Don’t let the elderly get lost in the shuffle

By Sherry White Jeffcoat

BABEE_thumb Hi there, your “demented diva” has returned for at least one article for now. I have been in the trenches fighting a terrible battle along with my sister and brother to save our mother’s life.

It has struck me so oddly in the past months now how the only time I see my school friends is in nursing homes.

It also struck me about how sad it is to get such a dose of reality slapped in your face.

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Deep down none of us REALLY thought we would  reach this day, did we? Intellectually we knew it would happen, but did you REALLY understand that when you casually say things like" life is so short"! that is so much more than a cliche?

Did you REALLY conceptualize that one day you would be watching aides cleaning up your parent like they were infants? It comes full circle then. You see unfolding before you what you had always heard about how the child becomes the parent one day and the parent becomes the child.

But oh, dear God,  no one had the foresight to tell me how painful that day would be. One day we were living life and enjoying our mother, even with her advanced age and age related issues, and literally the next day we were fighting for her life and life as we knew it was gone forever.

I see many old friends these days, not in the grocery store or a party, but at the nursing home trying to cope with the horrors of not only the illness and aging process, but the  oh so screwed up financial world of trying to get good care for your parents when you can no longer take care of them yourself.

I have seen friends lose everything they had and still owe more to try to finance their parent’s stay in a nursing facility. I can see in their faces what I see in mine, grief, extreme fatigue, confusion about the process and mostly the love and sadness they are feeling for their parent’s situation.

It hurts so damn much too! When I see the friend, I visualize the parent that used to take care of my teeth, or be my doctor, or just be my friend’s parent that welcomed us into their homes and hosted spend the night parties and barbeques.

Their parents ran the community. They worked in the post office like my mother, or they worked at our banks, they were everywhere making this community a better place for all of us and now they lay in their beds, go everywhere in their wheel chairs, and many of them have to be hand fed.

Many of them have lost their thoughts and memories to Alzheimer’s and can’t even recognize their family and friends. That is tragic, but I don’t know which situation is more tragic, the one where they don’t know where they are and the indignities they are suffering, or the ones who still are alert and well aware of their situations. They see that their bodies just can’t cooperate with their brains and do what it is being told to do by their minds.

I have sat their with tears streaming down my face when I see the ones asking to go home, wondering why they can’t and breaking their children’s hearts when the children have to make up some lie…  "Maybe when you get a little better Mama, or "soon, Daddy." 

Your own mortality slaps you in the face too during this process. We say we are baby boomers and usually have fun with that. Now instead I see that in 20 years it will be us going through this. I had a friend recently say to me that if I counted out the hours I had left to live, I would probably not worry so much about things, especially the things that I cannot change, that I would try to see the good and the positive in more situations, and that I would know that it isn’t worth one second of your life to continue to try to change situations or relationships that you have no power over.

I only hope that somehow one day our society will make this process a whole lot easier on us all. For those who didn’t understand the need for nursing home insurance, I hope that our society will still take care of them without stripping them of everything they worked hard for in exchange for taking care of them. My hope is that change will come where we are all made so aware of how we have a responsibility to let our elderly die in a dignified way without worry about those they leave behind. They deserve that, peace of mind, and peace of heart.

I like to write light hearted articles because that is more me. Like the Deluded Diva Emily Jones, we often see the world in a way that most people don’t and we love to point things out on how we view some situations in non-typical ways.

Today, I am not light hearted, I am broken hearted for all of us that are now or will be or have been faced with this situation, and I know it probably means it affects ALL of us baby boomers. But those of you who aren’t here yet….. please hold your mama and daddy a little closer, don’t say harsh things you can’t take back, don’t con yourself into believing they don’t know more than you do about life, and most of all tell them how much you love them, cherish them, and be with them whenever possible.

Being with them whenever possible later on will mean sitting with them, holding their hands, combing their hair, reassuring them about almost everything, reading to them, trying to make sure your parent doesn’t get lost in the shuffle. Believe me many of them do get lost in the shuffle.

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I have seen so many of the elderly in these homes that never receive a visitor. They ask for you….I lie to them…I tell them you will be there, that you probably had to go to the grocery store.

They make excuses for you too. They tell me "Yes, my son (or daughter) is just SO busy, they just have so much to do."

