Truly The Greatest

by Richard G. Johnstone Jr., Editor

Richard Johnstone
Richard Johnstone

Tom Brokaw is widely acknowledged as being the one who captured the essence of those who fought and defeated both a worldwide Great Depression, and then an Axis of three nations whose madness for world domination threatened all we hold near and dear. He has called this group born in the first third of the last century “The Greatest Generation,” and Brokaw’s genius truly was in capturing in a phrase what many have long acknowledged and most of us have long thought.

Hard as it is to imagine — for those of us who grew up in the ’50s and ’60s with this generation of strong, wise and able folks as our parents and grandparents — but this greatest of generations is aging, aged, and in many cases has lost a goodly number of its own. And they deserve our very best efforts to ensure that their remaining years are spent in as dignified and as caring an environment as possible.

Of course, it’s always a risk (yet one that members of the media never hesitate to take, and we are guilty of this as well in this editorial) to brand a group or nation or generation as “this” or “that,” knowing full well that such generalizing at times amounts to trivializing, given the huge range of individual differences that are always at play in any group. And speaking with such hyperbole of “the greatest” would surely strike most members of this generally modest, self-deprecating generation as unnecessary, exaggerated, or perhaps even untrue “blanket blather,” blather in which today’s 24/7 media are so eager to engage.

And yet … at least in this case, the exception really DOES prove the rule. This truly was (and is) the greatest generation, at least the greatest since that of our nation’s Founding Fathers (and Mothers!). Consider a mere smattering of the accomplishments of this group: turning America into the greatest, and now arguably the only, superpower in the world; overcoming the darkest economic time in recent history, and in the process building some of the finest dams, bridges, buildings, roads and park systems this nation has ever seen; defeating enemies in World War II whose military might and ambition make today’s terrorists look almost amateurish by comparison; building a level of prosperity for Americans that is the highest in world history; and producing many if not most of the greatest works of art, literature and music of the 20th century.

So, with this “Greatest Generation” in mind, we feature in this month’s Cooperative Living an array of articles on the challenges, choices — and joys — of aging and of providing care to the aging. As to the manifold choices that face the elderly and their caregivers, one of the most agonizing and overwhelming involves leaving a beloved home for new quarters, be they a smaller home, or an independent, assisted, or nursing care arrangement at a retirement community.

We offer three articles about this difficult life choice, from the first-hand perspective of a senior citizen who made such a move (page 25); from the perspective of her daughter who helped her mom in moving this “mountain” (page 26); and from the vantage point of a loving daughter-in-law, who helped her husband’s mother, since deceased, find just the right nursing home (page 28).

We also offer two looks at the many faces and facets of caregiving. First is our touching cover story (page 20) on the arduous journey taken by Cindy Adams, her father and the rest of their family as they dealt with the long, slow decline and death of her mother from a form of dementia. In addition, this month’s Food for Thought column (page 58) features a moving first-hand account of the daunting, demanding, and draining tasks faced by caregivers. Both accounts feature practical advice and guidance from these front-line caregiving veterans, and both list sources and resources that can provide additional information and assistance.

While often called “The Golden Years,” we all recognize that senior citizenship is not a passport to good health or happiness. It’s the mark of a survivor, though, one who has weathered the storms and squalls that buffet the lives of all of us humans. And those who have survived, who have endured, who in almost every instance have contributed in ways large and small to bettering their communities, deserve to be treated with dignity and respect as they enter Act Three of their time on life’s stage.

By being a loving, helpful, sensitive caregiver, those of us who are Baby Boomers or Gen Xers effectively give a warm, affirming round of applause to members of this Greatest Generation, as they take a long, much-deserved bow after having spent their time wisely and very, very well.


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