This past April, my husband and I moved within walking distance of my aging parents. Nine years ago, my maternal grandmother died from cancer in a room she shared with my cousin in my aunt’s house. An elderly uncle also recently passed away after being cared for at home. Many of my Iraqi friends have their widowed mothers living with them, or very close by.
Even living in diaspora, the Iraqi-Christian subculture continues to practice the tradition of caring for its elderly within the architecture of the family. The skeptic who believes such familial structures are due solely to economic necessity, lack of individuality, and cultural backwardness would be wrong. The elderly generation in my subculture is revered and loved; the hoary heads are cared for from a position of ethical strength.
The American version of elder culture and elder care has always felt foreign to me. I remember feeling grieved and confused when my first husband took me to see his father, who had Alzheimer’s disease and was living at a nursing home. His wife, my mother-in-law at the time, had taken care of him for some years until she could no longer do so without medical help and so decided to put him in a nursing home. I was faced with a culturally foreign situation: My mother-in-law was living in a retirement community (also foreign to me), and my father-in-law was in a nursing home. I don't know if I was judgmental or not at the time—I certainly hope not—but I was at a complete loss as to how to respond. A year and a half into our marriage, my mother-in-law fell ill. We brought her to live with us, where my mother and I helped to take care of her. Even after my husband and I divorced, my husband’s mother continued to live with my mother, until she eventually went to live with my ex-husband until she passed away.
Although there are significant cultural differences regarding elder care culture, I recognize that there are situations that make it impossible for the elderly to be cared for at home. The causes are diverse: family breakdown and complexity, lack of finances, serious illnesses, incapacity, and so on. For some families, of course, a retirement community or a nursing home might be a necessity for elder family members.
Still, there are reasons to be concerned about the state of elder care culture in the United States.
Read the rest of the article at the Institute for Family Studies