Sunday, February 28, 2010

The single, the elderly, and the community

Buffy mentioned in one of her comments that many of the professions now typically associated with women (teachers, nurses, even secretaries) are actually a way for unmarried women to display their feminine gift of a caring nature while they yet have no family.

It's a very interesting point of view, and in fact I somewhat agree. In the past, unmarried women were important members of the community, and their family and acquaintances were greatly blessed by the gift of time they had. Single women could take care of their elderly relatives or neighbors, or help take care of their sisters' children, or help new mothers with housework. There are endless possibilities to help others when one has time.

Now, however, when the families and communities have become so fractured, many single women find themselves lonely, and together with how most of us were raised, no wonder they feel useless if they have no paid job and no paycheck. On the flip side, many of the elderly spend their days in nursing homes, where they feel lonely and abandoned by their family.

Have you ever been to a nursing home? Even the best of them are institutionalized settings, not a real home. True, some elderly people need the help of professional nurses, but many just need some assistance in everyday chores. Because no one in their family can spare the time to provide such assistance for them, they are sent to nursing homes, which is very sad in my opinion.

My grandmother, who recently celebrated her 94-th birthday, has lived with us ever since I was born. She still lives with my mother. What she needs more than physical assistance is company. So many elderly people are lonely and neglected, even if all their physical needs are met. Depression leads many of them to eat very little and be malnourished, and no wonder – who likes to eat alone all the time? I believe that if my grandmother was placed in a nursing home, her condition would quickly deteriorate.

Of course, part of the equation is that people simply have smaller families. If a grandmother has five children and twenty-five grandchildren, at least some of them will probably make time for her. But if she only has one child, who has moved away, and one or two grandchildren, she is far more likely to end up living in a nursing home with no visitors.

I truly think we cannot over-estimate the value of strong, close-knit communities. I know that right now, not everyone can live near their family, but communities can be built anywhere, and they make a wonderful change in people's lives.

24 comments:

Gothelittle Rose said...

You know what, another benefit of taking care of your elderly relatives yourself is that they are often very good at taking the time to hold babies or talk to the younger children while the mother is cooking or cleaning.

Lillian the Ponderer said...

This is so true, I was just reflecting on similar lines in one of my blog posts recently - When women didn't go out to work it was far more usual for families to look after their elderly relatives rather than passing their care on to strangers. I believe that everyone in such a family can benefit especially the children who can have a close connection with their grandparents or aunt or uncle etc.

Rose said...

Communities can be built. Our middle aged household of two is now a household of four, my 83 tear old mother lives with us as does a retired family friend There was a variety of reasons for this arrangement coming together but it benefits everyone involved.

Pester said...

You cannot underestimate the value of a strong family, yet you live semi-rurally rather than near your family where you could see them daiy.

Many people must choose between being close to their family or paying a low cost for housing.

Likewise, being part of a community entails sacrificing your own preferences -- is homeschooling normal in your community? Is keeping mum at home normal?

Civilla said...

Yes, that is sad about nursing home residents. Sometimes you wonder why they have been placed there -- if everybody is too busy to take care of them?

Frequently, we have found, though, that many nursing home residents have no family -- either they never married, or had no children, or their children have pre-deceased them.

Also, if you are in your 90's, your children are in their 70's, and you have an old person trying to take care of an old person -- and if there are two of them, well, that is harder yet.

We knew many people in their 90's who had children in their 70's, or their children had pre-deceased them (maybe they only had one or two -- we know one lady who has had three of her children die already, they were in their 60's and 70's). The grandchildren often have moved away.

This is a difficult situation. Also, many times, the physicians "remand" elderly people to nursing homes if they ascertain that their spouses or other family members are unable to take care of them due to the amount of care needed.

In the olden days, not as many people lived this long to get this sick.

Anonymous said...

This post made me cry. It is so true though. I see so many young people who have an appaling lack of respect for the elderly. We need to reach out to these people!

Jennifer said...

I truly agree with you on this. My husband works in an assisted living facility and, while it's not a nursing home, many of the residents don't get visitors very often. We like to bring our children there as often as possible for the elderly LOVE seeing the children.

