January 28, 2013

What’s Another Word For Advocate?


 Grandma at Concert

She calls me, again, to complain about lunch. It’s the same story she told me about dinner and breakfast. The dining room didn’t give her what she asked for, they talked to her like she’s an idiot or they took too long. This is my life now that my grandma lives in a senior living center.

Senior living center sounds so nice. For the most part it is nice. It’s not her house of 44-years. Where just 9 months ago she lived in a 2,000 square foot house with a large yard and laundry room, today my grandma lives in a one-bedroom apartment with the laundry facility down the hall.

I’ve made 4 separate trips back to her house to get more of her things. The house isn’t sold yet. Yet! Every day I hope the realtor will send me an email requesting my signature on an appropriate offer. I hope. Every day. Because being responsible for all this sucks. Yes, I said it. And there is no other word that’s nicer than that or I’d use it.

I’m still her granddaughter. But years ago I became her advocate too. My grandma’s 92 and still lives by herself in her own apartment. She cooks for herself, although she can go to the dining room daily if she chooses. To listen to her, you’d think she was in a minimum security prison. Actually, she does refer to her currently living arrangement as living in a prison. So, I deal with that too.

I often go to the doctor’s appointments with her just so I know what’s going on. But even though she’s physically slow, mentally she’s as sharp as a tack and will freely tell you she has all her faculties. And yes, she is quite sharp. Unfortunately, though, there are times when she’s not. And I end up having to clean up whatever mess or misunderstanding occurs.

There are times when being an advocate means I have to be, well, assertive. I’ll call it assertive. I’m sure the various people who experience this “assertiveness” have another word to describe me. My philosophy now is that if it won’t get my grandma thrown out of her apartment or banished from an appropriate doctor then I’m going to be unapologetically assertive.

Being an advocate for an elderly family member is hard. Advocating for your child is not easy either, but for some reason the lack of compassion many people have for the elderly is disturbing. They’re not cute and cuddly little kids with big doe eyes and a smile that says “I’m just a sweet kid”. No, they’re cranky and vocal and filter-less. And when they’ve lived 8 complete decades plus, they’re quick to let you know that they’ve seen it, been there, done that, and don’t want to listen to how impossible anything is.

My grandmother’s a three-time cancer survivor. She’s outlived both of her children, 7 of her siblings, and her husband of 50+ years. She’s lived in the frigid winters of Minnesota and Bavaria, the humid-filled summers of Florida and the dry heat of the desert southwest. She’s been to over 35 different countries and can list off nearly every one of them. She’s volunteered tens of thousands of hours. Her best friend is her “baby brother”, who is 85, and she talks to him every day and has for the last 15+ years.

Most of the time none of that seems relevant to the person I have to talk with about services for my grandmother. Often she’s relegated to being the dependent of a sponsor known only by the last for digits of his social security number. I’ve said that number so many times in the past year that I know it by heart. My grandfather’s social security number is all she is to some people. And that sucks, because she’s so much more than that.

Less and less I am her granddaughter and more and more I’m her advocate. Or, if some other people had their choice I’m sure it would be something else. This is my life now and, really, I don’t mind it. But it puts a lot of other things into perspective. It’s not that I don’t care or that things don’t bother me. It’s just different now. And probably will be for awhile.




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