Lovely (background)

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Sobering truth....

Post my 2011 return to the Old Lady Next Door last week, I re-read through all of my past posts. In doing so I found that a consistent sad theme throughout was obvious: death, lost love, depression, loneliness, absent families, sickness, nursing homes, etc. I thought on this awhile and resolved to include more positive and uplifting posts in the future. But that’s easier said than done. Because let’s face it, people with good retirement plans, financial security, safe homes, good health, and present and supportive families… don’t need social workers. That’s not the reason my profession exists. The need for a social worker comes with the absence of one or more of the above listed provisions. So for the sake of honesty and transparency, the Old Lady Next Door will continue to reflect a sense of sadness, as is needed. Not to be received as a buzz kill, but I hope, rather, a sobering truth.

On that note, one of my old high school friends recently posted a link on my Facebook wall and commented “this seems like it might be right up your alley.” It was a link to The Julie Project by Darcy Padilla ( Padilla is a photographer who followed a woman named Julie, a homeless mother with HIV, for nearly 2 decades. Talk about a sobering truth, this photo project speaks to, nay proclaims issues that often go well hidden in our society… issues that the mainstream middle class may have nothing to do with, least of all understand. Julie was born to a teen mother and was sexually abused during childhood by her step-father. The Julie Project explores her ensuing life of homeless shelters, drug addiction, disease and the loss of 5 of her total 6 children to child protective services. The emotion of this woman’s short lived life is palpable.

I told my high school friend that I appreciated his post but that The Julie Project was hardcore social work... not the kind I’ve ever actually worked in. I did, however, study this kind of thing during my degrees via text books and case studies. The Julie Project illustrates gaps in our society and in social justice. It also magnifies the polarity of wealth and disparity in our society. Regardless of where anyone stands politically or socioeconomically, lives like Julie’s exist, they are tangible and worst of all they are changeable. Remember in my last post (All You Need is Love) I stated “it makes me wonder if I will ever suffer that way too” in regards to the suffering I see in my work. I guess that is one of my attractions to social work, the fact that I cannot answer the question “why not me?” Why is it someone else that is subjected to such a degraded existences and not me? I guess one of the harder parts of social work is having a foundation and understanding into things like the vicious cycle of poverty and other marginalized aspects of society that perpetuate suffering. Some parts are unexplainable and perhaps nothing can be done to change them… but not all.

One more time for good measure:

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

All you need is love...

Welcome 2011! I realize the Old Lady Next Door has been MIA for several months… what can I say? The usual excuses I guess… busy, holidays, can’t think of anything to write about. So here goes… I want to introduce you to a few of my current, and some past, clients. The names have been changed to protect the innocent.

Tonight I’ll tell you about Mikey. Mikey is a 91 year old man who lives at an assisted living facility. Not one of those fancy facilities either… the one Mikey lives at does not have chandelier lighting, or room service. It’s old, it smells weird, the carpet throughout desperately needs replacing, the staff speak very little English, and around the same corner I turn every time to get to Mikey’s room is a mentally ill woman who sits talking to herself and screams at me as I pass… every time!

Mikey has lived here as long as I’ve known him. He spends his days in his recliner chair in his tiny room because he has lost most of his vision, he cannot hear well, can't walk, he suffers from chronic pain, and, well, he just doesn’t care to do anything else. His am/fm radio stays close where he keeps it tuned to the country station. I usually have to turn this down when I visit with him. I always ask, “Mikey, how is your appetite? How have you been sleeping? Anything new?” His answers are always the same “I’m not very hungry… I get up about 4 times a night to use the bathroom… nope, nothing’s new.”

Mikey was married for over 70 years. He met and married his wife at the age of 17… she was only 16. They never had any children, which they later learned was because of some inabilities on Mikey’s behalf. I remember when Mikey had recounted for me the conversation he had with his wife after they learned that Mikey was the one unable to have children: “..well, I told her I relieved her of me… told her to go on down to the court house and get a divorce… so she could marry someone else and have children.” Mikey was a lifelong farmer with little education and a serious stutter; conversations like this only magnified these facts. The coddling side of me wants to ooh and ahh at his stories like he is a child (he IS pretty cute). But the social worker in me reminds me that this man has lived 4 and a half times longer than me, has seen and lived things that I have no idea about, and whether he says it or not he demands my respect. Anyway, Mikey sounded downright honest when he spoke about offering his wife a divorce, but she refused. I think the phrase “don’t be stupid” had been used at Mikey in his wife’s rebuttal all those years ago… at least that is how I imagine it. Mikey’s wife has been dead for a few years now. I am not sure how she died, but I know that Mikey told me, on every visit for the first few months after meeting him, that he too wished he was dead so he could see her again. He would tell me how lonely he was, and how much he missed her. How after 70 years with a person it's impossible to experience life with out them. These were the kinds of conversations that had me running home to my own husband and demanding that I die first because I could not stand the thought of being left in my own misery like Mikey. This kind of projection is a hard thing to separate from in my line of work… how could it not be? Seeing someone like Mikey suffering the way he does makes me wonder if I will ever suffer that way too. It’s like the opposite of seeing someone win the lottery… you buy the ticket every week because who knows, that could be you one day!

Mikey’s nephew is his medical and financial power of attorney and he helps Mikey manage his finances, make medical decisions, and maintains communication with Mikey’s care providers. His nephew and I at one time attempted to help Mikey move to a nicer assisted living facility with a nicer environment, more attentive staff, better services, and, where we thought he might be happier. Mikey refused. He didn’t want to mess with the hassle of moving. So he stayed in that same recliner chair day in and day out with his country music and his hasty statements about wishing he was dead.

I’ve continued to see and visit with Mikey for over a year and a half now. Recently, I learned that Mikey had met someone (wink wink). In fact, that someone was another one of my clients! She lived in the same building and had met Mikey in the hallway one day while helping to push him in his wheel chair. As it turns out, Maggie too is a widow… and a caregiver at heart. Maggie is 85 years old, has all her own teeth and is still able to walk (these are serious points of interest between the elderly… believe you me!). Maggie attached to Mikey’s neediness like flies on honey. Before I knew it Maggie was making arrangements to have Mikey moved into her room. I did the responsible social work thing and contacted each Maggie and Mikey’s families to ensure all parties were on board with the couple living together. And, when I spoke to Mikey, although I definitely got the sense that Maggie drove him a little nuts at times, he did state “she keeps me company.”

Today, Maggie is in the hospital after a surgery, and Mikey is desperately awaiting her return. I think he’s been reminded of the loneliness from last month, and the years since his wife’s death, before Maggie came into the picture. I am nearly certain that Mikey is still waiting to die so that he can see his wife again… but at least now he has someone to wait with him.