Friday, July 10, 2020

Had to stop to pray...

Friday afternoon, I was sitting in my office "balancing" a number of tasks, none of which seemed to go with the others. I was the "only one home," as on Friday, Karen and the rest of the program and office staff work from home. I did have to sneak out around 1:00PM to get fingerprinted for the FBI check, as my FBI clearance had expired. I sure hope I don't harbor the Coronavirus, and/or that they REALLY clean that electronic fingerprinting device, as they go NUTS with rolling almost every inch of every finger and thumb around on that thing! Too bad they can't make it a dual-purpose device and have it check you for the virus at the same time, as they sure got a good sample of whatever was on any of my fingers.

Anyway, I was working on a sermon, writing my weekly update for our Friday email at St. Paul's, working on material for a wedding, answering emails and phone calls, and making contacts in my new responsibility as "eldest son," handling the financial affairs of my mother, who just turned 90. She still lives in the apartment she shared with my dad for a number of years and up until his death. She has a friend (who I think is 98?) who she speaks with, nightly, and generally is doing pretty well. Paying her bills just became too much for her, as her mental confusion is escalating. So, Dara and I made the trip up to the hometown a few times, figured out all of her finances, and set up online banking for her account so I can make all of her payments. Today was a tough day, though, as I had to call her to ask for the information off her new bank card so I could set up her local newspaper's account, which can only be paid using the card. She couldn't find her purse (which we set right beside her easy chair) and then once she found it, she couldn't find her wallet, and when she eventually found her wallet, she couldn't figure out which one was her bank card. She was frustrated and cried, apologizing for her confusion, which made me cry, and I finally just had to console her and suggest that I could ask my youngest brother to stop by after work (he lives in the same community) to find her card and call me with the information. After we hung up, I just had to stop and pray.

I prayed for my mom, I prayed for EVERYBODY'S mom, I prayed for all of the sons and daughters out there who are doing what I'm doing, and trying to intervene so an aging parent can stay happy and safe at home instead of making a transition to managed care at 90. I agreed with a prayer my mom said when we were last with her, that she could just "slip away" some night, quietly, peacefully, to be with Jesus and my dad. I know that's what she wants, but fear--like many of you do for your parent or parents--that it won't come down that way. I just had to stop and pray. While she is the last surviving parent of our four, I had to say a prayer in agreement with hers to "let her go," if it be God's will. Meanwhile, I pray to be helpful to her, keep her safe, and enable as much independence for her as I can.

She has a "Medic Alert" device, and the local EMS unit knows her (one of them is my nephew's brother-in-law) and has a key to her apartment. My youngest brother and his son and family live within minutes of her place, so she is as safe as she can be, currently. But it's hard hearing one of the smartest people I have known, a graduate of then-prestigious Allegheny General School of Nursing as a Registered Nurse, and with specialized training in mental health, be so confused she cries, quite aware of the confusion. I remember being so thankful for the closeness of prayer today, for both of us.

As I handle her finances, my indignation at the sad state of our nation and its poor care of its elderly just grows exponentially. And this is not about the current state of affairs, but about a long history of what I see as neglect. My mom worked for years as an RN in two regional hospitals, spent many years as a psychiatric nurse for the State School and Hospital in Polk, PA, and finished her nursing career in what was truly hazardous duty as a psych nurse in the now defunct Oil City Hospital Psychiatric Wing. She used to tell scary stories of mentally ill patients being dropped off in the middle of the night by the police, and how she was often threatened by them. She used to say how she would pray to God silently for them (and I'm sure for herself!) even as she talked them down, consoling and soothing them in the midst of their crisis. She was a highly skilled, overly dedicated healthcare professional who worked the dreaded 11 to 7 shift most of her career so she could put us to bed, be home when we got up in the morning, make our breakfast, pack us off to school, get dinner ready to put into the oven, and then collapse until being ready to greet us after school. After about 50 years of such dedication to institutions such as hospitals and the State of PA, what is her reward? About $1,200 in Social Security, $131 from UPMC, and $317 from the State of PA, each month. Absolutely boggles my mind.

I've traveled to a number of countries that take so much better care of their citizens, from cradle to grave. Finland is one of the happiest countries on earth. People all make a good wage, their education and healthcare are all covered, and they retire to a decent standard of living. My friends in Great Britain don't have to worry about healthcare, either, and mandatory retirement plans can't be just "cancelled" by a company when that company falters. I've had way too many senior parishioners in my 35 years in ministry in Western PA who had that happen to the pension they had worked their whole life for. "Sorry, we spent your pension. Tough luck."

On top of it all, both my parents were happy with the simple retired life these meager financial provisions offered. They never complained. I guess I'm doing that now for them both. And while our retirement promises to be better funded, much of that is because we have been able to contribute our own funds to it. Back in the day, office workers like my dad and nurses like my mom barely made enough money together to raise and feed three boys, let alone stash any future savings. I have also been able to carry a large insurance policy on myself, which would have provided for my family, had I died prematurely (itinerant preacher's families become homeless when the clergyperson dies). My dad and mom both had "whopping" $2,000 policies on themselves. It's what they could afford.

Sorry for the cathartic ramblings here, but it was a day for prayer and introspection, after that earlier phone call with a confused mom. Again, I know that these words may resonate with your own caregiving situation, currently, or may invoke painful memories of days past. One thing that I think the Spirit inspired during my "cry in my beer" prayer today was a sudden wave of gratitude for my parents, for all they sacrificed for me, and that at almost 66 years of age, I still have my mom around. The other part of that gratitude is the honor that comes from taking care of some of her affairs, which has lightened her burden and allowed her to better enjoy whatever days she has left on this earth. I'll bet you felt (or feel) that way, too. Hey, stay safe, stay well, Dear Ones! And remember, when all of this starts to get to you, stop and pray! Shalom...

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