As COVID-19 continues to rock old-age homes, it’s time we roll back the clock and re-evaluate the value—and potential inevitability—of the multigenerational family.
In Dr. Atul Gawande’s Being Mortal, he writes, “Modernization did not demote the elderly. It demoted the family.” Now, he might say the crisis has promoted both.
In the past, at least one child in the family remained to care for their parents as they progressed into old age. But as healthcare and technology developed, we renegotiated the way people lived at all ages. Long-term care homes allowed the elderly to live autonomously and the young to live as they pleased.
Over the past three months, that model has crumbled.
During the pandemic, 63.3 per cent of all coronavirus-related deaths in Ontario happened in long-term care homes. The province has taken over management of five homes following a horrifying military report on the home’s conditions. People have been pulling their loved ones out of homes to save them.
What we see in families as a result of the pandemic isn’t entirely different from what was commonplace just over 100 years ago. It’s the middle-aged paying it forward to their parents, being there for them at all hours of the day instead of a few times per month. It’s young adults getting to know their grandparents a little better, appreciating the wisdom decades of life bring.
Most of us have unquantifiable respect and love for our grandparents, whether they’re alive or not. But long-term care homes have taken on the complications of old age, a potential burden that was traditionally placed on families.
For some this is a necessity, but the overarching message it creates is unnerving: if our elderly loved ones have a story to tell, we’re all ears, but if their health takes a turn, we let the nurses take care of it.
In a period where time seems to sit still, we have a chance to rewire the message—we’re here not just to listen, but also to help if anything goes wrong.
This shift is a result of catastrophic death tolls and economic downturn, but disasters aren’t always restricted to a singular apocalyptic narrative.
The multigenerational family structure might be here to stay. Epidemiologists expect COVID-19 to be around for a while, and economists say it’ll take years to recover financially.
In the meantime, the pandemic is forcing many of us to consider not just what we can learn from the elderly—but that perhaps we can do better than warehousing them away.
Matt is a fifth-year English major and The Journal’s Managing Editor.
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