Her dear, dear next door neighbors are in their mid-eighties. They never had children (wanted to but it just didn't work out) but have a lovely, large, and devoted family of nephews, nieces, sisters, cousins, and all that. Now, the sisters and brothers are also in their mid-eighties so the Matron's neighbors really rely on that upcoming generation of nieces and nephews for help.
The trouble? They all live at least an hour away.
A few days ago, it was determined that the husband of this long-time husband/wife team is dying of heart failure. Suddenly, his frail 84 year old wife was thrust into a position of command and decision making for which she was utterly unprepared. She also needs daily help herself for simple things that she's now unable to address, like feeding cats and putting in eye drops.
Please don't commend the Matron for what she's about to say next - really. People should take care of each other, period. That's basic goodness in the world and not laudable. Yours truly is no saint (just ask any of her children or her husband).
But the Matron decided to get involved; she's lived next to this lovely couple for 8 years and considers them family. The reception? Instant relief and welcome.
So she suddenly finds herself with the legal authority to make decisions on behalf of her neighbors --and with the additional freight of the wife asking the Matron to make those decisions on her behalf because she's exhausted and confused. Confused by the insurance, Medicare, VA requirements, nursing home regulations, hospice stipulations, the two social workers, three doctors and even driving on the freeway. The latter frightens the neighbor the most.
The Matron took some official time off from work today to navigate this terrain; she spent more time on the phone with the social worker than she did with her husband. Tonight, she'll go over at 9 pm, administer eye-drops, tend to cats, and have a conversation.
But the sobering thing? The real point of this post? If you're old and ill --or dying -- without someone to navigate the world of medicine, insurance, and government regulation, you're doomed. Make those decisions well ahead of time, friends. Have a team at your ready. And why in the world would a medical institution send home an 84 year old man who can't walk, pee, or breathe to be in the care of his 84 year old wife while he dies -- when they both wish he could be in the hospital or hospice? Every fiber in the Matron's body is now aligned toward preventing this death of two people instead of one. She knew this all in theory but living it is something else.
The other sobering thing? Well, the Matron isn't much one for glorifying eras gone by. Sure, before there was birth control, women had babies well into their forties. Lovely. Takes away the freight of having a 'later in life' baby today because childbirth was from 17 to 45 in years gone by. That's all good but after those women had babies, they died. So there's nothing romantic about the past.
Perhaps with one exception. People helped one another. Think Little House on the Prairie books (God-Buddha-Oprah-Allah-Universe, she hopes those books were accurate about the community spirit, Nellie Olson aside) Every single person on the Matron's block--many of whom have known this couple for 20 years -- should be highly attuned to and involved with helping them right now. This shouldn't be a place to praise someone who is, but a moment to contemplate what each of us can do better, next time.