Don’t we tend to forget the elderly members of our families and communities way too often? Paying attention to them is not always easy. Do we see them in many advertisements, commercials or TV shows? When did you last see an elderly woman selling tires or beer at halftime? How often are there movies with older performers in leading roles? Old isn’t necessarily sexy or fun or entertaining. Older folks move more slowly, don’t always hear or see so well, and can easily be forgetful.
But far too often the attention that is paid to the elderly comes in the form of physical, emotional and financial abuse, in many instances at the hands of those they trust. There were the two homeowners who would rent out their basement to an older, more vulnerable person. Over time they then would restrict access and cause their unfortunate tenant to sign over to them the power to handle his or her financial and medical affairs. Then there was the daughter who took mom to an apartment, cut off all access and caused her trusting mom to sign all her money over to her. Unfortunately, there are thousands of such stories nationwide. Think what you’ve heard about bad nursing home conditions.
In reality, many of our elderly family members, neighbors and friends have a lifetime of stories to tell, and experiences and wisdom to share. Did you know that Harry was once a college professor who taught and wrote about Shakespeare? Was Martha really a dancer all those years, and did she really perform with that famous choreographer? Boy did grandpa really fight in that horrible battle that was critical to winning the war? Grandpa where did you get those medals? They’re really cool! Oh my God, grandma you did all that to help pay for mom’s education? You took in laundry and you took the streetcar miles to work in that kitchen? Grandma, you received a letter from President Roosevelt? Wow! You wrote letters? There were no computers or cell phones? You lived with two families together? You went to the bathroom out back in the cold? Really?
As I boy, I would receive on my birthday every year a card from my maternal grandma with a dollar in it. Somehow as a child I knew how important that was to her. I certainly do now. By no stretch of the imagination was she wealthy financially, but she certainly was in other ways.
Come on people, neglecting the elderly is really getting old.
Lance Taylor is an Oak Park resident and lawyer who represents the elderly and their families.