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LETTER: We can do a better job of keeping our seniors close


I think it’s time we rethink the way we treat our aging family members, in the wake of this virus and the heart-wrenching stories of seniors dying alone in hospital or long-term care. I can’t fathom how scared and lonesome these folks must feel as they come face-to-face with death without the support and love from family and friends at their side.

I think we need to do everything we can to keep our elderly family members at home as long as humanly possible. We need to use retirement homes as a last resort, and only utilize long-term care centres when we are no longer capable of caring for our parents and grandparents. We need to do everything we can to reduce the chances of our family members facing the same fate as the current residents of nursing homes and long-term care centres.

We need to find a place tor our seniors to live after it is no longer feasible or safe for them to maintain their own house. We need to delay the step of putting grandma and grandpa into a retirement home or long-term care centre as long as we can. That means moving back in with their children and grandchildren. We all have a role to play in this transition, and we all need to accept the fact that our lives will be affected, both good and bad.

For you youngsters out there: I know, grandpa smells funny and he eats gross food. He and grandma are always watching the news really loud on the TV. Grandma always makes you wear five jackets, a scarf and mitts, even in the summer. They go to bed at eight, and get mad if you make noise with your friends. Those are changes you will need to adjust to. Remember though, they also buy you lots of treats, spoil you more than mom and dad and teach you how to play crib.

For you parents of young children: this won’t be easy for you either. You may be just getting your feet under you financially, and establishing your own set of house rules. Those rules may be different than those of your elderly family members. Managing those rules and determining who the “head of the household” is will be challenging. On the plus side, you will always have a willing babysitter on-site, and you may be able to get some financial support. The money saved not being spent on retirement homes may end up helping your home.

For you empty nesters: the peace and tranquility you were planning may change. After all those sacrifices of setting up your children and shipping them off, here comes grandma and grandpa moving into one of your now spare bedrooms. You will have to get used to being told how to weed the garden better, or clean more, or drink less wine. You, too, will have to establish new house rules and “head of the household” hierarchy. Living with your in-laws wasn’t in the plan, but you will always have a hand around the house, an ear to talk to and opportunity to take your relationship to a whole new level. It’s not always going to be easy, but it will always be with love.

Finally, for you seniors: this will be hardest for you, I think. After being independent and “King of the Castle” for 40 to 60 years, you will have to adapt to a new set of rules, established by your offspring. You will likely not agree with some of those rules, but you will have to adjust. You need to let go of the notion that you are being a burden on your family. You will be able to contribute to the household, not only financially, but with the decades of experience you possess. Being willing to listen and adapt will be critical. Sounds crazy I know, but so does living or dying alone during a pandemic.

It saddens me that it takes a global pandemic for us to realize that in our efforts to take care of our nuclear family, we inadvertently isolate our extended family. Many cultures treat their elders better than we do, and I am starting to think that they are onto something. I hope we can do a better job of keeping our seniors close, and only submit them to strangers for care as a last resort.

Rick Owen

St. Albert