My mother has often said that when she gets older, and can no longer take care of herself, to not "give" her to my sister. For she knows that my sister will put her into some kind-of home, while she knows that I will take her into my home and take care of her. That doesn't say much for my sister, but unfortunately, I think that is the common thing that happens. Most family members are not able (or dare I say willing?) to take care of their elderly parents.(I'm not including the situations where medical or other professional help is needed. They are, of course, special circumstances.)

Jennifer D

Stephanie said...

I echo this sentiment. My husband and I have already promised my parents (who are only in their 50s) that unless they have some physical condition that we just couldn't take care of, they would live with us or we would move in with them.

It's so sad that people so soon forget all the hours and care their parents put into their growing up years: feeding them, cleaning up after them, providing for them... and yet when the parents get old their kids are too involved in their own lives to do the same for them. *sigh*

Yet another example of the disintegration of the family, but also another opportunity for us to be lights in the world as we care for our families!

Lady M said...

Well said - I could not agree with you more.

Lena said...

I like the thought about having five children....:) Yes I can imagine that elderly parents would never feel bored, lonely or neglected with 5 children, married and having children of their own. But now days people have 2-3 children and thats it. Sad. But its the fact. And couples who choose not to have children at all- who will take care of them, who will visit them in nursing homes, and who will bury them when they are dead???

Bethany Hudson said...

Bravo, Anna! My hubsand and I are having to make plans NOW (at age 25) for our parents because we are both only children and our parents live in three different states (in the US), none of which are the one we live in. But, I was blessed to watch all my grandparents cared for my by their own children or (in the case of my recently deceased grandfather his own younger wife, my grandmother). I want to give that personal, loving care to my parents, and more importantly, I want to give them my time and my presence during the twilight years of their lives. But, it's difficult today, especially with distance and divorce.

Mrs. Anna T said...

Gothelittle Rose, you are so right about that, my grandmother could hold babies all day long if you just let her!!

Pester, my mother is still strong enough to not require daily assistance. Of course when she gets older this will change, and we will look for options to get her to move closer to us.

Civilla, what you say is true, but when extended families were stronger, it didn't always have to be that only the children felt obligated to care for the elderly family members. It could be grandchildren or nephews or great-nephews... people would feel ashamed if there was an elderly family member and they were uncared for.

Buffy said...

Yes, the collapse of community in terms of extended families and neighbourhood communities has lead to a lot of isolation and unhappiness. I think most people actually get their sense of community from their workplace now and it can be a big shock when they have to retire or stop working to have children. Only those who belong to a strong church community are probably exempt. Of course, in the UK the majority of people are not in a church community and so can become dreadfully isolated.

Mrs.Rabe said...

Very good post Mrs. Anna! We see these same issues here.

The Stay at Home Wifey said...

This is a subject that breaks my heart. I have only one grandparent left, and he is 89. Fortunately he lives on the same street as my parents and my mum looks after him every day while still allowing him his independence. I agree that his biggest issue is loneliness. Some days my parents are the only people he sees. It broke my heart to say goodbye to him when I made the move to the USA to live with my husband. While I won't be able to take in my own parents as they live in another country, DH and I have already spoken about caring for his parents when they are no longer able to care for themselves. I would never want them living in an institution. My great-grandparents lived with my grandparents in their final years, and my grandad may eventually have to live with my parents. What a wonderful blessing for our children to be able to spend those precious years closely connected to grandparents who are living under the same roof, as well as giving them a respect for elderly members of the community.

Ella said...

Excellent post. My grandmother lived alone from 1995-2008, when she passed from a heart condition at 83. It was an unpaid part time job for me, cleaning her apartment while cooking food for the next couple of days and keeping conversation going about a story I'd heard 100x before. I won't lie, it was difficult, getting yelled at when she was upset or trying to sneak healthy foods in between chocolate snacks.

Despite all the difficulties, I'm proud that I did my best and went out of my way to stop by with some home baked cookies or just to say hello. I'm glad I always hugged and kissed her whenever I saw her, and brought her back presents from wherever I went. She won't meet my future children but she has gotten to see her only grandchild succeed in school, learn languages, be in films and open a business. I couldn't have imagined just shoving her into a nursing home. It was priceless having good times with her, and seeing how much it helped her to have home cooked meals and pre-cut fruit, etc.

Anonymous said...

