Wednesday, May 02, 2007

knocking on heaven's door

There are four of them. One of them walked the halls with her walker in front of her; another sat quietly at a table, alone with head bent. The third was a bit more wily, outside with a cigarette soaking up the sun. The fourth was waiting to see the nurse; patiently sitting on the chair outside the door.

They were all women, all in their 80's (late 70's maybe, because nothing ages you like hard living). Three had walkers. All were alone. White hair, one perhaps in a wig. Clothes are rumpled slightly, yet purses proudly on their arms. Lipstick, I think. Clip on earrings for one. Sensible shoes, except for the one who only had on socks.

Grandmothers, at least one or two of them. Perhaps one was childless. Maybe the last has adult children who've died. I don't know their stories, but I heard through the grapevine that one of them has a son who calls and checks in on her, the nice son that he is. I can only imagine dialing the phone to make that call Just wanted to make sure that my mom is fine sleeping at that big shelter with her walker. Send her my love. And hey, sleep tight!

If there is anything that breaks my heart in two it's elder homelessness. Kids, see; they've not lived yet, they have time to recover. It might even seem normal. I've found enough ways to rationalize that over the years. Right or wrong and much easier before M, I could make that fit in my head and do my job. But the elders, they know what hell they are in, that after living a whole other life this is how the curtain falls. Just passing time waiting to die. Full of wisdom and maybe bad choices. Ungrateful children and bad luck. Alone.

Even now, after all these years and so many grandparents it still brings tears to my eyes as I type. I don't know the stories of these beautiful women yet. But I do know that this is no place for them. Their vulnerability suffocates me and again I question the reality we allow each other to live in.


31 comments:

crazymumma said...

I was about to go upstairs and vacuum while the girls are at school. But I thought to myself. One post. Just one post I can read before my duties. And you popped up in bloglines.

You made me remember all those visits to my Nonna's nursing home when I was a little girl. Not a shelter I know. But you made me remember.

Think I'll go vacuum my home now.

xo Anne

thailandchani said...

Keep questioning. You made a very good point:

I question the reality we allow each other to live in.

Not going on another cultural rant. My eyeballs will explode!

But yeah... it's something every person participating needs to question.


Peace,

~Chani

jen said...

mum. trust me. it's nowhere near the shelter i speak of.

i promise.

cinnamon gurl said...

I worry sometimes what people might think of me and my husband... his mother stayed in a shelter briefly (in fact she got kicked out within a day or two, although we had hoped it would be an avenue to treatment for her)... I used to think that eventually she would live with us. Before the shelter, she did, for 8 days, of which I counted every minute waiting for her to find somewhere else. It was really quite awful, far beyond your typical mother-in-law/daughter-in-law tensions.

Now I think that she will never live with us unless she gets treatment... it's crazy-making to try to live with someone with an untreated, undiagnosed mental illness.

It's not always only about ungrateful children. Sometimes it's about children trying to stay sane and healthy.

Beck said...

The elderly homeless break my heart, too. Surely as a society we can come up with something better than that for them.

jen said...

Sin, I know. You are absolutely right. I don't know their stories yet, and it's not fair to make assumptions. But sometimes I am so very tired of all the suffering.

Lawyer Mama said...

That's so sad. If you do find out their stories, will you share them? I'm curious.

QT said...

It is so ingrained in me - there is no way that would be one of my parents, with my knowledge. The two cultures I come from just don't do it. You live with whatever the issues are. Believe me, my grandma was a bear in her final decade (her 90's). She had dementia and was horribly mean to everyone and physically assaulted those that fed, bathe & medicated her. There was never a question that room would be provided for her at someone's home.

Never.

NotSoSage said...

I can't imagine what it takes to leave a family member behind, but I know that family histories are often more complicated than they appear at first glance. It's so disheartening that there isn't somewhere for everyone to go when family finds it impossible to care for them.

But the ability to care for a family member in need presumes that the family who is responsible has the resources to do that, and that isn't always the case...I'm not saying that in all cases it was an impossible decision. But it may have been for some.

I think it's a question (as usual) of a spectrum of resources, supports and alternatives at all stages. Supporting those who choose to care for a family member, if that's the best option but also having the spaces available if they just aren't equipped to do it without professional help.

Redneck Mommy said...

My heart hurts when I think of the elderly homeless.

I wonder where their family, if they have family, went.

I wonder what choices they made that led them to where they are.

I wonder what circumstances contrived against them to place them where they are.

I wonder if that will one day be me...

Karen Forest said...

Whatever the situation... it is still sad. I feel for all parties involved and the regrets they may or may not feel in the future.

The Expatriate Chef said...

My first job was at a rural "rest home." The stories would fill a book. I was 15, setting up medications for these people, handling 25 of them alone.

