If you can’t help big, help little

By Toni Browning

In the 15 years I have been an advocate/case manager for aging services, I have seen thousands of older adults. Some have done fine on their own, some have needed a little help and many were in predicaments that were desperate and sad.

The common belief that once a person turns 60 there are plenty of services for older Americans is a myth. Yes, there is Medicaid for a small number of seniors who are in deepest poverty but many older people are not eligible. Even when seniors have Medicaid it does not pay the electric bill, the phone bill or for food.

In my years of working with seniors, I have seen children who were determined to make their parents’ lives as comfortable and happy as possible. And, sadly, I have also experienced the reverse.

Often this is not the fault of the children. They have their own families to provide for. 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.” But isn’t a mother or a father part of a family?

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 one woman’s children helped change her life. Every other month, Edith became depressed and nervous. She often called just to talk but I could tell 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. When I explained the situation, I asked if she would contact the other children to set up a family meeting. Two of Edith’s children lived locally and others lived in Arizona and Maryland. 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.”

One son offered to pay the overdue bill. Together her children decided each would send their mother $20 every month toward the electric bill. All during the meeting Edith cried, saying she hated to be a burden to them. She needed a great amount of reassuring.

I have spoken to Edith several times since the meeting. 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.

What if you don’t have an extra $20 a month? There are little ways to help. When you and your children go to McDonald’s, 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 his birthday or Christmas? Maybe a better present would be a paid phone bill for the month. 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. Your mom or dad will look forward to the call and will likely never miss it. 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?  

Toni Browning is senior case manager for Rappahannock Rapidan Community Services and a member of Aging Together Partnership. Rappahannock’s Aging Together meets at 2:30 p.m. on the fourth Thursday of the month at Rappahannock Library. For more information, contact Bonnie Vermillion at 540-829-6045 or bvermillion@agingtogether.org or visit agingtogether.org.

Roger Piantadosi
About Roger Piantadosi 545 Articles
Former Rappahannock News editor Roger Piantadosi is a writer and works on web and video projects for Rappahannock Media and his own Synergist Media company. Before joining the News in 2009, he was a staff writer, editor and web developer at The Washington Post for almost 30 years.