This topic gives me shudders - despite years of praying and looking for a husband I didn't get married, and even if I do get married now I am too old to have children. When my health fails I'll have to go to a convalescent home as there will be no one to care for me. I planned on marrying and having a large family, so I never expected this to happen. I'm sure no one does.

Susan

Marianne said...

There is a lot of wisdom in this post, Anna. I saw my great-grandmother be able to live in her own home until just months before her death because family cared for her. Conversely, my husband's grandmother spent the last four years of her life in a nursing home because she 1) chose to move far from her family once they were grown and married, and 2) had a terrible relationship with her daughters. My husband and I have been talking about our parents, and their welfare as they age, since before we married. We're both convicted about doing what we can to prevent the four of them from going into skilled nursing facilities. I think this is something that should certainly come into premarital conversations.

fallenstar80 said...

What a wonderful post. My grandmother recently past away, and my parents were there for her and my grandfather every step of the way. My aunt was able to come stay with them for a bit to help out as well. I cannot imagine just letting my grandmother die in an institution. My husband and I are already in talks what to do when my parents get older. I am praying they will be able to move closer, so we will be able to care for them when the time comes. Thank you for your encouragement.

Analytical Adam said...

I don't know if I 100% agree. Single men aren't allowed to be part of the community. It is another double standard and some of the Rabbi's are afraid of men that think and ask questions and they don't want more men brought into the community so they just let the women live a life as a single women. However, some of these women don't even want to get married and from what I see in some cases these women don't respect another person's family.
What about old men. Don't the men deserve to be part of a community. Many of them are lonely as well and need someone to talk to and share with. SO the old men should just be left alone. Terrible. And some of these single women are unmarried because the Rabbi's tell them it is optional for women.
Also they tend to hate men so an old man is left being treated like dirt. Many elderly men are just treated horribly Mrs. Anna and it is disgusting. They let single women teach (even boys when the reason these girls aren't married is because they have an atitude when it comes to boys) yet single men won't be allowed to teach a younger man anything. The double standard is just another example of how Judaism has been very feminized and tunred into a religion that women are good and men are evil which is not good for us.

A lot of the single women who aren't married (and some think it is optional for them unless Mr. Perfect comes along thanks to the Rabbi's telling them this) because of this they really pose a threat to married women who don't hate men as they see normal women who don't hate men as disturbed. Some of these single women actually would take children away from their parents and see nothing wrong with it. They see no difference between parents and foster care. I see single women (who hate men and sit there with impossible demands towards men) who work in social work and actually are in some cases a danger to normal woman. Here in the United States Child Protective Service is out of control and many people who run it are unmarried woman who will take children away for political reasons's.

Jiabaoyu said...

My grandparents live in china where it's still common for the elderly to live with their children. All of my cousins (including myself) have been taken care of by our grandmothers.

Interestingly, that's also why the expectation to work for women is so strong. Grandparents are expected to care for grandchildren in their formative years, parents are to take care of grandparents when they get old.

In America, we keep talking about the 'nuclear family' as if that's the norm or the way families lived in the past. I have long argued that extended families were the norm and the ideal place to raise children.

However, there are multiple factors which doesn't make the situation work. When the avg lifespan was 60 and grandpa's cancer killed him within a few months, families could care for an elderly relative without major familial upheavals.

However, when the avg women lives past 85 and cancer becomes a long term illness, the situation can negatively affect the lives of everyone involved. Caretaker fatigue sets in which causes the elderly to be neglected, or worse, abused, Families can see their home life deteriorate due to the strain of caring for a very sick relative. A nursing home is not shameful if the elderly requires medical attention...the sad fact is, many many people will now live long enough to require medical attention near the end of their lives. Not even the most devoted SAHM can care for a ill and demented elderly without reaching burnout.

The other problem occurs when families don't get along. My father has several siblings. The problem is that my grandmother is a very difficult person to live with, and/or my uncles are somewhat lazy....but the fact remains, after raising five children, my father is the only one who would agree to care for her, but grandmother won't part with her friends, so she has a rotating group of children and their spouses living with her for a few months at a time to care for her. No one wants to take her in 100% of the time.

In some ways, having multiple siblings is actually deleterious because the sibling caring for the parent feels like they're doing most of the work (cooking/cleaning/supervising) while others reap most of the benefits (the company of the elderly). In families where no one wants to be pick up the major burden, even people who have many children will find themselves living alone.

