Gathering at our lakeside cottage to celebrate my daughter’s college graduation, May 26th, 2013
I was moved by Frank Bruni’s article in Sunday’s New York Times, The Gift of Siblings, since it mirrors the feelings I have towards my brother and sister. This past weekend, my daughter graduated from college. My brother planned a visit from China, where he lives, around the big event and my sister also made the two hour drive to be there, as did my husband’s sister, who drove nine hours from Boston with her son, and his brother and his wife, who live only an hour away from the college. The extended family rendezvoused at a cottage overlooking Lake Erie that we rented for the weekend. As I glanced out of the window as the sun was setting over the lake and saw everyone celebrating my daughter’s milestone together, I was grateful that I, like Bruni, had a big clan. My brother and sister are there for me during these exhilarating moments, but just as important, we’re there to prop each other up during the tough times. Just before my father passed away over a year ago, we took turns visiting him and tending to my mother’s needs. When he died, we collaborated on a fitting tribute filled with stories about his life that included his trademark good humor. When my children were only ages one and four, my mother-in-law passed away. As my husband’s large family filled her former house to pay their respects, I decided then that I was going to have another child, so my children could have an even larger support network. Had I the patience and fortitude, I would have had a fourth as well. As parents postpone childbearing and end up having smaller families, with only children becoming more the norm, I feel for the children who won’t have siblings to surround them the way I had, who will have to bear the burden of their parents’ illnesses, and eventually their death, alone, or with minimal support. This situation will take its toll emotionally on an entire population of children of boomers. I hope, that as young people contemplate the size of their family today, that they consider all that siblings have to offer. Like Bruni, I’m not only grateful for mine, but also that my children will have each others’ shoulders to lean on as they face the inevitability of their own parents aging
It’s taken me nearly a week since a dear friend died in a car crash to write this blog. Steve Gradwohl was killed last Saturday at the age of 51 after his car veered through three lines of traffic on a freeway, then hit an embankment. In addition to being a loyal friend to many and a wonderful husband and father, he was also an internist. And the testimonials from the many patients he treated, provided in comments in this AnnArbor.com article, show that he wasn’t your typical doctor, but one that went above and beyond to respond to his patient’s concerns. He received the Outstanding Clinician Award in 2012 from The University of Michigan Medical School. The outpouring from those who knew him only as their doctor was no surprise to me; he was both my husband’s and son’s physician. But what impressed me more was that he provided the same level of attention to all his patients. You rarely had to wait more than a day to get an appointment, and then he saw you within five minutes of your arrival, giving you his undivided attention and quickly getting to the diagnosis. His promptness was particularly astounding, given the fact that he had so many patients; everyone in our neighborhood seemed to see him. He provided his e-mail to his patients and often responded immediately whenever a patient had a question — even on the weekend — with his trademark “SEG” signature. I’m relaying this story about Steve not just because all of those close to him are reeling from this loss, but because I think it’s important to understand why he’s such a good doctor. Recently, I waited an hour with my daughter, who was ill and feverish, for her pediatrician to appear, only to have to endure the same experience a week later with my son’s dermatologist. When those doctors walked in the door, nary an apology was uttered. There’s a feeling that patients should feel fortunate to be part of such a fine medical establishment and just grin and bear it. Appointments take weeks to book; doctors can take several days to respond to questions and a weekend reply is unheard of. I’m sure the situation I face at my medical center isn’t uncommon. There will be many doctors among those gathering for tonight’s memorial to honor the memory of Steve. I hope his legacy will be that they aspire to provide the same level of care that this incredible doctor provided — something everyone should be able to expect from their physician.
