This week I celebrated my aunt’s ninety-fifth birthday with her by doing a couple of her favorite things…eating pepperoni pizza from Pizza Hut and going to the park. She’s my mom’s younger sister and they were just a year a part in age. Although I’ve always been close to my aunt and spent as much time with her as possible, since mom passed away a year ago at the age of ninety-five, I’ve been making even more of an effort to see her.
I love my aunt whole-heartedly, and being with her reminds me of happy childhood memories, and makes me feel a little closer to my mom. Until a couple of months ago, however, I never imagined how much time I would be spending with her.
At the age of 63 years old, she married for the first time. Thirty-two years later, she and her ninety-one year old husband seemed to be doing okay. But, recently it’s become evident they can no longer live alone. They both have mobility issues that are getting worse daily. Her husband has become incontinent, and a fall which required a week in the hospital for him a little over two months ago, brought the declining situation to the forefront. Now, we must figure out the next steps.
Anyone who has read my past posts will know I was a caregiver for my mom for six years. It was a labor of love, filled with the lowest of lows, and also the most rewarding highs. I wouldn’t trade the time I spent with my mom the last few years of her life here on earth for anything in the world.
But, do I have the stamina and mindset to do it all over again for someone else on a full time basis, no matter who they are, or how much I love them?
I’ve been on an emotional rollercoaster over this decision, and have shed numerous tears. I’ve prayed for guidance and asked everyone I know for advice. But, the answer is always the same…I just don’t think I can do it again. Not this soon after losing mom, at least. I can only pray my mom understands.
Since all this started at the beginning of May, my uncle’s daughter (my aunt’s daughter-in-law) has been coming from her home three hours away and staying for extended periods of time, while I go back and forth from my home forty miles away. Friends, and one of my uncle’s half-sisters, have been trying to fill in the gaps. It’s been a horribly difficult situation for everyone.
We had hoped to put them in an assisted living together, but our country’s elderly people are put in a hopeless situation if they own any property, no matter how worthless, or if they have any amount of money in the bank. It’s been a real eye-opening experience learning how the system works for senior citizens who are not wealthy enough to afford to live in retirement communities or nursing homes. For seniors in a lower income bracket, there are virtually no options.
My aunt and uncle own a couple of rundown properties that have literally no value, but because they have any sort of property, they would have to pay full price to live in an assisted living facility. The least expensive place we’ve found is $9,300 a month for each of them ($18,600 total monthly charge) and it’s one of the worst rated nursing homes in the country. For monetary reasons alone we cannot even consider this as an option if we wanted to, which we don’t.
Until we figure out a long-term solution, and while we are still caring for them at their home, we’ve been trying to clean out their house as much as possible in preparation of whatever the future holds for them. Two yard sales, numerous trips to the dump and many donations to the second-hand store have not even made a dent in all the possessions they have collected through the years. If you read one of my previous blog posts entitled, Worldly Possessions, you will understand why this is difficult for me to go through again.
I’ve also been trying to get my aunt’s affairs in order. To my shock and dismay, I learned she isn’t eligible to collect Social Security benefits, because she never worked at a job that paid into Social Security, so her only source of income is from her husband’s retirement. While trying to get some sort of benefits for her, I learned she didn’t have Medicare or even an ID card.
Thankfully, I’ve managed to get her an ID card, but she can’t sign up for Medicare benefits until the enrollment period in the fall. I can’t believe she’s been living without medical insurance for all these years. I cringe thinking about what would have happened if she’d ever had a serious medical issue. I’ve helped her to buy a cemetery plot next to her younger brother’s grave, and close to where her parent’s are buried. This has made her so happy to know she will have a familiar resting place when her time comes.
I am now painfully aware of what happens to seniors when they don’t have someone to help them. It’s a frustrating and complicated process just to talk to a person on the phone about any sort of benefits, fill out the paperwork, file taxes, update documents, and everything else that is required for a person to be able to receive money, services, and benefits that are legally owed to them. For some elderly folks, these are daunting tasks that they can’t even begin to keep up with as their minds, hearing, sight and bodies begin to fail. It’s a sad and tragic reality for many older people who are alone.
I guess my main purpose for writing this blog post is to ask anyone who reads it to think about the senior citizens in your life. Maybe one of them needs someone they can trust to make sure their legal documents are in order, and all possible options are considered before a life-changing decision has to be made. It might seem like a simple gesture, but it can make a world of difference.