I am an only child and will have to care for my parents as they age. However, that is still a huge undertaking and that is one reason that I want to be financially secure. I feel my future husband would have too much control over my parents' welfare if he was the sole provider for their wellbeing. While I'm sure whomever I marry will be a good man, even the best person will hedge on spending tens of thousands of dollars and huge family disruptions to care for someone else's parents. But that's my opinion. Obviously, everyone's situation is different.

Civilla said...

My father took in his elderly uncle, and Unc lived with us till he died. However, Unc was willing to move in with us.

We have seen situations where grown children WERE willing to take in their elderly parents, but the parents wouldn't move in with their children, because they'd have to move away, and they expected their grown son or son-in-law to quit their jobs and take their families and move in with grandma, when there were no jobs there. The elderly folks refused to move, and ended up having to be put in a home. This happens.

All I'm saying is that there are things that the casual observer in a nursing home does not know about.

And, like I said, sometimes doctors "remand" elderly patients to nursing homes, if they feel they are not going to be cared for properly, like if they need specialized care or something. My mother-in-law almost had my father-in-law taken away from her because the social worker happened to call when she stepped out to buy a quart of milk.

Your elderly can be taken away from you here in the U.S. just like your children can. Scary.

Everybody has their own opinion about nursing homes. Nursing home ministry has been a big part of my and my husband's ministry for years. These people do need to be reached out to.

Years ago, there wasn't much that could be done for the very elderly. They came to live with their families and died shortly thereafter. Nowadays, there is a lot that can be done to keep them alive for many years, due to medical advances, but it is almost impossible for it to be done at home, unless somebody at home is a nurse's aide or something.

It is important not to be judgmental of the families who put their elderly in a nursing home. Yes, it is a terrible shame if they are there because nobody cares, but we don't know that that is always the case. Just reach out to them.

Civilla said...

I hope I am not saying too much here, writing a book, or anything. My father took in his elderly uncle, who lived with us until he died, like I said.

However, my grandmother, who also lived with us (my dad was a single dad back in the 50's), fell and broke her hip when I was 15 years old and my brother was 11.

There was nobody to take care of my grandmother, as my father worked all day and we kids were in school all day. We had no relatives whatsoever around.

My father was forced to put her in a nursing home. The GOOD part about this story is that in the nursing home, she got PHYSICAL THERAPY, which got her walking again. Had she been home, my father and us children would not have been knowledgeable enough to do this for her. In fact, she was resigned to being in a wheel chair for the rest of her life, which is what would have happened had she stayed home.

Instead, the physical therapists wouldn't hear of her staying in the wheel chair. They got her out of the chair, despite her protestations, and got her up and walking again.

My father took us to see her every single night after supper, and within six months, she was up and walking an home again taking care of us. She was only there 6 months.

So, remember things like this.

Lady Anne said...

I tend to agree with Civilla. My mom was in her 70s when my dad developed kidney disease, and was on dialysis three days a week. Since he was not allowed to drive, she had to run him over to the clinic and go back several hours later to pick him up. That was no problem, and she was glad to do it, but in the middle of this, her aunt, who was in her 90s, and - I hate to say it - a four star witch, showed up on the doorstep. The doorbell rang, and a private ambulance driver asked my poor mother, "Where do you want me to put Mrs. Kern's hospital bed?" Boing! Talk about your revolting developments!

Aunt Clara and my dad died within a few months of each other, and my mom chose to move into a retirement center, where she has 24 hour care available. At the moment, she has her own apartment, but when the time comes, she will move into Assisted Living, and from there into the nursing home. The center has a van to take her to the store, etc., and her place of worship also has a shuttle. Plus, there is a chapel on site. She has friends, hot meals, a gym, a beauty salon, crafts, painting classes, and the ever popular weekly wine tastings! Also, as Civilla pointed out, there is PT available, her doctor and pharmacy are on site, etc. It's not a cheap alternative. Right now, she is paying about $2,000 a month, but Assisted Living runs about $5,000.

Our house is not wheelchair accessable, and it is not possible for one person to be one duty 24/7. If a medical emergency arises, it takes fifteen minutes or so for the ambulance, plus transport time to the local hospital. Where she is now, help is at the end of the hallway.

So, there various arrangements to suit every family's needs.