Angelina Jolie’s disclosure that she underwent surgery for a preventive double mastectomy after learning she is predisposed to breast cancer set off a firestorm of discussion, as it often does, when celebrities become spokespeople for certain types of diseases or health care decisions. I’m curious, however, whether it will lead to an onslaught of women choosing to have mastectomies who may not face the same type of risks that she, a carrier of the breast cancer gene, had. If more young women choose to get rid of their breasts, they’ll be left with a flat surface where two large, fleshy organs once were. I have first-hand knowledge of this, since, 11 years ago, I was one of the growing number of young women diagnosed with DCIS, an early stage breast cancer, which Peggy Orenstein described so eloquently in a recent New York Times Magazine piece. I, like many with DCIS, chose to have a mastectomy. There’s no way to sugar coat the remains of an amputated breast. There’s a giant scar over a flat surface. For me, the choice to have breast reconstruction, and not have to face the ugly reminder of my mastectomy, was a no brainer. There’s been little discussion, by either Jolie or others in the public eye, of what’s involved, should a person decide to undergo breast reconstruction. Jolie made passing mention to implants she had at the time of her mastectomy, but revealed little about that particular procedure and what it entails. Though I’m sure advancements have been made over the past 10 years, reconstructive surgery is no picnic. I long to write a piece that will tell the many women likely to undergo breast reconstruction just what’s involved, so they can make just an informed decision about that, as they hopefully did about getting their mastectomy.
I spent the last two days at the What’s Next Boomer Summit in Chicago, an impressive gathering of 400 organized by Mary Furlong. Over the next 30 years, the population of those turning 65 is expected to double. It’s a daunting number, one that will transform the way companies do business in this country. Many of those attending the Summit were heads of start-up companies with products geared towards the aging industry. One woman is launching a service that allows grandparents to better engage grandchildren over Skype by developing games they can play together. Another is pioneering a device that monitors older people living alone that doesn’t require them to press a button if they fall. It automatically tracks their motions as part of a passive system. An owner of a facility discussed a new approach to treating Alzheimer’s patients, using the gentler term, “memory care.” It’s impressive how many people are using innovative ways to address the many issues that will surface as so many people enter old age. I look forward to writing several articles about this emerging, and fast growing industry, one that not only will be profitable, but hopefully will present some proactive solutions to the vexing problem of elderly care giving.
I spent the past week researching the state of long-term health care for an article I wrote for The Fiscal Times. I’ll post it here once it runs. In the wake of decisions by insurance companies to significantly hike the costs of premiums, and to start charging women more for long-term health care insurance, my piece explored the potential effects, especially on single women. I was astounded at the statistics. In 2011, national health care spending for long-term care services was $210.9-billion, almost two-thirds paid by the Medicaid program. As the population most in need of care, those ages 65 and older, doubles in the next 30 years, and fewer are able to afford long-term health care insurance, this is surely to become a major issue. Next week, I’ll be heading to the What’s Next Boomer Summit in Chicago, moderating a panel on career reinvention late in life. I’m quite curious whether this topic will be a subject of discussion, and what the experts have to say about it. As someone who reports about aging issues, this is a topic I plan to closely follow.
I was intrigued by Fresh Air host Terry Gross’ January 16th interview with Judith Shulevitz, who wrote The New Republic article, “The Grayest Generation: How Older Parenthood Will Upend American Society,” As someone lucky enough to meet my future husband in college at the age of 20, I realize I’m one of the privileged few: a woman who has been able to have a fulfilling career while raising three children. My husband and I dated for five years before marrying. Then we had the luxury of enjoying each other for four more years before embarking on a family. Starting parenthood when I was 29, I was able to realize my dream of having three children, spaced over a six year time frame. I recall my husband not wanting to wait past 30 to have his first child, fearful at the prospect of being an old father. How quaint that sounds now, when so many of my peers didn’t become parents until they were in their late thirties and older. One of my closest friends just gave birth to her first child at age 49! Like Shulevitz, many of these people weren’t fortunate enough to meet their mate until they were older. Uninterested in embarking on solo parenting, their hands were tied. But I also agree with her that the pressures in the workplace are also to blame. As a freelance journalist, I was able to taper back my hours as my family grew. I knew their precious childhood would be fleeting and I wanted to be there to cherish it. Now that they’re in high school and college, I work an insane number of hours. But the difference is that it’s my choice. I don’t have a boss I need to answer to and I control my own hours.