Many were state cases, no other place to go, some were county mental cases, also no money, no family. We had a little bit of everybody. Schizophrenics, Parkinson's, Mentally Retarded, Alzheimers, Grand Mal epilepsy, and just plain old and alone and poor.

I cooked, cleaned, bathed, medicated and did everything. Our weekend staff of two always got in trouble for cooking too well (too much good stuff, too expensive). We didn't care. It was what we could do to make them happy. We knew we would not get fired since we were the only ones who worked. Good food was all some residents could look forward to, all some of them had. All I could give, really.

This post brings back so many memories. Unethical owners ... understaffed ... rigged schedules to avoid overtime ... the people who lived there. So many, many stories.

kristen said...

Yeah, elderly homelessness breaks my heart. Even nursing homes to be honest. But I also get upset when I hear people say they had their kids for someone to take care of them when they're old. I don't count on that because I think it's unfair but I do hope that my own girl will have compassion for us geezers when we're old and never let us end up homeless.

Lucia said...

I find this heartbreaking. All those memories and experiences gathered up by elderly women only to be left homeless and on their own.

deb said...

Grandmas in a homeless shelter, there is something seriously wrong.

flutter said...

this just kills me

Julie Pippert said...

I don't believe in limiting help but I understand triaging it (reluctantly).

But...kids and elderly. Homeless. That is every single level of wrong.

I realize there are stories we don't know behind it. And sometimes, it's not per se neglect.

But they are a more vulnerable group.

And homelessness. In the US. Blows me out.

Can't be more eloquent. Sorry.

meno said...

When i look forward and see the end of my life approaching (faster all the time) i am scared that i will end up like these women. I have done all i can to ensure that this will not happen, but i have been lucky too.

I wonder what their stories are. I'll bet we could learn some things if we knew.

slouching mom said...

yes. it's awful when it's an elderly person.

and this...

But the elders, they know what hell they are in, that after living a whole other life this is how the curtain falls. Just passing time waiting to die. Full of wisdom and maybe bad choices. Ungrateful children and bad luck. Alone.

...was powerful and moving.

Deezee said...

I come from a complicated home and I know that no matter what we wish for family members - or anyone - we can't necessarily personally provide it. In some cases one can simply not offer enough, or the help isn't even always accepted.

That said, I wish as a society we had a better way of stepping up to solve these problems.

alejna said...

There is so much heartbreak, and so much that needs to be addressed. Thank you for sharing these stories, jen, and making me think.

Aliki2006 said...

Very poignant post, and the comments gave me much to think about. There is so little that is fair in the world, it seems.

Oh, The Joys said...

I hear you about the elders. That said, I can't shake the story you told me about the mom, the police and her child being removed after you had M. I told K and he can't shake it either.

KC said...

I'm glad when a homeless patient comes into the hospital who's older, since we at least have a shot at getting them placed somewhere, off the streets. I never imagined shelters with people using walkers. Heart-breaking does not even begin to describe it.

Momish said...

That is sad, jen, but also so scary. It's like you can still do everything right and still end up homeless just because you are old and no longer able to work. Like you said, you don't know their stories. But, it shatters that feeling that somehow it will work out in the end. That there will be viable options and assistance at the end of a hard life.

Makes me shudder.

christina said...

I almost cried.It made me think about my grandmother if she were homeless. Beautifull written.

Marymurtz said...

My brother lived for six years in Japan with his family. When my elderly parents went to visit him for six weeks, my mother was floored by the deference and honor with which she was treated everywhere they went. As a culture there, she said, the elderly are revered and for the most part, well cared for.

What a shocking thing to think of elderly homeless. I wonder how it would be if our culture, our society, placed less emphasis on catering to what youth want and more on caring for and honoring older people.

I worked for three years in a nursing home, and it broke my heart to see people who were warehoused there, with family members who seldom visited. Granted, there were people genuinely in need of that level of care, but far more could have been cared for in their own homes.

It's so very sad to think of people being so alone. I don't know how to wrap my brain around it.

mamatulip said...

This post kind of slapped me across the face. Elder homelessness. I have to be honest and say it's not something that, when I think of the homeless, immediately comes to mind.

I too question the reality in which we allow each other to live in.

So well said.

Maryam in Marrakesh said...

This is such a problem in the West but it is amazing how I don't see it elsewhere where the elderly are so much better integrated into homes, and loved and respected until they die.:-(

crazymumma said...

oh I know it is nowhere near the shelter....gawd I can only imagine.

You just made me think of little old ladies.and sadness and loneliness.

sorry, on a bummer.

karrie said...

I'm so glad that we're in a position to help my mom right now--although she is not elderly. I agree with you that there is something just heartbreaking about being old, alone and having nowhere to go.

As always, thank you for writing about these issues and making us think.