I just finished my little part in helping one of my mother's shirt-tailed relatives compile their Campbell family history. They started their story in the mid 1880s and we worked our way through four generations of adventurers beginning as Scotch Irishmen immigrating to Ontario then to South Dakota and finally settling in the Wetaskiwin/Camrose area of central Alberta. What a tale of adventure, hardships, determination and devoted family. Theirs is not an uncommon tale of the settlement of Western Canada and USA. Thousands of immigrant people migrated from Europe full of optimism and dreams of a better life with free land of milk and honey.
My own family were another of the migrants to Alberta from Europe a generation later than the Campbell's so they ended up further north in 1927.
What I learned and was reminded of from doing these stories and talking to these people, now in their 80s and 90s, who know and lived some of the stories, is that they were also once filled with dreams and optimism. Doris and Tom are now blind and inflicted with terrible dementia respectively. They live in a beautiful care home for seniors here in Edmonton. As I read their stories and looked at old family photos I could not help but remind myself that these elderly people were once determined to leave their mark on the world. They were somebody's children who went to school, they milked the cows and fed the pigs everyday before and after school. They planted gardens, picked roots and rocks and rode horses and sewed their crops with the eternal optimism of all farmers. They worked hard from sunup to sunset and longer. Frost, hail, drought, cold and snow challenged them every year. They were loved and loved back. They courted the pretty girls and young men. They married and made babies, lots of babies. They worked hard to raise these babies in dugouts, soddies and small log houses until they could finally build new homes of lumber and as times progressed they enjoyed the luxuries of electricity, telephones and later natural gas and television.
This story reminds me of my own relatives who are now struggling with the ravages of age and disease. I think of the times my Dad lived and worked through to provide for his family, now worried about his cancer battle. My mother-in-law sits by herself in her tiny room in the old folks home waiting for the next meal or the next visitor. My mother struggles with loss of independance and fear of leaving her own home to the care home. She slowly goes through prized poesessions valuable to few but herself. I think of my aunt who has struggled for years with Parkinson's then cancer which maimed her body and now dementia slowly taking over her brain all to the dismay of her devoted husband and kids. She is only a few years older than I am so I well remember when she was young, vibrant and very good looking. She and Uncle loved to party and laugh and they struggled to maintain the family farm while raising four kids and a grand daughter. They volunteered and helped to show the way for hundreds of young kids who attended their bible camp. They have placed their struggles in the hands of their Lord for the past several years. We all wonder at the challenges He has asked of them.
I am just hoping that we do not overlook these elderly people who struggle with the last few years of their lives. Let's not forget their contributions to this country and their own families. Let's not get too impatient with their weakness and instead remember that they once helped us out when we were small and frail. The circle of life is happening, and they are coming full circle. Now it is our turn to be strong and compassionate.