After graduating from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, my friend Michelle spent the summer taking care of her ninety-nine-year old grandmother. It was more difficult than she originally imagined. Taking care of her grandmother was similar, in a way, to taking care of a small child. Her grandmother had trouble communicating. She needed to stay on a schedule. Michelle was in charge of all of the meals and didn’t sleep well due to taking care of her grandmother during the night. She struggled feeling isolated and bored at times. But this touching video that Michelle made after her grandmother passed away, also shows the mutual learning and story sharing that happened that summer. They danced, taught each other languages, and laughed. Michelle’s grandmother’s spirit and health improved with Michelle’s presence and patience and care in the house:
Michelle feels lucky to have spent this intentional time with her grandmother. She thought it was important to help so she could continue living in her home. We can see in the video how sacred this shared time was for both women. Not everyone, however, has the time or means to spend this kind of special time with people generations apart from us. Society is no longer set up in a way where younger people have real encounters with older people. Young people are tending to get busier and busier, and older people more and more often are gathering in special living facilities to receive the care they need.
Intergenerational learning is one of the strengths of the church. Where I worship, a ninety-four- year old woman brings homemade cake to the staff once a month to celebrate the birthdays. She also volunteers at the front desk on a regular basis. “I have to get away from people my own age sometimes,” she says. “All they want to talk about is their health.” Kids at the church learn how to make lutefisk and lefse from the older members. While lefse is being rolled, women will tell stories from decades of being members at the church. The kids also volunteer in all the different parts of ministry to see what goes into making the church run smoothly. It puts them in contact with people they normally wouldn’t meet. In celebration of Palm Sunday and to raise funds for our trip to the Boundary Waters this summer, we prepared over 800 cinnamon rolls on Saturday and Sunday for the congregation. It’s pretty special to see an eighth grade boy rolling dough between his dad and a church volunteer or a seventh grade girl pouring a cup of coffee for a lifetime member of the church. We have a lot to learn from each other. I appreciate church as one place where people from born decades apart can come together, share, and broaden our perspectives on the world.