Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Fear and Loathing . . . but mostly Fear

have worked for Senior Citizen Services for more than four years, in a city that is nearly 500 miles from where my 82-year-old grandmother lives and 1,000 from where she grew up. The seniors we serve always seem so different than my grandmother. They’re widows like Gram, but they have often lived in their homes for decades. Gram moved to Florida, the eternal retirement state, five years ago because the property taxes were easier to handle than on the house she where she had raised her family in New Jersey. Many of our seniors have never driven or stopped driving years ago; Gram continues to drive, safely and legally, and is petrified of the day she is no longer able.

Yet, there are times when the similarities bowl me over. She is the only one of her siblings still alive, save a brother-in-law with severe dementia and a sister-in-law she hasn’t spoken to in years. Her best friend, a Holocaust survivor, died the day before my Gram arrived for a visit in September. Still it surprises me when I hear myself having a conversation with my mother that sounds so familiar. Last week, for example, I called Mom after work. She was in the grocery store with Gram, and as we talked (while Gram was in another aisle), she told me about the latest struggle.

Mom has a mother-in-law suite in her home that she rents out, and she has been looking for a new tenant for a few months. As she has several times before, she invited Gram to move in. She would have her own space, but they would be closer and Gram wouldn’t have to do so much on her own. My grandmother refuses this offer every time it is made, and after five years, the refusal is no longer polite. She wants her independence at whatever cost, even though the cost is already affecting her quality of life.

These days, making breakfast wipes her out until nearly dinnertime; she is likely to have toast for the former, cereal for the latter. When we ask about it, she says meat is too expensive these days. I suggested we sign Gram up for meals on wheels, and Mom instantly explained why that would never work. “She wouldn’t eat the kind of food; she never really has an appetite.” And yet these are the conversations we have with clients every day. “Add some garlic powder to the food – it’s a great replacement for salt; eat small high-nutrient meals throughout the day.”

With the job I have, I am already aware that it’s not easy to grow old, and it’s not easy to accept help. But I always feel that it’s a surmountable problem. We’re going on five years of Gram living near Mom, and four of my working with seniors. I haven’t found a solution yet, but I do know one thing. In 56 years, when I’m Gram’s age, or in 26 years, when I’m Mom’s, I’m pretty sure we’ll be having this conversation again.

-- by Jaclyn Barbarow, Grants and Database Manager

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