Tag Archives: elderly

Safety or . . .

I just got back from elder-sitting for six hours. I was there a couple of evenings ago as well. It occurs to me the humiliation and anger an elder feels when someone else has to tell him or her what can and can not be done. To b told you are moving around to much. . . that more rest is needed because you are short of breath . . . or you need help going to the toilet. I don’t know about you, but I’d resent it.

It doesn’t matter that you Need a monitor. She is there and that is enough. Everything coming out of her mouth might fuel anger and hate even more. Even if some part of you knows it is necessary. It infantilizes an adult who has lived independently for the balance of his life. His wife is as confused as he, more so. But they are of one breath now. He eats half a sandwich, she the other. But her mind is going, she continues to recover from seven strokes.

He tries to sneak out the door, rolling the wheelchair in front of him, touching his finger to his lips toward his wife. As if I wouldn’t see him. He wants to go to the front desk – one floor and a lot of walking away – to get an envelope. Something it would take at least an hour to do on his own, with me it is ten minutes. But he would have had his freedom for a time.

What is more important, moments of freedom or safety? Someone to watch over him, even though he doesn’t know her well? Someone who needs to try to calm him, to make sure he doesn’t hurt himself? I’d choose freedom every time. I already do. So I know I am nothing but an intrusion. He is a man with a wife and a rich and full life at one time. And now it’s over, with some woman telling him to “behave” as if he were a recalcitrant child. My rage would be unspeakable . . . is his?

Caregiving challenges

His face a maze of rivulets and ravines, crutches help bear the weight he carries,
his feet heavy, movements ponderous. Yes, age has wormed its way into his bones
but more, he carries the years upon years of caring for a willful, capricious wife –
most times removed, caught up in her own world, with people and presences
no one else can share or know, leaving him alone with the battle of care.

Caregivers have a heavy burden even with the easiest people those with minds still clear, bodies more or less functional. Whose age or disease make the need for care, daily or occasionally, a burden, willing or not.

But for others, caregiving  carries a much different burden. When they must manage a violent or mentally challenged person, a person with bipolar or schizophrenic
episodes, one whose body has worn out, needing total care, it can make the caregiver
sicker than the person cared for.

That old man has cared for his wife since she had nervous breakdowns forty years prior, sitting by her bed every minute, ignoring all else, including his only son, alone, left to fend for himself, do the shopping, laundry, cleaning.

He has abided her demands, given into whims, defended her right to choose not to medicate. In so doing, she has chosen a tangled trail leaving her family to carry a hard burden of care allowing the right of self-choice to medicate and feel largely better or be “in control” of herself as she berates, hits, babbles, ignores him or
or talks gibberish. BUT always remains the center of attention.

The burden of caregivers is their lives aren’t their own, at the least for sizable chunks of time.  From bill paying and shopping, to bathing, feeding and all facets of self care,
they spend from Sunday visits to constant care for family or hired professionals.

When it comes to Alzheimer’s, all bets are off. You are not often recognized for yourself. Hitting, endless paranoid pacing, constant distraction, inability to  voice thoughts coherently . . .it is exhausting. But it is also a means to give back, to make amends, to relish the moments you have because they may not be long.

That old man now must also contend with a son who believes his mother has every right to choose not to medicate, even though all who are part of her life are negatively affected by that choice. The son refuses to listen to his own children who have enough detachment to see the situation more clearly.

When the Father is overwhelmed, the son brings her, 600 miles away, to his home
where she sits alone, hour after hour, or wanders off with the dog, lost, unaware of where she is or why others are yelling at her to get off the street. It’s not care, not a solution, it’s an ill-chosen stop-gap measure that could hurt or kill her.

We need to be aware of the long-term effects of the decisions we make for our loved ones or those under our care. Sometimes the right solution is personal care by the family, sometimes it’s professional care within the home, but assisted living or skilled nursing homes may be the best options too.  Money is, of course, a vital component in decision-making, as is insurance coverage, and what the impact will mentally have for the person being cared for.

Perspectives

They yelled, shouted, screamed . . .
The old man with tears running
in the wrinkled rivulets of his skin.
The old woman babbling to her voices
giggling like a girl
or reigning supreme . . .
all attention on her.

