What Happened to Living Like the Waltons?
When Grandpa and Grandma shared the family home
Grandma and Grandpa shared the family home in “The Waltons,” the depression-era TV show that debuted in the 1970s. But now our elders go to nursing homes. Boomer reader Karen Czuleger Strgacich wonders what happened to living like the Waltons. Are those days gone forever?
Time time time … isn’t it crazy how fast time goes? It’s even crazier when you don’t feel like you are getting older. Well, inside anyway. On the outside it’s there, every day staring back at me in the bathroom mirror. You know the saying, “I want to live a long life, but I don’t want to get old.” I’m 63 years old, still juggling my career, house, and family. I’m just trying not to freak out about the biggest question I have in my life.
How will I ever afford to retire?
This question has hit me square in the face in the last few weeks. My mother’s sister and my father’s sister are both in their late 80s. Both women were single mothers, like me. Both women were high school classmates attending the same all-girl Catholic high school in Los Angeles. And now both women face leaving their homes forever and being placed in nursing home facilities.
So, I ask the question again. What happened to living like the Waltons? A family with three generations all living under the same roof. All taking care of each other. All gracefully respecting the family patriarch and matriarch, aka, the elders. Failing faculties and growing old didn’t get them kicked out of their home. It was a time when people listened to the wisdom of the elderly. A time when families valued and held the elders in high regard. Where has that kind of grace gone? When did it become illegal to get old?
Every family has their dynamic. Caregiving for an elderly parent or grandparent can be just plain hard. It can tax you and exhaust you on every level. But does that mean that you can’t empathize with what it feels like for them to be in a position of needing that help … that support? Help they never asked for or ever needed before. Does caregiver fatigue give way by not allowing our elderly to live out their lives at a natural progression while in their own home or within the safety of family?
Why am I asking all these questions?
I see these two single mothers who sacrificed so much to raise their families. They sacrificed to feed them, clothe them, educate them, and entertain them. They provided safe homes for their children, as much love as they could give, and more. Always more. All at the expense of their own well-being. And all perhaps at the expense of their futures. They put their children’s needs in front of all their own … 24/7, 7 days a week, and twice on Sunday. Did they ever think this could happen to them? Do any of us?
As I speak to both of my aunts now, who by the way are still sharp … as sharp as any 88-year-old … I feel they are both grieving. They are grieving the loss of their homes and the loss of their identities, the identities which defined them as the single mothers they were and who took their jobs quite seriously. They are grieving the loss of the respect they once had from their children. Children who now have reduced them to mere burdens. Children who are now just biding their time and waiting for the inheritance checks. Children who at one time could not survive without the women who provided for their complete well-being.
Both scenarios are clear. Decisions are being made about the value of their homes, which are both worth over two million dollars, and the value of the “stuff” left behind. That is how they will ever so gently move their mothers out of the way. The carrot at the end is the thing that no one can take with them when they die. Money. A nursing home is the best way to start that process, apparently, for these two families. But this kind of rush to the finish line will say more about their children’s legacies than about the legacies of the beautiful women that I call my aunts. I didn’t think this was something I would see in my own family. But I am seeing it in real-time and on both sides by children who just don’t want to “see” their mothers anymore.
No one knows how long someone will live. You don’t know. I don’t know. But I guess we can all be better prepared. I know I have some work to do. By what I am seeing take place, I will make sure I speak for myself now in whatever manner that will show itself when I cannot.
I am a single mother who has raised a family on my own. Like my aunts, I have never remarried. Like my aunts, I have sacrificed a lot for my children. Like my aunts, I have loved my children more than life itself. And I wouldn’t do anything different. I would still give all that I had to ensure that they had the best foundation possible. This is the example that my aunts set for me as I watched them from the sidelines.
Life happens. In the case of my aunts, it was a death of a husband and a divorce. Both were life happenings that caused them to pivot and take a different course from what they envisioned at the start. They both did the best they knew how.
I have sat in silent thought on many occasions as I left the nursing home of one aunt and hung up the phone with the other. How did these two wonderful women find themselves at such a graceless age at the end of their lives? Where are the signs of human touch for them? Of gentle love?
With my papers in order, I will sit and wait until the time my children will have to speak for me and hope with all my heart that history will not repeat itself. I don’t have that fear though. I will speak now and be heard then. I wish anyone who is going through this with a loved one all the grace and patience and love that they too deserve to feel. Walk gently through this time and know that it’s not just the legacy of the parent you are tasked to preserve. It’s your own legacy, too.
Karen Czuleger Strgacich is a national sales director in the hospitality industry, helping to bring meetings and conventions to the city of Los Angeles. She has worked in the industry for over 30 years. She loves her career and paying it forward by mentoring future hospitality and meeting professionals and helping them obtain scholarships. She raised two children as a single mom, a feat that was at times the most challenging thing she had ever done, but also by far the most rewarding. After work, Strgacich blogs her thoughts, experiences, trials, and triumphs to sites focused on single motherhood and professional working women. You can email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.