Bargell: A generation’s worth of wisdom melts away
January 30, 2013
On a daily basis we lose our treasures. All are touched. Last month my 92-old aunt quietly passed away. Despite her age, it was a real shock. She was the wife of the last of my parents’ siblings, the group that collectively raised my brother, sister and I. We all wanted to believe she’d live forever, and until very recently she seemed game for the task. With her passing, I have been contemplating what I must remember about my aunt, and her generation. I felt a similar void when my husband’s grandmother passed last summer, just shy of her 102nd birthday. Both women had similar traits, perhaps borne of their generation. And while the girls were lucky enough to know both women, they really are too young to wholly appreciate their individual strength and integrity.
It’s harrowing as well to recognize that my siblings and I have assumed the duties of the family elders. An inevitable shift in roles, but as the youngest in the family, not one I particularly relish. Being the baby afforded a certain freedom to be self-indulgent. Gone now, an expectation of maturity accompanies being one of the family’s grown-ups, and I find myself pining for the wisdom of our family’s lost treasures.
While studies in generational traits are not new, in recent years generational psychology has occupied the limelight. Online journals are full of advice on how to manage offices where four different generations work side by side, generally offering tips on how to keep them from colliding in the pursuit of common goals. As a parent, it’s important to understand that our kids will embody traits intrinsic to their generation, one that according to Wikipedia has yet to be finally labeled. I was surprised to learn we’ve moved past Gen X (born 1965-1980) and Gen Y, (born 1980-to late ’90s), on to a new group of kids, sometimes referred to as the digital natives. No secret to any parents who has asked their teenager to program their phone. Change with all of its excitement will come, and no doubt each generation will offer its own brand of greatness, but we surely will lose much if we forget the perspective of the traditional greatest generation.
When writing a condolence note I reflected on the lessons learned from my aunt. She was just about as straight-forward and pragmatic as they come. I don’t recall her ever being imbued in any drama, or overwrought with emotion. Maybe the events of her life – from the Great Depression to World War II – gave her better perspective on life’s real difficulties.
Talking on the phone was not my aunt’s forte. And text, well, that was something contained in books. She was, however, a seasoned veteran of “visiting” on the front porch, an activity that could occupy the entire day and slip into the evening. I learned much about the world eavesdropping as a child. She also was one of those annoying people who required that we look her in the eye, and try at least one bite of everything on our plate. Childishness, and any accompanying surliness, met with strong disapproval. Maybe it was because she had no children of her own, although I think it was more that she saw no practical benefit to whining.
Despite her no-nonsense manner, we knew her concern for each of us was genuine. Even into her 90s she would find articles about topic she thought would interest the girls and every now and then we’d receive an oversized envelope stuffed with information. No long note or explanation accompanied the missive – she knew we’d understand. How I wish this column was one I shared with her when I still thought she’d live forever – and I hope somehow, somewhere she understands.
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Cindy Bargell is an attorney and a mom who lives outside of Silverthorne with her husband and two daughters. She welcomes your comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.