Last Friday I was forced to do one of the hardest things that I have ever had to do in my life and that was to tell my 88-year-old aunt in whose house I grew up in with my mother, brother and sister, that she should seriously consider moving in to a senior citizens residence, so that she could get the assistance that she needs more frequently now. With her diabetes, failing heart, and possibility of recurring mini strokes, she needs to have someone with her 24-7 and that cost more money than she can afford and more than the government will help her pay for. Her legs will stop supporting her body at any time and when this happens she ends up on the floor unable to get up. So far she has been lucky enough not to hurt herself when this happens, but we all know the day is coming when her luck will run out and she will get seriously hurt or worse we will walk in and find her bled out on the floor dead and no one wants to find a love one like that. My aunt has also been seen in the lobby waiting for a cab at night that only comes for her in the day time. This means that she is losing her sense of time. We have had to hospitalize her several times in the past due to infections and other problems relating to her age, but she has always managed to get well enough to go back and live on her own, with a little assistance, but this time she looked old, tired and frightened and for the first time in my life I was frightened for her.
This story starts about 2 weeks ago with a phone call from Lifeline that I missed because I was in the shower. They never leave any message except their name and number and that you need to call them back, so when I saw the flashing light and got the message I did just that and got a busy signal. I almost lost it, but redialed and with in minutes I was talking to a nice young lady who was explaining to me that my aunt had fallen at some point during the night, was not hurt, but could not get up and had recently pushed the button on her lifeline for assistance. The lady said that my aunt had refused paramedic assistance and ask for them to call me to get her off of the floor. I told them that I would go there immediately and advise them of the situation once I was there.
All the way there I thought of the worst scenarios and what I would be able to do for help. I let myself in with the keys I have to her house and there she was sitting down on the floor between her bedroom and her bathroom. My dear old aunt had soiled herself, but she was not physically injured and had refused the paramedics because she did not want them breaking down the door and because she was embarrassed that she would be seen by strangers sitting in urine and soiled. I bent down let her wrap her arms around my neck and got her to her feet and sitting in her chair walker. My aunt was talking fine and her main concern seemed to be canceling her therapy and pick up by medi bus. I of course had other priorities for the phone like calling life line and cleaning her up, but if you have ever dealt with an aging relative you know who won out and it was not me.
After much talk it was decided that it would be best if my aunt went to the hospital and got a good through check up. My brother and I were hoping that she would be kept in for the weekend at least, because that is when she is alone the longest. That was over 2 weeks ago and she is still in the hospital as I write this post. Her condition has deteriorated considerably and she has fallen twice trying to get to the toilette, which is a commode just beside her bed, her speech is slurred, and she goes to sleep in the middle of a sentence, but the worst thing is her heart her pacemaker is the only thing keeping her heart working and she can not go home alone.
My aunt has a girl who comes in at one in the afternoon until 4 and does cleaning and cooks her meals and tries to make sure that my aunt is taking her medication, but this leaves way too much time that she is alone. My brother and I visit often, but her daughter lives in the USA and has osteoporosis and Montreal weather is a death sentence for her and so I had to have the long talk with my aunt about her future and my aunt was not pleased. My aunt and I talked about how when her brother was dying with cancer how she and my mother went and took care of him during the day cooking and washing him and doing all that he needed so that his wife could go on working. This she said was what a family does for its elderly and they do it gladly out of love and not for money, not pay, but for love.
As we talked I realised that this world, this time is not better for all of our progress, we are poorer, because of senior homes that allow for the housing of our aging family. We have progressed into a world where what was once unspeakable is now the norm. As I looked into her eyes I wished I had the room, but then I realised that I would not be able to afford her 24 hour care and with the exception of my brother there is no one available family in a position to help out, so no matter how much I wanted to do it, I just can’t.
Taking care of our elderly at home does not fit into the Harper government‘s economic recovery plan. The money they offer for home care of a family member by a family member falls way short and would have all of us soon dining on cat food if we were lucky. My aunt worked all of her life, paid her taxes and was proud to be a Canadian. During the war she worked in ammunition factories and her brothers fought in Europe, one dying from war injuries that Canada refused to acknowledge as war related at the time and so died in poverty, in the Montreal General Hospital while his wife struggled to raise their 2 children alone, without help from the government of Canada.
I saw in my aunt’s eyes for the 1st time the desire to die and all I could say was that at least at a home she would not have to remain on the floor until I could get there and that she would always be around someone who could help her. At the end of the conversation she was willing to go into the home, but I could see that she was hurt and she felt cheated by this turn of events and confused at how this could happen, but my aunt did seem resigned to the fact that it indeed was going to come to pass.
Today is May 22nd and my aunt is going to have a heart operation tomorrow and I know she is hoping for death, because she feels that she does not want to live in a world in which there is no place for family ties and love. In a world where families are forced to house the elderly for someone else to look after. In a country where the elderly are living too long says the present government and are unsustainable, a liability. I find myself hoping that she gets her wish and dies asleep on the operating table with the little bit of dignity that this government and the nature of this society has left her. This at least will allow her to die making one of the last decisions she will be allowed to make on her own and will allow her to cheat her inevitable fate should she survive and her greatest fear, that she be placed in a seniors home with strangers.
What does it matter if the economy recovers and that our economy is the envy of the rest of the world if to maintain it we must abandon all that makes us human beings? If what we pay into is not there for us when we need it, what good is all that is going on in Canada right now? Remember when all families got together at Christmas, birthdays? I do. As the family crumbles we are not the better for it for we have lost our humanity and will be cursed to eat but never get full, to drink but never satiate our thirst and to raise a family and die alone. This is the power of things over people and it is ugly; this is the way that we are governed by this federal government. Will you be able to take care of your love one when the time comes and do you even want to? I do, I can’t and I feel less for it and do not look forward to the time when my health gets bad and I am housed and die in the arms of strangers.
- Family Ties (heatherdecker.wordpress.com)