I hold their hands as tears stream down their faces, I feed them when they don’t have enough aides to do it and you aren’t there. I cover them when they are cold which is most of the time as the elderly just don’t have our ability to stay as warm.

Please don’t let yours get lost in the shuffle, they deserve better.

11 thoughts on “Don’t let the elderly get lost in the shuffle

  1. Sherry, you are such a good daughter. We are both very fortunate to have a parent still living, and I made a vow today to visit more with mine. Thanks for a very compassionate post that shamed me for “being too busy way too often.” And you’re so right – our generation is up next. Reminds you to make the most of every moment of every day. “Gather roses while ye may?”

  2. Sherry, thank you so much for putting into words my feelings about the elderly, and particularly about seeing a parent entering into “the long good-bye.” I miss my mother’s words, her fabulous memory, her sense of humor- she was always like the Energizer Bunny-always going and doing whatever she could for others. She taught by example and words and spread her love everywhere. Now, I see her sitting in a chair sleeping all the time, because she can”t remember to pick up the word find book in her lap and circle words- the large-print Reader’s Digest she enjoys so much lies on the table waiting for someone to hand it to her so she can look at it. She waits for someone to turn on the Mississippi State football games, so she can watch- does she remember being in school there and going to those games?
    She lost her home and all of her possessions/pictures/memories in the hurricane-she has nothing to look at to remind her of days gone by. Even after teaching school for 34 years, she doesn’t have enough money to pay for care in a nursing home near me. And, because of her hard work all her life, her retirement income is two hundred dollars a month too much for the government to step in and care for her.
    As a result, she is in Waverly Care Home in West Point-one of the most wonderful places in the world. I can’t say enough about all the caring workers who assist her there-it would be perfect-except that it’s a four-hour drive from my house! People in the West Point area have NO IDEA what a treasure Waverly Care Home is-it’s small enough for personal care and affordable for middle class people. And, it’s a lovely facility.
    So, when you go to any care home, do as Sherry mentioned in her article-smile and speak to those eager, pleading eyes. You might be helping my mother, Dimple, return a smile!

  3. I am 42 years old and work in the field of aging and have for 15 years since my mid-twenties. My passion (other than decor) is for the elderly. I am a geriatric social worker. I have friends who ask me all the time how I can work in something so depressing as a profession. I have always looked at is a gift and an honor. And then I remind my friends that it will be “us” someday and they look at me in horror, which I guess is denial. Every elderly person I come in to contact with I try to look past what I see. I envision them as young thriving teenagers, mothers with newborns, fathers in the war, doing the same exciting things day to day that we all can still do. I try to see them as human beings which is what most people forget. And I try to empathize with thier adult children who are struggling with seeing thier beloved parents in that state of mind. Good luck to you and your family. Caregiving is the hardest job in the world. Take care of yourself so you can help her longer and not totally burn out. What a gift you have been given to care for her – you will look back someday and cherish this time you had together. Some kids miss out on that gift through thier own fault and pettiness.

  4. Emily,
    We discovered Waverly the year we lived in West Point, and Mother has stayed there different times over the years when I have needed a break, or had to travel. I spent six weeks during the summer in California when my brother had brain surgery, and now I’m in Pittsburgh with my newest granddaughter-and they literally save my life by caring for her so well. Her name is Dimple Randle-she has beautiful white hair and a glorious smile. I would appreciate so much your speaking to her when you are there. I just wish every town had a facility like Waverly-it’s so far from Ponchatoula.

  5. Sherry, thank you for the article, i know it is from your heart. Your Mama is so fortunate to have 2 such caring daughters to be there for her and God bless you for taking time to bless other peoples Mothers while you are there. It is so sad to see the elderly sitting there waitng for their family to show and they don’t come. Some day it will be their turn and their children may not come to see them, going by their example . God bless you and continue to give you strength and courage.

  6. What a fabulous article! Very sad but so so true. Unfortunately, many will never appreciate the wisdom in your article. Please try to find a wider audience for this wonderfully realistic piece!
    Love and miss you. Hello to Mrs. Helen

  7. Have been there, Sherry, although not with my mother, who is 86 and still getting along. But you know that. Very well written — I appreciate having the chance to read it.

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