The old man may too soon
buckle under the strain of her care,
under the lack of care to himself –
a good man, a kind man,
who wants the best
for a woman who would rather
listen to her voices
than be with him.

Their son firmly believes
in her right not to take medications
which would normalize her life
at least in fractions
of the beautiful woman
so terribly traumatized
by the Communist government
that over rid her land, her people,
making her beg for an egg for her child.

The triangle continues
but not as fierce as this
those watching hearing her secrets –
her hitting of a mate of 60 years
over and over again.
He sitting by her bed
for months at a time
when she was in crisis
and unable to rise and rejoin the world.

How her son snatched
roles of husband, father, son –
emasculating the man who deserves
so much more
by not respecting his father’s
needs, wants, care and pain.

While the old man’s tears course down,
and the babble of voices
inside her head
swirl madly around.

The Right To Choose Suicide

THE RIGHT TO CHOOSE SUICIDE

Suicide evokes such a rash of feelings and jumble of thoughts in me. Nothing is easy in this arena. I have always been a firm believer in a person’s right to choose the time of their death, and in the past couple of years, I have been examining those values as my personal health issues have made me increasingly aware of my mortality.

When I was in college, my parents owned a residential home for the elderly. One of the women in the home, Marjorie, was a quiet woman, someone who held her own counsel. She shared the bedroom with another woman and we rarely heard her speak. It wasn’t that she was shy necessarily; just that she had an economy of language. She had been in the home for several years when she found out she had inherited a disease from her mother. The disease caused a slow and very painful death. Marjorie refused to accept those terms. She waited until she had a full prescription of her sleeping medication. During the two days before, she quietly went to each person in the home and let them know how much they meant to her. Then, she swallowed the entire bottle. When we woke the next morning she was gone, but she looked peaceful and had the trace of a smile on her face. We all respected her decision.

I fear I may develop dementia as my father had. I have no qualms about choosing to end my life before it gets too bad or I become a burden to my family. My children have a right to their own lives and having worked in Memory Care units and private duty care of people in the early, mid, and late stages of dementia, I know I don’t want a life like that. It’s a very hard, often long, way to go. I want my family to know me in better ways even though, as my daughter said, God will not except me in Heaven. To which I replied – then I will fertilize flowers right down here.

They Are Me

THEY ARE ME

They are me – this I know.
The white and grey heads
bobbing over meals,
tremor of hands,
wheelchairs and walkers,
dentures and damage,
irreconcilable too much
of the time.

Broken hips, broken minds.
I know people who were
trailblazers, powerhouses,
corporate heads, adventurers,
housewives and plumbers
who no longer recognize
that old person in the mirror . . .
who walk and walk and walk
for want of something to do
but still remember love and smiles.

Lost minds –
I’ve already lost some
words and abilities,
and perhaps, if I live,
my head will be bobbing,
my hands will shake more than now,
my body will continue to degenerate.

God, please let me die first.
My father lost his songs
one word at a time
I already know
too many of those tunes.

Lillie, Earth’s Angel

Being alone, truly and completely alone, should not be a burden carried by a human being for long. I’m not so sure we were born for it. Our lives are such fragile existences just as they are – it only takes one blow to unhinge the mechanisms which hold us together. There are few who can survive for long in such conditions. I was lucky enough to have known a woman who had survived essentially alone in a cacophony of insanity for forty years.

In her late twenties, Lillie immigrated from Sweden to marry the love of her life. Two weeks after she married, he died. A new foreigner, not able speak the language, not knowing a single soul, she had a nervous breakdown and committed to the Wingdale Mental Hospital. She was put to work washing floors. Just as she was getting better, she fell and broke her hip. Arthritis quickly set in to immobilize her.

My mother was a charge nurse at Wingdale State Hospital in Wingdale, New York. It was a facility where the elderly and mentally unbalanced were housed until the 1970’s when the government dismantled them and dumped most of the inpatients onto the streets, ostensibly to be cared for by the communities in which they lived. In reality, few received the necessary care. Mom worked in the wards for the elderly insane women. It was there she met Lillie when Lillie was in her sixties or seventies.

Mom was appalled by the conditions these women suffered – cold water showers on mental gurneys that was essentially waterboarding. Bed sores from not being turned. Diapers not changed for hours, indigestible food. She reported all the aides and began a campaign to close down the facility, writing up to Rockefeller, then governor of New York. She eventually succeeded.

