My Lola is turning 85 in a few days. Family members will travel from all over the world to be with her and to celebrate her special day. In many families in America, an 85-year-old woman would quite often be committed to an assisted living facility, but my Lola lives at home in the Philippines cared for by relatives.
While most elderly people retire to nursing homes, this is a rarity in the Filipino-American community. It is uncommon, even, for an elderly Filipino to live at home alone rather than with family. This is because of the respect and love we have for our parents and for the older generations of our families.
Multigenerational households are common in Filipino communities as well as many other Asian communities. There is a tacit understanding between parent and child that, just as the parent cares for the child at the beginning of life, the child will care for the parent towards the end of life. The multigenerational household is the primary reason Filipino families tend to be so closely knit. If an elderly parent lives with a child, other relatives will visit often and assist in care taking.
Such households not only ensure the care of older family members but also cultivate important values in the younger members of the family. Children are raised to respect elders, to honor and appreciate their relatives. Loyalty runs deep in Filipino families. We treat even distant cousins as siblings.
There is a comfort in knowing that there is an expansive network of family members who can be counted on for support. While my family members are scattered all over the world and we often go years without seeing each other, we still communicate, remember each other’s birthdays, send Christmas cards and notes of congratulations for important life events. We are a family, despite being separated by miles. I have family members in other countries I have never even met, but who still correspond with me through phone calls or email.
Many family members of the younger generation will feel stifled by such closeness in the family as older relatives can sometimes seem overbearing and intrusive. Yet we secretly love that our families make a big deal out of everything. We love the huge turnout for graduations and birthdays. We are touched by the cards from family members (whose names we sometimes don’t remember) offering sincere congratulations and praise.
We are grateful that our families love us and that they will support us even in our old age.