The Light - An Alumni Publication Winter 2014/2015 - Page 23

FACES OF YFU customs and holidays in tandem with their American traditions. “And they’re blessed to have an Oma and Opa who love them as much as their American Grandma and Grandpa,” she said. The family has always enjoyed debating complex issues — religion, politics, and education — despite coming to those conversations with different viewpoints. “That’s the ‘understanding’ in Youth For Understanding,” said Gibson. “At the end of the day, we all appreciate a bit more of the other side of the discussion, and isn’t that what it’s all about?” But as the years have passed, the family has added health care, money, and assistance for the elderly to their discussions as Gibson shares with her brothers the responsibility of helping Annie and Johan navigate their path to old age. “I’m particularly close to my Dutch mother — she was so happy to finally get a daughter! — and my brothers feel that she might take advice better from me,” said Gibson. Last September, at the start of her most recent trip to the Netherlands, her Dutch brothers organized a meeting so the adult children could discuss the developing needs of their parents and decide how best to help. They strategized so they could make the most of Gibson’s time in the country, and she spent the next two weeks with her Dutch parents observing their capabilities, initiating those difficult conversations about finances and housing, and exploring available options.  Every night Gibson reported back to her brothers, and together they agreed on a course of action that would permit their parents to continue to age in place. Gibson used the final days of her visit to price out and implement some changes in the home and, facing the united front of their children, left the elder Meeres comforted and reassured. Gibson knows her involvement will deepen as Mama and Papa, at ages 80 and 78, become less healthy and more dependent. But she views this commitment as an enduring privilege rather than a troublesome obligation, a testament to that summer 36 years ago when strangers became family.  — Alexandra Rockey Fleming Author/Journalist Alexandra Rockey Fleming is a news producer for Swedish Broadcasting. Her writing appears in People, Good Housekeeping, and the Today show’s site, She and her family have hosted six long- and short-term exchange students. This year they’re enjoying Simon, a 16-year-old from Hamburg, Germany. Above: Annie and Johan Meere. Opposite: Gibson with host brothers Frank and Heik-Jan, and host parents Annie and Johan Meere in 1984. Denise Gibson with host father Johan Meere. YFU • The Light | 23