west of Vancouver in British Columbia. The reunion gathered relatives from my paternal grandmother's side of the family. My great grandfather immigrated from Japan into Canada in the late 1800's. He was the first Japanese immigrant to buy and own 192 acres of land on Mayne Island. Over time, other Japanese families settles on Mayne Island where they lived, farmed, and fished. Much like the Japanese American experience, at the onset of World War 2, Japanese Canadians in British Columbia were forcibly evacuated and incarcerated. To add insult to injury, the Canadian government seized and liquidated all Japanese personal property including land, homes, and businesses to pay for the costs of their incarceration. The government never returned the property.

It had been almost 30-years since I last met with this side of the family and the reunion was an amazing opportunity to reconnect and walk the land where my family lived and worked over 120 years ago. It was a wonderful reminder of not only my family's rich history, but also how grateful I am for the traditions, values, and ideals that still remain at the heart of our family.

I know that my story is not unique.

Each of us live the experiences and reflections of our time through lenses colored by the traditions and values of the generations that preceded us. These family traditions and values are what connect us to our past and maintain our cultural identity through the generations, and why in many cultures, elders are held in high regard and with the utmost respect.

Which takes me to Grandparent's Day.

Grandparent's Day is a day to honor and celebrate the contributions our elders have made to their families and communities. It is celebrated each year on the first Sunday after Labor Day. Although many people may assume that Grandparent's Day is a result from lobbying by florists, greeting card companies, and similar businesses, it could not be farther from the truth. Its origin was decidedly noncommercial and, today, remains fairly true to its roots.

Grandparent's Day goes back to 1956 and a West Virginia mother named Marian McQuade. While helping to organize a community celebration for those over 80, she became aware of the many nursing home residents who were forgotten by their families. She wanted a holiday to bring attention to these individuals and to honor all elderly persons.

I have to admit that I never understood what aging meant until I became the primary family caregiver for my parents several years ago. As I busied myself with my own life, I never thought that my parents would someday be unable to live independently. Call it naivety or blissful ignorance, but, at the time, I still envisioned my parents as I did when I was a child - strong, independent, and active.

As I began to take an active role in my parent's care, I realized how ill-prepared I was to take on that responsibility. How I wished I had the foresight to discuss aging and their future care earlier. It took me over a year of research, talking with others, and learning from my many mistakes to begin to understand what it means to age and the importance of helping not only the elderly remain healthy, happy, and comfortable, but also the health and well-being of the family's primary caregiver who often give up a part of their own lives to provide care.

This is why we, at Red String, created a program to focus on elderly care and services, including nutrition programs, transportation, health and wellness, respite care, and case management that are provided from organizations such as Tomodachi Bento Project, J-Sei, Jubilee Reach, and Sound Generations, who so often play important roles in the care of both the elderly and their primary family caregivers.

I don't think many of us are ever prepared for our loved ones getting older and not being able to care for themselves, but there are things you can do to better prepare for it while you, your parents or other elderly loved ones can still have the discussion.

An excellent reference that I used is published by AARP, "Prepare to Care", which include tips for starting the discussion, easy to understand information, and comprehensive checklists and other useful references.

Grandparent's Day is a great reminder for all of us to take time to show our appreciation for the wisdom and joy we receive from our elderly loved ones, to share stories, and to strengthen the bonds between the generations.

It's also a good time to start the discussion about their future care.

Author's Note: This year, Grandparent's Day falls on September 11, a day etched in the nation's collective consciousness. It is a stark reminder that any of our lives can dramatically change in a blink of an eye. From all of us at Red String, even as we take this day to celebrate our elderly loved ones, we shall also honor the civilians, military servicemen, first responders, and loved ones of those lost in the tragic events of 9-11, and all who have sacrificed so much – both faraway and close to home – to ensure our freedoms and way of life are protected.

(to be continued)

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