My mother is a Case Manager for Aging Services in rural Virginia. She wrote this article for the local newspaper.
If You Can’t Help Big, Help Little
By Toni Browning
In the fifteen years I have been an advocate/case manager for aging services I have seen thousands of older adults; some doing fine on their own, some who were in need of a little help and many who were in predicaments that were desperate and sad.
The common belief that once a person turns sixty there are plenty of services for Older Americans is a myth. Yes, there is Medicaid for a select number of seniors who are in deepest poverty but many older people are not eligible for Medicaid. But even when they have Medicaid it does not pay for the electric bill, the phone bill or buy food. The “government” does not have a pot of money ready to draw on when an older person needs help.
In my fifteen years of working with seniors I have seen children who were determined to make their mother’s or father’s life as comfortable and happy as possible. And sadly, I have also experienced the reverse: children who were oblivious or didn’t care enough to find out if their parents needed help.
Often this is not the fault of the children. They have their own families and must provide for their children and their spouse. And when I talk to the older adult that is exactly what they tell me. “Please don’t bother my children, they have their own families.”
Since when is a mother or a father not a part of a family?
But this article is not about placing blame. It is a plea to get involved in your parent’s life and to try to make that life a little easier, a little less worrisome, a little more comfortable.
Here is an example of how collaboration by the children of one woman helped change her life. Every other month “Edith” became depressed and nervous. She often called just to talk but I could see there was something on her mind. Finally she told me she could no longer pay her electric bill and it was going to be turned off because it had been overdue for many months. I asked if she had told her six children about it. Her reply was “No, they have family of their own and I didn’t want to ask; I know they don’t have it.”
Edith finally gave me permission to contact her youngest daughter, “Joyce.” When I explained the situation, I asked if she would contact the other children to set up a family meeting. One son, “Edgar,” was living in Arizona, one daughter was in Maryland but all except one son wanted to know the outcome of the meeting. On the day of the meeting there were two children present and one on speaker phone. I explained their mother’s situation and they were astonished. “Ma, why didn’t you say something?” “I can’t believe you wouldn’t tell us.” And, her youngest son, who was sitting on the sofa shouted, “Ma, what’s the matter with you?”; which I thought was a little harsh.
After much discussion “Edgar” agreed to pay the overdue bill. The other children, including “Edgar” would send their mother 20 dollars each month toward the electric bill. All during the meeting Edith cried stating she hated to be burden to them and needed a great amount of reassuring.
I am not sure if the one son who didn’t want to be involved ever came around. I have spoken to “Edith” several times since the meeting and in the background I hear the music of the radio or the drone of a TV newsman and I know the lights must be comforting for her in the evening.
But what if you don’t have an extra twenty dollars a month? There are little ways to help. How many times do you and your children go to McDonalds? More than twice? Three times? One of those times get an extra burger and fries and surprise your mom with a visit and dinner with the family.
Does your dad really need another shirt for Christmas? Maybe a better Christmas present would be a paid phone bill for the month of December. Did you make too much roast for dinner? Pack up a Tupperware container and take it over to your parents. If you live out of state or a good distance away; call on a regular basis, at a regular time, even if it’s once a week or once a month. The call will be looked forward to and your mom will make sure she is around to receive the call. Go on a Sunday drive. Stop by with flowers. Plan an evening to watch some favorite TV show or some special event that interests them. Rent an old movie your mom has talked about from “the old days” and watch it with her.
Do these things cost money? Maybe a little. Can they bring happiness or comfort to older folks, knowing someone, their children, are paying attention to them? What do you think?