"Keeping the Conversation Going: A Daughter Speaks to her Mother Across the Memory Loss Divide" is the title of this moving short memoir by Margaret Morgenroth Gullette, author of the brilliant Agewise. The abyss, of course, is memory loss, and Gullette describes learning to focus on the very real pleasures in what remains. "My mother, too, was a self — living, often contentedly, on islands of land in the abyss," she writes. "I made a decision to live with her on those islands."
I’ve been invited to speak to the Weill Cornell Hospital Department of Geriatrics, so I’ve been reviewing my interviews with people in the field. Eighteen months ago I much enjoyed meeting geriatric care manager Claudia Fine, and today I was struck by her description of her sister’s difficulty dealing with her mother-in-law’s dementia.
In a characteristically mordant piece called “Daddy Trouble” in this month’s Atlantic magazine, Sandra Tsing Loh coins the term Elderschadenfreude to describe “the secret pleasure of hearing about aging parents that are even more impossible than yours.”
It’s always good to encounter work that pushes back against the prevailing “it’s-all-downhill-from-here” narrative, and Wendy Lustbader’s Life Gets Better: The Unexpected Pleasures of Growing Older does just that.
I took an instant liking to Claudia Fine, the Executive Vice President of SeniorBridge, a national organization that provides health and care management. We met in her midtown office, following up on a connection I’d made through a journalism seminar. She was warm, candid, and impatient with institutional dumbness.
This weekend I presented my work for the first time, at the annual conference of the Council on Contemporary Families, a group of social scientists and practitioners whose work I greatly respect. The title of the talk was “The Value of Work in Late Life,” but I pulled a slight bait-and-switch, because it turns out that this project isn’t about work any more. It's about ageism, starting with our own internalized biases. Here’s the ten-minute talk I gave: