I was speaking with my aunt yesterday. She is close to eighty years-old. With health problems of her own, she continues to care for her daughter who contends with crippling MS and my uncle, who lost his foot to a rare form of Cancer. He is wheelchair bound. For both, she is the dominant caregiver. She has a nurse who comes in a few times a week, but the expense of this luxury limits his assistance more than that.
My aunt has always been a very strong woman. Her determination to responsibly take care of her loved ones continues to push her forward. She keeps a good attitude but today’s reality isn’t easy. We chatted about this during our phone conversation. I felt terrible hearing about all that she endures from one day to the next. My mind flipped to a much earlier time, Saturday evenings when I was ten, and this same woman would dispensed slices of pizza, bags of chips, and pitchers of Kool-aid for me and my family — wonderful dinners never forgotten. It was a weekly affair.
As I listened intently to her words discussing how diligently she’d been working over the last year to receive approval from the town hall regarding a permit she requested, my heart broke. The town was standing between her and the building of a room off the main living area, one she wanted merely to allow her ill daughter to join her parents on the first floor of their home for companionship purposes. Because of my aunt’s age and feeble physique, she could no longer move her daughter from her bedroom and down the stairs as easily as she used to. Confined to her room, my aunt was endeavoring to change this, make circumstances better for her daughter.
The town however had other matters to consider more important than those prioritized by my aunt. Codes needed to be met, neighbors needed to be informed (despite the fact that the room would be located at the back of the house assuming an existing porch), and meetings needed to be had. Of course, Covid-19 has put a near stop to any approvals taking place expeditiously, causing my elderly aunt to live without this room for at least another year after belaboring to meet all of the requirements the town put forth.
I am certain no one at the town building department ever once gave thought to what it would take for my aged aunt to accomplish all that they were asking of her. Never once did they swing by to see the strain on that woman’s face as she hand-wrote eighty-one letters to those who live around her as well as her utility company. Nor would I imagine anyone called her to offer their assistance as she clung to the banister with one arm and her daughter with the other while navigating a tall staircase in an effort to change her loved-one’s scenery. Or realize what it would take to to stand up at any town hall meeting to plead her case after figuring out how to arrange for someone to care for my cousin and uncle in her brief absence. A lifetime of paying taxes diligently and improving the town overall with her presence, including all of the work she has put into her home and property, seems to have bought her very little in return.
We live in a nation that doesn’t understand what it is like to grow old; a land that forgets that no one “chooses” to do it. It just happens. As heart disease, Cancer, and chronic respiratory disease lead the pack in ways the elderly die, I wonder where disillusionment, heartbreak, and plain worn-out fall when it comes to the passing of our seniors?
No doubt, we are a young country, but that does not mean that we should be given leniency for remaining so immature regarding the care and consideration of the elderly. At a time when we all are screaming about “whose lives matter,” we might want to recognize that “old lives matter” too.
A place where approvals come around just a little more quickly, nails and hammers are drawn just a bit more readily, and rooms are added a lot more easily, that’s the type of United States our seniors should be living in. We owe them that respect. The time has come for change!