What a Difference a Decade Makes

Recently, I noticed I have become a bit of rock star at my book club meetings in the western suburbs of Chicago. Now in our 13th year, our book club meets every six weeks – with July and August off.

Originally, the book club was formed by one woman who brought together friends from various parts of her own life – a sister-in-law, some bridge-playing friends, and other women whom she met through her children’s friends.  We have lost (and then added) just two members in all those years.

When we first came together, some of us didn’t even know any of the others. Now, over thirteen years later, we’ve shared the sudden, tragic death of a spouse, deaths of many parents, children’s weddings, and – most recently – the births of grandchildren. Every six weeks, we come together over chili con queso dip, lemon squares and Pinot Grigio, to name just a few of our favorites.

We are teachers, lawyers, social workers and nurses. We are all mothers, and we are (or were) all daughters.  This is where the “rock star” part comes in. When we gathered at our first meeting in 1997, many of us had not begun the journey of caregiving for parents. In fact, most of us were still riding the wild roller-coaster of full-time parenting. Our concerns then were oriented towards finding the best Geometry tutor for an underachieving son rather than the Alzheimer’s diagnosis of an aging parent.

Interestingly, I began graduate school in 1997, the same year our book club was formed. Deciding to pursue a Master’s degree in Gerontology, my life-changing plan was met with dubious stares, twisted frowns, and faux “high fives.” Why would I take on this challenge when my youngest (of four children) was just starting first grade? My friends asked, “Don’t you want a year all to yourself?” In fact, many of my book club-mates simply inquired why I would choose such a “sad” and “depressing” line of work as aging services.

Fast forward to 2010. What a difference a decade makes! That lanky lad who needed the Geometry tutor is now a chemical engineer in California. His mom, Pam, is the primary caregiver for her mom, who suffers from CHF and early stage dementia.  Pam now frets about home care agencies and Medicare EOBs instead of her son’s GPA. She almost always is the first to greet me at the door of every book club meeting. Another book club member, Colleen, asks me where I’m sitting so she can plump up next to me, just to “pick my brain.” Last week she asked about her dad’s decision to move to assisted living. Did I know of any good places nearby? Can you believe what they cost? Can he get a discount because he’s a WWII vet? The list goes on . . .

It’s funny how my horribly “sad” and “depressing” line of work is now the talk of the town.  My book club can’t get enough of me! Furthermore, I don’t see any end in sight for my growing popularity. Due to advances in technology and medical science, the Administration on Aging indicates Baby Boomers “will likely take care of our parents longer than we have cared for our children.”

Pass the lemon squares, please. It’s going to be a while.

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