The Forgotten Generation

I’ve spent the last 2 weeks helping a long time friend of our family dig out of a huge mess that her son created for her. I’m sure he doesn’t see it that way but it’s the nitty, gritty truth. She lived about 2 hours from me and for the last 2 weeks I’ve been helping her to get back to her home town where she will be closer to friends and family who really want to help her and see her do well. It’s a group effort, that’s for sure, but my little contribution is at its end because she is on her way. Through this experience I’ve been simply doing what I would hope someone would do for me if I ever needed it. Nothing special about it, just acting on my compassion for someone in need is all. Everyone involved is doing the same and collectively it has made the only difference it could have made. It’s making her life better, safer and far less stressful.

Our family friend had a son who committed suicide five years ago and her only other son was supposed to be taking care of her. I don’t understand the mind-set of someone who could take advantage of his own mother’s grief, spend every dime of her life savings, (which wasn’t much), and then pull her with him into the abyss of his own misery. I spend the better part of my time wanting to be closer to my Mom so that I can help her as she gets older so how anyone can do what he’s done is beyond me.

I have a soft spot for the elderly. I think they are truly the forgotten generation.  Years ago, they were respected, loved and taken care of and today’s society seems to see them as disposable.  The saddest thing to me would be to die alone in an unfamiliar place with no one around me who truly cared.  I do understand the need for families to utilize nursing homes and assisted living facilities, and I know several who have had to do that but they made sure their loved one was not alone regardless. While not being able to tend to them 24/7, they were there as much as they possibly could be and their loved one was never lonely. It’s the people who “discard” their loved ones when they get older that make me want to scream. What happened to caring for our old people?  What happened to the respect for them that we used to have?  Why is it okay to deplete their savings and leave them to flounder for themselves?

While I watched this scenario play out over the last 2 years with my friend, I tried to help. I reached out to her son and offered suggestions on how to make it better, talked about all of them moving to a place where he would have more help, where she would have more friends and family close, but I was shut down. Unfriended and communication completely cut off. Not that I mind so much about him, but my heart was broken for his Mom.  Her and I communicated often and I could hear the weariness in her voice, the sadness, the desperation, and the most heartbreaking fear. Then one morning at work about two and a half weeks ago, I received a call. The tiniest, shaky voice said, “Joanna, can you come and see me? I need your help.”

We seem to have gotten numb to the reality of aging. With any luck, we are all going to be there someday. When you are 76 years old, living in a roach infested low-income apartment, scared, alone and lonely, I hope there are people around you who are willing to help. I hope it’s your family, your children and their families who are there and lifting you out of a desperate and sad situation, but better than that, I sincerely hope none of us find ourselves in that situation to begin with.

My Grandpa lived with us for 2 years before he died. While my Mom did the bulk of the work, we got the advantage of getting to know someone who, quite honestly, we didn’t know very well up to that point. It was invaluable. Love your parents. Love your grandparents. Help take care of them. Make your children help take care of them. Teach them the value of our older people and their place in society. And if you do nothing else, show them by your actions that we all matter, that we all deserve to have people who care around us as we age, that we all deserve to feel safe, secure and loved right up until our last breath.

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