A New Chapter

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And there they are. May 2013, Brooklyn.

Over the past two and a half years, this blog has taught me lots of things — to write down moments, to keep track of feelings, to share stories with the world. It came as a wonderful surprise that people seemed to connect with the moments and feelings and stories on here. Maybe we’re all grandchildren, I started thinking. And maybe it’s about time I do this full time.

So, big news: I’ve decided to go back to school.

Starting this fall, I’ll be working towards my master’s in population and social gerontology. It’s a two-year, joint program through Miami University in Ohio and Mahidol University in Thailand. Basically, I’ll be learning about how the worldwide population is aging, and how eastern and western societies are approaching the challenge of serving their oldest citizens, helping them live with dignity and strength until the end.

If you’ve read my blog or my AARP posts before, the move makes sense. My Pop Pop (Bernie) and my Dibi (Ruth) were a huge part of my life, especially at the end of their lives. In my twenties, when I first moved to New York, I relied on their company and support from afar. They were relatively close — an Amtrak trip to Pennsylvania — and I’d visit as often as I could. My bond with them is why I started volunteering with DOROT’s Friendly Visiting program, who paired me with Arthur. I go see him once a week and we just hang out. It’s something I’ve been doing for about four years. The friendship I have with Arthur and the friendship I had with my grandparents… it’s special. I’ve been advocating for “intergenerational everything” for a while now, on here, on Twitter (#intergenerational), on AARP’s blog. Now I’m ready to advocate as my career, and have an evidence-based perspective.

I don’t know yet where grad school will lead, and I guess that’s kind of the fun part. But I do know that I’ll keep writing. Actually, that’s part of what led me to this particular master’s program. Nerding out one day, I came across this Q&A with Kate de Medeiros, a research fellow at Miami’s Scripps Gerontology Center, on the Gerontological Society of America’s website. I’d never heard of narrative gerontology before, but I immediately fell in love with the idea of helping older adults tell their life stories as a way of connecting, as a way of self expression.

I say “not knowing” is the fun part, and I honestly do believe that, but I’d also be crazy not to be a little anxious. You know, I’m just quitting my (lovely and very steady) job, packing up my (lovely and very Brooklyn) apartment, saying goodbye to my (lovely and very supportive) friends I’ve made over the last seven+ years, not to mention the (lovely and charmingly unpredictable) city I’ve called home. That’s a lot to leave behind.

And then there’s Arthur. He’s the only one I haven’t told yet. I worry that he’ll obsess over it, that he won’t be able to stop mulling over the fact that I won’t be there to visit him. When I told my DOROT social worker Sasha about my graduate school plans, I asked if we might be able to sit down and strategize about how to break the news to Arthur.

"Absolutely," she said. "And I also think we should talk about how you’re going to handle the change. You know, being far away from him."

I hadn’t thought of it that way, but Sasha was right. So right. I lost my Bernie last fall, and this fall, I’ll lose Arthur. Or, at least, my visits. How is this going to be? How will it work? Will I call Arthur at 11:30 a.m. every day, like I used to do with Pop Pop? Will I write him postcards? How will he take it? How will I take it?

There are a lot of question marks, but I know in my heart that this is the right next chapter for me. Every country in the world is getting older. I believe in this program’s global focus, and its overarching idea that we need to collaborate with other cultures. We should learn from each other, and implement the best, most innovative strategies right here at home. I’ve seen our system fail: I’ve heard nursing home aides call Pop Pop “sweetie” as they change his “diaper.” I’ve wheeled Arthur to the movie theater, over uneven sidewalks, only to be turned away due to broken elevators. Our society doesn’t make aging easy or comfortable or affordable, and the list goes on. We owe it to our Arthurs and our Bernies to make it better.