While Charge Nurse on that floor, she arranged for a private room for Lillie, wading through a multitude of paperwork to do so. Until then, and after, she brought me and some women from the church to visit her regularly. She was given a radio to hear music and connect to the outside world. The thing is, Lillie spent all her time praying for us, for people she heard needed help from the Lord. There was nothing in her that thought for herself.

Mom wanted to remove her from the hospital, even thinking of bringing her to our home if a good residential home could not be found. Just as Mom got permission to release her, they found she was riddled with cancer and only had a couple of months to live. The Doctors felt it would be too much of a shock on her system to release her.

I remember Lillie as a being of light, an angel on Earth. I say that not for its poetic value or to milk emotion. It’s a fact. No one could live forty years in an open ward of a state hospital for the mentally challenged, with nineteen other women, and amid constant clamor, no one to talk to and still stay sane. Not only that, but to pray continually for others, never herself.

She certainly didn’t get mental stimulation from the aides. How did she do it? Monks and other religious individuals who live in isolation do it when they are either by themselves or living in a community designed to support mutual silence. But Lillie – what did she have? I will never be able to completely convey the atmosphere of the open ward . . . those rows, one piling on top of the next, with its toothless crones strapped to their beds, holding their dirty cloth dolls, caterwauling at ear-splitting din. They were all in hospital gowns with stringy hair and vacant eyes above mouths that either cried or raged. Could you do it? Would you last a week? A month? A year? It is an environment that none of us should ever face. We have to be more aware and more willing to act so the Lillie’s of the world don’t have to wait forty years for salvation.

Alta

Crone rocking the hours by,
worn wicker caressing
tissue paper thin skin.
Watching life’s passages
on the tiny porch of
the long closed general store
as dust stirs in whirlwinds
kicked up from pickups
tearing up dirt roads.

To some a forgotten relic
but I, all of five,
sat by her feet,
little legs dangling off the stoop,
hoping to absorb, perhaps by osmosis,
wisdom, stories, gentle words,
knowing she was safe –
too battle scarred by life’s trials
to inflict fear upon the innocent.

Children, grandchildren, great
grandchildren, great great grandchildren,
coming from her loins,
she populated most of the valley,
while many went on to lives
of their own choosing.
needing occasional reminders
she still remained.

Breasts gone, they thought
cancer would rob her womanhood,
but she defied their projections . . .
the old woman
with the name of a foregone era
still measured her life
by the rock of her wicker chair
and remembered far more
than most would forget . . .
and I sat in awe.

What Is The Church?

Within the building a musty odor clings to the air,
There are cracks on the ceiling,
The nave has been closed for years
because so much of it is unsafe.
Every penny we have goes to the roof
and all other repairs.

But I remember running through the balconies,
Sunday school lessons with many children
My father’s rich voice from the altar –
and others before and since,
the beautiful organ with all those pipes
and the music it stirred within the soul.

Couples have married here, babes baptized,
countless communions, church dinners,
fairs, thrift shops, and food pantry days.

Now the congregation as dwindled
so many being in their elder years
members for thirty or more years
wanting to die here as they lived here but
the organ is silenced – no money for repairs

What is a church really?
A place of worship
or a place to be worshipped?
A place for the few
or a place where the few
give to many – spreading the faith
that has brought them such comfort.

We may be the few now –
but God and his grand plan
are calling us – asking us to listen
to the depths of our hearts.

To know that just as Jesus died on the cross,
disciples were executed and exiled,
and even today, some Christians have to hide
in the woods, basements, away from prying eyes,
to practice the religion- without books or other paraphernalia
– we have been privileged to have this building.

A church need not be a fortress
holding people in, keeping people out.
Imposing, Magnificent, Intimidating.

Jesus authorized his disciples to go forth
with just the clothes on their backs,
taking nothing with them as they
proclaimed his message to the world.

But we would not get far
with these boards and mortar on our backs
our voices would be crushed by the stones.
Jesus said take nothing.

But a church is not a building, it is the people
and what those people are doing
to strengthen their faith
and to make the hard decisions.

What would Christ have us do?
That is where Christianity lies.