So many women of my generation, pressed by themselves, society, and in some cases, their own mothers, as my book, Making Up With Mom, indicates, felt the need to put parenthood on the back burner. The result was, in many instances, that having children of their own became nearly impossible or involved costly and heroic man-made interventions. As Shulevitz says, embarking upon assisted reproductive technologies carries its own health risks, an issue I’ve explored in an in-depth article. But just as significant are the emotional issues: realizing you may not live to see your grandchildren, or that your own children may not have the chance to know theirs. I think my generation, until recently, devalued that aspect. And I’m finding that the next generation of mothers is realizing this and charting a different course. I meet many young women today who are looking for their mate in college, marrying younger and starting a family in their twenties, knowing that they can either put their career on hold or work part-time. In an interview I conducted with her, Stephanie Coontz, professor of history and family studies at The Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington and director of research and public education at the Council on Contemporary Families, says young graduate students she works with are starting families before earning their PhD — something she wouldn’t have seen in the past. “My impression is that most educated women continue to postpone childbearing but that there is a small group — not enough to pull down the average — who feel entitled to build their work around family in a way my generation didn’t,” she said. “I have certainly noticed that among a layer of professional women who 30 years ago would all have been terrified to have a child before their mid-30s, for fear of derailing their career, there are some who do feel free to start sooner.” A recent survey of the wedding announcements in The New York Times finds more couples ages 30-years-old and younger. It sounds like a very old-fashioned notion, but I think they’re forging a better balance and I’m hopeful, if this happens in larger numbers, employers will be supportive.
A young woman I know, age 23, recently married her high school sweetheart this past summer. She transferred to his college after attending a separate university as a freshman and dated him all through college. Marriage seemed like the next logical step. “John and I have shared our big life adventures: studying abroad in Mexico and moving out of our home town. Getting married young allows us to continue those adventures, which we would rather spend together than apart, before starting our family,” she said. They hope to have children within the next three years. Some of those at her wedding were her age and recently married as well. One of them, married at 24 and hoping to start a family soon, said “Living on your own is scary. It’s more fun to do it with someone. We can be scared together, be broke together and go through life changes together. There’s no point in waiting when you are the happiest you’ve been.” It will be interesting to see if more young women feel like this woman and, in marrying young, end up striking a balance that their own mothers found elusive.
Spending time at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit last week, I was impressed by the variety of smart looking all-electric vehicles. Just a few years ago, there were only a handful. Now, in addition to the Volt and LEAF, six electric vehicles hit the market last year, while four more are due this year. Some, like BMW’s zippy i3 and Tesla’s Model X, which has gull wing doors that open to the sky, are downright dazzling and could lure more consumers. EVs still have their limitations. The sticker price is higher than many consumers can swallow and EVs require regular charging of the battery. So far, Americans haven’t embraced them in large numbers, as I explain in this story I wrote for The Fiscal Times. But it will be interesting to watch and see, as more of these vehicles hit the road and gas prices remain high, whether these zero-emitting cars pick up momentum.
Frustrated by what inevitably becomes a boast-a-rama this time of year, conveyed through holiday cards, I wrote this blog for The Huffington Post. I’m certain that the recent tragedy in Connecticut has caused many of us to take stock of what’s most important: being surrounded by dear friends and family. I wish you and yours a season filled with quality time with your loved ones.
My father passed away last December. My sister teaches middle school and many of her students tried their best to offer comfort. One of the notes, from an 11-year-old boy said: “Dear Ms. Edelson. I’m sorry for your lost. (this is not a typo). I don’t know what to say to you, so I might not talk to you for a while.” Though she found this humorous, helping others through the grieving process is no laughing matter. This boy was so honest he captured the way that many adults feel and it resonated with me. Her student expressed the anxieties we often face surrounding how to help a friend through a loss. How many of us, eager to be there to offer support, nonetheless end up avoiding a friend when they lose a relative, concerned they’ll say the wrong thing? I seen it happen and found myself guilty. I put off calling a dear friend who last month lost her husband suddenly when he was only 50, afraid of confronting a friend wrenched in grief and despair. I’ve encountered these situations countless times and have tried relentlessly to sell a story to editors on the topic. But they’ve often shied away from it. Finally, Prevention Magazine’s editor agreed this was a worthy topic. The result is this piece that I wrote:
I found the advice from experts to be incredibly thoughtful and want to share it with you. Hopefully it will allow you to be helpful the next time a friend or relative is facing a loss.