Perspectives On Aging, As Seen From Both Sides
THE JOURNEY FROM PROFESSIONAL TO PATIENT AND CAREGIVER
ABOUT THE AUTHORS
Kim Brehm and Dr. Hank Brehm are both professionals in the Aging field, with combined experience totaling almost a century. Together, they have spent years counseling and/or teaching about the process of aging in place. This is their story as a father and daughter-in-law, and of their professional and personal experience dealing with aging, from both sides. Although the Brehms had each acquired much professional knowledge about the effects of aging and felt prepared for the personal impact, life quickly showed they had much more to learn. Here, their struggles, obstacles, failures, and successes are told in the hope that others in similar situations will come to realize they aren’t alone.
The above photo was taken at Hank and Molly’s “Trifecta” (80 & 85th birthday and 50th anniversary party) September 2012
Growing Up Left-Handed During The Great Depression By Dr. Hank Brehm
I was born in New York City in 1932, during the worst of The Great Depression. But I don’t remember ever going to bed hungry.
My parents may have been strict, but they always put my older brother and me first among the things they considered important.
My father immigrated to America from Poland when he was 18. His older brother sponsored his immigration to the U.S. After arriving here, my father got a typical Jewish school education. It took him four months of night school to learn English and math.
Growing up, he read both the Yiddish paper and the New York paper. He helped my brother with algebra and arithmetic. What he lacked in education, he made up for in intelligence, but he was set in his ways.
My mother was born in Chicago as the oldest child of immigrant parents. She left school after eighth grade. I have a vague memory of my parents having a candy shop, but mostly I grew up around their tailor shop. Family was clan-like on both sides.
The Left-Handed Problem
I was expected to attend college with a focus on human welfare, while my parents and teachers rigidly asserted that I could not continue writing naturally – with my left hand. How this affected my learning and ability to read is unknown. Let’s just say it was hard to deal with.
Ultimately, I overcame my left-handed “problem” and received my B.A. from NYU in Sociology at age 21. I was then drafted into the Army during graduate school. The next four years produced a master’s degree, an unsuccessful marriage and two children, with whom I am still very close.
I got remarried to my current wife, Molly, in 1962. We successfully blended my two children with her three and continue to have a wonderful marriage after 53-plus years.
Research in Aging
I earned my Ph.D. in Sociology at age 38, with a specialization in Medical Sociology and Aging research. I worked in the Gerontology program of the Chronic Disease division of the USDHS. From there, I moved to the office of Research and Statistics of the SSA, initially in Disability Studies and then as Chief of Research Grants and Contracts. While at SSA, I taught part-time at University of Maryland, specializing in Medical Sociology and Aging. Eventually, I accepted a full-time appointment at UMBC teaching and directing programs in Health Services Administration and Medical Sociology and Aging. I am also co-author of six books and several articles in the field. After living in Maryland for over 50 years, my wife and I moved to Oregon in December 2015. We now live with my son, Mark, and daughter-in-law, Kim, in their home. Although much of our family was upset about our decision, it was the only option that seemed to work for Molly and me.
Why I’ve Loved Old People Ever Since I Was a Youngster By Kim Brehm
My passion for the elderly began at a young age. Growing up in New Jersey, I always enjoyed spending time in New York City with my grandparents and great-grandparents.
My great-grandparents immigrated from Poland during “The Great War” (WWI). My memories of them are only toward the end of their lives. My Great-Grandma had Alzheimer’s. At the end, she only spoke Polish. I spent hours learning Polish, listening to their stories, and enjoying their laughter and cooking!
After my great-grandparents passed, I spent hours walking with my grandmother between subway stops and shopping in the city. I often stayed with my grandparents for days at a time, playing with treasured trinkets from the past and listening to the stories that came with each one. My Granny and I were very close. She passed away the summer before my 16th birthday.
Making A Career Out Of Caring
A few years later, Papa was no longer able to live alone, so he moved to a retirement community in the Bronx. By this time, I was in college, so I spent much of my time visiting him and volunteering nearby.
I decided I wanted to make a career out of working with the elderly. Each of the stories I heard and relationships I formed became a part of me.
I started collecting “trinkets” as mementos — sentimental things my friends thought were silly. To me, these pieces of furniture and decorations had stories to tell, and held personality and memories. I began working as an Activity Assistant in a nursing home and interned on the Geriatric Assessment Unit of a VA hospital. After graduation, my first full-time job was at a major hospital in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, working on the Stroke Rehab and Adult Day units. I also worked with the Alzheimer’s Association, facilitating support group meetings for family members and caregivers.
My passion for working with the elderly continues to grow, as well as my experiences. I’ve worked in Skilled Nursing Homes in both management and consultant capacities, Rehabilitation Facilities, Acute Psychiatric Units, Assisted Living Centers, Adult Foster Homes, Memory Care Units, and Retirement Communities (CCRCs and stand-alone Independent Living Communities). Currently, I’m fortunate to work with Living Your Choice as a Senior Living Counselor and Care Manager.
When You Work With Your Father-In-Law
This blog is about recounting both my professional and personal experience working with the elderly, which includes the close bond I have with my father-in-law, Dr. Brehm.
I met my husband, Mark. in December of 2010, and then during the summer of 2011 his father, Dr. Brehm, and step-mother, Molly. We soon became family (making it official in November 2013). Together, our blended family includes 11 children, ranging in age from 9 to 28. We also now have a son-in-law, daughter-in-law and another daughter-in-law to be. That makes our bunch a total of 14, plus the two of us. Most of our kids live less than 2 miles away from us. Seven live with us, on what we affectionately call “The Brehmises.”
Hank and Molly moved from Maryland to Oregon in December 2015, and now live on “The Brehmises” with us. Let me tell you, neither Mark nor I ever expected Hank and Molly to make this change. But life takes us in new directions in a flash.
I’m looking forward to sharing this journey with you and learning from it together. Our hope that we can help others by recounting some of the challenges we’ve faced and how we overcame them.
Christmas 2015 at the Brehmises