Wednesday, June 15, 2016
This picture of granddaughter Lauren helping her grandpa Antonio Manalisay with his shoes reminded me of a remark I heard once from a daughter of an elderly woman.
I was visiting a family but had never met some relatives who were also gathered there.
I started conversing with them and was learning their names when it finally came to the elderly woman, sitting in a wheel chair, visibly unable to communicate.
The daughter, in her 50s, told me her name then said, putting her arms around her mother, "Guiya på'go nenen-måme." "She is now our baby."
Her remark summarized everything I know about how our people traditionally treat our elders, specifically those elders who are now dependent on the care of family.
I say "traditionally" because care for the elderly has weakened over the past few decades. Part of that is because the traditional family model of having as many children as God gives a couple has also weakened. Huge numbers of couples practice artificial means of birth control. The days of having numerous children are over, for the most part. Couples put the blame on modern economics. But a consequence of smaller families is the dearth of hands to care for each other. Of the three children, in many cases, two live in the mainland. So it falls to one child to care for an elderly parent. In many families, there is no means to place grandma in the one senior care home we have on Guam, and no means to hire care givers who can come to the home.
Traditionally, though, families were large and extended. Even when there were no children due to sterility, the extended family came to the rescue. Sometimes a care giver was not even related by blood. It could be the godchild who came to care for the godparent.
"Our baby" may sound mildly insulting to some, as if it demeans the dignity of the aged adult. The lady who made that remark meant that she gives her aged mother all the care and attention she would give to a newborn, and with all the same pleasure and joy you see a mother give an infant when changing diapers. How often I wished I could hold my nose when a mother was changing diapers! And yet there was mom smiling and cooing with the baby, despite the sights and smells! I could tell from the tone of voice when the lady told me that her mother was now "their baby." Many older people get the physical care they need from others, but not always with the same feeling of joy and pleasure given to babies in need of care.
But the traditional Chamorro feeling towards the incapacitated elderly was just that. He or she is a baby who is loved, cherished and pampered.
"Annai eståba yo' nenen-ñiha, ma gof asiste yo' kon kariño."
("When I was their baby, they attended to me well with affection.")
"På'go, siha nenen-måme ya bai cho'gue ha' taiguennao."
("Now, they are our babies and I will do likewise.")
Chamorro Psychology 101