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CJFS Summer Intern Reflects on the Challenges of Aging

CJFS Summer Intern Reflects on the Challenges of Aging

by Emily Bebenek

Birmingham resident Emily Bebenek, a rising junior at Wake Forest University, worked as a Hillel Connection intern this summer with our Development and Outreach team. Here, Emily reflects on a family trip that opened her eyes to the challenges of aging and caregiving.    

While my family lives in Birmingham, and my cousins set up shop in Pasadena, California, my grandparents live for and in Madison, Wisconsin. Lifelong Badger fans and advocates, they refuse to be parted from their beloved city. Even convincing them to sell their house and move into a retirement community was a year-long debate. But my grandparents are 92 and 86, and being so far from family hasn’t been easy, especially with recent complications in my grandfather’s health. 

Our two visits a year have been cut to one a year, since my grandparents can’t travel to us anymore. And it’s become more and more common for my mother to fly up a couple times a year to assist them. It took me a while to really recognize and process the difference ten years can make, and what I saw is kind of scary. To a ten-year-old kid, 82 and 76 seemed ancient enough, but these last few years have really taken a toll on their health and mobility. Where my grandfather used to use a cane every now and then, he now requires a motorized chair. And maybe it’s just because I’ve gotten bigger, but greeting them with a hug is now a stark reminder of just how fragile they really are.

People my age don’t normally think about what it’s like to be 80 or 90. But facing that future in the form of my grandparents is terrifying. What if my grandfather has a fall or an accident and my mom can’t fly out to help them? Who in Madison can we rely on to help take care of them until we can get there? And beyond the concern for them is my inevitable wondering: is this what my life will look like in 60 or 70 years? As someone barely out of my teenage years, the idea of being so vulnerable is difficult to accept. 

Not every community is lucky enough to have an organization like CJFS, with its many services and programs for older adults. But I am grateful that the retirement community where my grandparents live is providing them with many similar services. They have the chance to maintain the majority of their independence but have access to resources such as transportation and caregiving services. They also have the opportunity to socialize with other residents at the in-facility restaurants and regular social programs. 

Even though she still worries about and misses them, my mother is relieved to know that my grandparents are in such a great place. The truth is that my grandparents and my mom have roots in places 800 miles apart. That’s just life, and we make it work. But having someone else care about them like we do, someone who can be there when we can’t, is a godsend. And I can only hope that in my distant future I am that lucky. 

CJFS Care Managers support older adults and their families through the often complicated  journey of aging. Services include coordination of healthcare and in-home care, change of residence planning, emotional support, resource referral, escorted doctor visits, transportation, money management and more. To learn more, email, or call, 205.879.3438.