Guilt, I’m discovering, is a huge part of this aging thing. Our parent feels guilt for putting us out, frets about being a burden, worries about picking up the phone to ask for help. We the adult children question our decisions, second-guess our actions, and feel guilt for all we can’t do.
I feel similar guilt with my preschool-aged children—worrying about their school, wondering if I’m reading enough books, stressing because they like only one vegetable. But with young children, it’s ok—even expected—to ask for help. You hire a babysitter when you need a break, send them to an afterschool program when you’re stuck late at work, or you get your neighbor to watch them while you run to the grocery store. “It takes a village to raise a child,” we’re told, and so we use that village.
With aging, the adult emotions of pride, embarrassment, shame, and loss get involved, and we’re suddenly incapable of asking for help. We feel it’s a betrayal to share with an outsider our loved one’s struggle or we’re in denial that we even need help. We think it’s abandonment to enlist someone else’s help in caring for our spouse or parents, or if we’re the aging person himself, we’re too embarrassed or proud to ask for help.
A friend of mine from Africa recently described to me his frustration with the way we deal with aging in America. Where he grew up, aging wasn’t a big issue because it was openly dealt with. Families were huge, and he grew up from an early age knowing the importance of elders and taking care of them. Aging loved ones aren’t embarrassed to ask for help, and full communities of people aren’t reluctant to give it.
The reality is it takes a village to care for our seniors. We have that village here already—with our senior center, GLSS and North Shore Elder Services, home care providers, various assisted living and nursing facilities, and many other resources available to people—but we’re usually too embarrassed/scared/frustrated/confused to use them. Imagine how much easier it would be if everyone went around saying, “It takes a village,” in reference to caring for our aging loved ones as much as they say it about our raising our little ones. We’d all have permission to ask for help, and we’d all feel an obligation to provide it.
With Thanksgiving here and the winter approaching, this may be the time of year aging loved ones and their families need help the most. Whether you’re in a position of needing help or not, you can always be on the lookout to offer it. Check in on an older neighbor (or better yet, join her for tea), call a friend who’s caring for his aging parent, offer to stand in line at the post office to mail a senior’s packages, volunteer to serve lunch at the senior center. It truly does take a village, and that village starts with us.
This article was originally posted in the Swampscott Reporter. FirstLight Home Care of Salem, MA provides non-medical in-home care to adults in Swampscott, Marblehead, Lynn, Salem, Peabody, Danvers, Beverly, and Lynnfield. For more information on the senior care resources in your area and tips for initiating those tough conversations, please visit FirstLight’s website at www.firstlighthomecare.com or contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.