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‘Who Takes Care Of Whom?’ – Three Letters


Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis

Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis

For the past two weeks my column has been devoted to the plight of seniors who find themselves incapacitated and in the unfortunate situation of being placed against their will in nursing homes. For various reasons, their children are unable to care for them or engage proper help to safeguard their well being.

The response has been enormous – I received countless letters expressing various ideas and offering suggestions. Obviously, it is impossible for me to publish all of them, but I do thank all those who have taken time to write and share their thoughts. The following are just three examples of the letters that reached my desk:

Letter #1: A Senior’s Perspective

Dear Rebbetzin Jungreis:

I read with great interest and deep emotion your response to the children of the elderly, incapacitated mother who struggled with the decision to place their mother in a nursing home against her will. I am seventy years “young.” As a matter of fact, I just celebrated my birthday last week. I am part of a group of friends ranging in age from 70-80. We each live alone because we are either widowed or divorced. We often discuss this very situation: What would happen to us if, heaven forbid, illness took over and we would no longer be capable of caring for ourselves? What would our children do?

Sadly, none of us could say with certitude that our children would care for us and not place us in a home against our will. Even those among us who have some savings (as I do) have this fear lurking in our minds. Nowadays, children do not wish to be bothered with the care of elderly parents – even though they may hire companions and nurses’ aides, they do not want the responsibility of monitoring such help. I know from whence I speak. Unfortunately, I have only too often witnessed this.

Then there are financial considerations as well. Although the children may not be willing to admit to it, they often fear that the cost of caring for their parents (although it would be coming from their parents’ estates) would cut into their inheritance. Unfortunately, this too I have seen. So when your article appeared, we were glad you brought the issue to the fore, especially when you quoted the Yiddish proverb, “Ein mama ken aushalten tzen kinder, uber tzen kinder kennen nisht aushalten ein mama” – “One mother can care for ten children, but ten children can’t care for one mother.”

I just hope that some of those “busy” young and middle-aged children who don’t have the time to visit their elderly parents will re-think their conduct and attitudes. Often, my friends and I tell each other that G-d should spare us from ever having to need our children. One of my friends, who is seventy-seven, and whose condition demands that she make regular doctor’s visits, shared with me that when it comes to going to her physician, there is always a discussion among her five children as to whose turn it is to take her. That “back and forth” discussion is mortifying and very painful to her. She has very often told them they shouldn’t do her any favors, that she’ll take a cab and go by herself, but then they become indignant, and things become worse. No matter which way she turns, she can’t win.

So once again, thank you, Rebbetzin, for bringing this problem to the fore – it’s long overdue. I just hope that the children of the elderly will read it and absorb it!

Letter #2: Solutions That Have Worked

Dear Rebbetzin:

I love your columns and your books and I thank you for all I’ve learned from you. I read this column with interest as I was in a similar position before my mother of blessed memory passed on four years ago.

My sisters and I solved this dilemma in a way you did not mention, so I thought I’d write you about what worked for us.

We tried the local Jewish Home Services but found the people they sent didn’t relate well to my mom nor she to them. Since all the alternatives were equally costly, we settled on hiring me as my mom’s professional helper. I was already helping a retired rabbi in her neighborhood and I had half a day available, so I took on my mom as my second client. Because I was working in a paid position, I was able to have more patience with my mom than I did in the role of daughter/helper. Also, this alleviated any guilt on the part of my sisters who lived in distant cities for their inability to visit more than a few weeks a year. My salary came from my mom’s savings and Social Security. The savings were to be our inheritance, so we all shared equally in paying my salary.

We carried on this way for a few years. When my mom needed more, we found a university student in her 40′s who was attending graduate school. She needed a place to live, so in exchange for her board, she was a companion for my mom in the evening, and in case of emergencies, she could call me to come over. This also worked well until my mom needed the additional help of nursing staff.

She spent her last year in an assisted living apartment, as she could no longer climb the stairs at home, which was a necessity. She also had much more stimulation from the activities at the facility than I could provide for her on my own, so it all worked out very satisfactorily. She had not wanted to live in such a facility, but finally remarked that it was the best place for her in the end. This was a huge admission on my mom’s part; it taught me that though parents are adamant against leaving their homes, if they have to be carried out and end up in a decent facility that is the last confining for them, they may eventually realize that it is the best place.

I just wanted to share this. It is an idea that many people overlook for many reasons, but I think it is a great solution for those whose savings allow for it. In this regard, many states used to provide stipends for family members who spent regular working hours with parents as their helper, and it’s good to check with state agencies about this possibility.

Letter # 3: City and Communal Help

Dear Rebbetzin:

There are many city and community agencies to help this woman with regard to her mother. Her lack of funds should in no way impede her access to care. The Department for The Aging website – www.nyc.gov/html/dfta/html/home/home.shtml – should lead her to sources within her zip code. If her children use a computer and Google NYC Department for Aging, they can access a panoply of services. Furthermore, her local assemblyman’s office in Boro Park should be able to direct her to both Jewish and community services. (Assemblyman Dov Hikind serves the 48th District – Boro Park, Dyker Heights, Kensington, and parts of Flatbush. Address: Dov Hikind, New York State Assembly District Office, 1310 48th Street, Brooklyn, NY 11219. Phone: 718-853-9616. Fax: 718 436-5734.)

Regrettably, the writer’s problem is not unique, but help is available. Good luck!

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