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The Emotional Terrain of Our Elders

by Mary Pipher

Pub Date: March 15th, 1999
ISBN: 1-57322-129-5
Publisher: Riverhead

Blazing a trail into the emotional life of people who are growing old, the author hacks away at much of the debris’stereotypes, indifference, and fear—that separates younger generations from their elders, but doesn’t always escape the grip of sentimentality. As doctors, economists, and sociologists struggle to plan for a doubling of the population aged over 65 years (due in a little more than a generation), bestselling psychologist Pipher (who tackled families with The Shelter of Each Other, 1996, and adolescent girls with the Reviving Ophelia, 1994) leads a personal expedition into the land of the aging. Addressing the sandwich generation now dealing with both growing children and aging parents, Pipher warns, “Our solutions to the dilemmas of caring for our elders will be applied to our own lives . . . the more we love and respect our elders, the more we teach our children to love and respect us.” She deplores the segregation of the old in retirement communities or nursing homes as widening the already yawning gap between what she calls the self-reflective post-psychology generation and their community-oriented parents. (It should be noted that this is a shaky dichotomy; the parents of younger boomers came of age post-Freud, among nuclear, not extended, families.) Close relationships and frequent contact among all generations—toddlers, adolescents, parents, grandparents, even great-grandparents—will enrich everyone’s lives and reduce the stress that comes from residues of guilt and anger, Pipher preaches. Although other researchers would disagree, she suggests thinking of the more vulnerable elderly “as victims of chronic Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder . . . ordinary healthy people for whom all hell has broken loose.” Interviews, case histories, and personal anecdotes deepen the author’s exploration of aging. Don’t put the elderly on social ice floes is the plea here, accompanied by compassionate, if not always solidly grounded, insights into growing old that will benefit the elderly and their children alike. (First Serial to Time; Book-of-the-Month Club featured alternate; author tour)