Sunday, August 23, 2015

Resilience, Longevity & Moments of Joy

"The author Hermann Hesse writes that the more one matures, the younger one grows. There are many people who as they age become increasingly vigorous and energetic, more broad-minded and tolerant, living with a greater sense of freedom and assurance. It is important to remember that aging and growing old are not necessarily the same." - Daisaku Ikeda

Mom was born in 1928 in a small seaside village in the southernmost area of Japan. A middle child from a family of nine siblings, Mom is one of three still living (and thriving)! As I think about the challenges Mom faced throughout her life, I marvel at her ability to maintain a resilient spirit in the face of setbacks. Prior to the second World War, my grandfather passed away at the age of 39 while Mom was in elementary school. With many children to care for, grandmother had to go out and find work. Consequently, Mom left school to become a caregiver to her younger siblings. World War II brought about even greater challenges as food became scarce and rationing became the norm. 

In the course of her life, Mom has faced various hardships including losing her husband (my father) in 2010 and losing her closest friend late last year. Mom turned 87 this week, and I'm grateful that she is healthy, independent (still drives and is able to travel overseas on her own), and partakes in activities that are both meaningful and joyful.

Today there are many Internet articles offering theories and/or personal views on healthy aging, so I decided to list what I think may be Mom's "secrets": Singing without a care if anyone hears; Laughing heartily at jokes made by her favorite comedians; Walking everyday for exercise and for errands; Cooking lots of food and experimenting with new recipes; Not dwelling on trivial matter; Being open to learning something new.

Mom aspires to become a centenarian, and I'm beginning to realize that perhaps achieving a healthy, long life requires big heartedness and unwavering optimism. These are qualities that Mom seems to possess in abundance. Thank you for taking the time to read my post! 

My mom and family friend enjoying Japanese bento lunches in San Francisco

A Celebration! Mom blowing out the candle on her birthday dessert!  

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Caregiving and Cultural Expectations

"I am in between. Trying to write to be understood by those who matter to me, yet also trying to push my mind with ideas beyond the everyday. It is another borderland I inhabit. Not quite here nor there. On good days I feel I am a bridge. On bad days I just feel alone."
-- Sergio Troncoso, Crossing Borders, Personal Essays

Recently, I had the unique opportunity to share a personal experience regarding sibling conflicts in caregiving on This experience led to my reflecting on cultural differences and expectations regarding the care of aging parents. I grew up in an immigrant household where I assumed responsibilities for grown-up tasks from a fairly young age, including translating business documents and accompanying my parents to their medical appointments. I often felt overwhelmed by my role as a broker between the Japanese and American cultures as I had yet to master English. 

As a child, I didn’t think about cultural differences; I simply wanted to fit in with my American peers who seemed to have the freedom to explore their childhood. I now realize that my experience was not unusual, and that there were many other children from immigrant families who shared similar situations. We didn’t have discussions about our circumstances and therefore, I thought I was in the minority. Like myself, other children from immigrant families may have wanted to be accepted and to be seen as "normal" American youth.

For children of immigrants, challenges become greater in adulthood when aging parents require more care. Due to language barriers and cultural needs, immigrants have fewer relevant resources to rely upon as they age. Thus, it is not uncommon for adult children to provide care for aging parents while juggling careers and raising their own families. In large families, caregiving may seem less daunting because tasks can be divided. Even so, having siblings does not guarantee that the caregiving process would be easy as circumstances vary.

My family and relatives on a boat ride
In American society, there seems to be a growing awareness of caregivers’ needs and conversations about supporting a diverse aging population. Things are far from being perfect, but I am hopeful that sensible options can be created to respect the needs of aging immigrant parents and their adult children in the coming years. My mother is 87 years old, and we are fortunate that she still drives, exercises daily, and enjoys various activities with her friends. Nonetheless, I know that things may change and that I would eventually assume greater responsibility to assist her (willingly, of course)! Fortunately, studying gerontology and working with aging-related organizations will be useful, as I now have more knowledge and resources to support Mom in a culturally-sensitive, caring manner.

Thanks for reading this post. Would love to hear your ideas and experiences on this subject.