This is not an easy post for me to write.
You may have noticed I have been away from this space for a few days.
I want to tell you something – not because I want to garner a fascinated audience, but in the hope that at some point, someone might read this and take heed.
First, a disclaimer: this post does not concern my mother, nor myself directly, although the subject of it has had repercussions for us both. It does concern family members – close family, in fact.
You see, on the morning of March 29 (Good Friday) we learned that my almost 90-year old aunt has been being beaten for some time by her 65-year old, mentally-challenged daughter and live-in companion.
Thankfully, the beatings were not severe, but I can tell you that my aunt is a diminutive woman and her daughter is quite a sizable woman.
I was downstairs on the computer when my mother got the news. She was on the phone with her sister (the victim) and my husband was somewhere else in our house. Out of the blue, I heard loud wailing! I must tell you that initially, I thought my mother was on her computer in her room above me and had received a video that I had seen the day before on the internet featuring two howling huskies.
This was not the case.
My mother started calling for me, “Kathleen! Can you come here?” in between sobs and wails. I raced up the stairs thinking she had injured herself, or she was bleeding, or she had heard that someone was dead. I didn’t know what to think.
I found her on the bed in a state of near-hysteria and in between wails, she said she had just talked to her sister and that my cousin had been taken away by the police and hospitalized, because my aunt had admitted to my other cousin that she was being punched by her daughter. She said this had been going on for about two months. (We have learned since, that it was going on longer than that.)
My immediate concern was to calm my mother down. I sat beside her and held her head to my chest, stroking her hair. I reasoned that the situation was now under control, that my cousin was removed from the situation and that my aunt was not seriously hurt. By this time, my husband had come running in to see what was going on, and he backed me up, saying also that things could have been so much worse, but that my aunt was safe and this would never happen again.
I know that I should not judge, but I have to say I am angry. I have never understood my aunt’s family of four adult children who have let this living arrangement persist for so long. I cannot fathom why a 90 year old woman has been left caring for an adult woman since basically 1980. In the past, I have also been mystified as to why my aunt was permitted to drive a car until just last year (I have seen with my own eyes, her recklessness on the road).
You cannot tell people how to live their lives. With families, you can think one thing, but you must be guarded about what you say. My father never had that problem – he was a full steam ahead and damn-the-torpedoes kind of guy. He worried about repercussions after the fact. I am rather like that too, but I am a bit more careful.
A couple of years ago, we took my mother to visit her sister and we tried to suggest that she should move out of her big, old house. (She had seen the nice apartment that my widowed mother was living in at the time, and had been very impressed.) My cousin was in the room at the time, and she flew into a rage! We were extremely taken aback by this.
Never did we hesitate to make my other cousins aware of our experience, but they did not seem to regard this as a problem.
My mother would have phone conversations with her sister where she could hear yelling in the background and suddenly my aunt would cut her off and hang up the phone. My mother shared this information with my cousins too.
Denial is a very dangerous thing.
Here is the reason I have divulged these family secrets: If you know of any senior in a similar situation where a companion or caregiver is stressed, depressed or unstable in any way, please advise someone and get the situation assessed as soon as possible.
My cousin (the one inflicting the abuse) cannot be fully culpable. She is a 65-year old woman with a developmental disability who, had she been born in later years, would most likely be a self-sufficient, functioning member of society. Instead, her life has been thwarted at every turn. She was deprived of full education because in her early life, some “well-meaning” assessors determined that she would “never do math” or “read and write” well. She was stamped with a seal of disapproval and destined to be a burden to her parents and ultimately to her resentful siblings.
Though she has been begrudgingly included in family events, she has been mainly ignored and foisted on her mother since her father died in 1980. Even more sad is the fact that for a a few years she herself worked in a care-giving facility and met a male work-companion who shared her interests and enjoyed her companionship. Sadly, his mother put a stop to their relationship and that is when she became a truly tragic figure – staying home, eating herself into obesity, staying up until the wee hours of the morning, and sleeping until noon.
Nobody seemed to see that these are classic signs of DEPRESSION. Nobody seemed to realize that leaving this aging woman with health and mental issues with a senior citizen was a problem.
Don’t let this happen to someone you love or even someone you just know. Do the best for our seniors. Report situations. Bring in outside care, even if it is only to make regular checks on the situation.
Even the best of families have secrets behind closed doors.
Post Script: My cousin is now in care, and my aunt is at home. An effort is being made to bring an outside caregiver in to check on her daily. I am hopeful that a decent life lies ahead for both of them, for however long that may be.