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Old Dogs and Elderly Characters

March 2, 2010

As some of you know, for the last several months, I’ve been taking care of the woman who gave me life as she slips deeper and deeper into what is referred to as her second childhood. I’m going to begin this topic with a joke someone sent me not long ago. Hopefully, it will make most of my point.

One day an old German Shepherd started chasing rabbits. Before long, he discovered he was lost. Wandering about, he noticed a panther heading rapidly in his direction with the obvious intention of having lunch.
The old German Shepherd thought, Oh, oh! I’m in deep doo-doo now! Noticing some bones on the ground close by, he immediately settled down and chewed on the bones with his back to the approaching cat. Just as the panther is about to leap, the old German Shepherd exclaimed loudly, “Boy, that was one delicious panther! I wonder if there are any more around here?”
Hearing this, the young panther halted his attack in mid-strike. A look of terror crossed his features, and he slinked away into the trees. “Whew!” said the panther, “That was close! That old German Shepherd nearly had me!”
Meanwhile, a squirrel, who had been watching the whole scene from a nearby tree, figured he could put this knowledge to good use and trade it for protection from the panther. So, off he went. The squirrel soon caught up with the panther, spilled the beans and struck a deal for himself with the panther.
The young panther was furious at being made a fool of and said, “Here, squirrel, hop on my back and see what’s going to happen to that conniving canine!”
Now, the old German Shepherd saw the panther returning with the squirrel on his back and thought, What am I going to do now? Instead of running, the dog sat down with his back to his attackers, pretending he hadn’t seen them yet. Just when they got close enough to hear, the old German Shepherd said, “Where’s that squirrel? I sent him off an hour ago to bring me another panther!”
Moral of this story…
Don’t mess with the old dogs. Age and skill will always overcome youth and treachery. BS and brilliance come with age and experience.

Of course, I am in no way insinuating that any of us are old. Some of us are just more youthfully challenged. Does that sound politically correct?

As I made the rounds of rehabilitation and nursing facilities, I was appalled at the number of elders who are stuck away from family and friends and left with no stimulation and seemingly no one to care. They sit unseeing, unloved, unthinking. These are the men who won World War II and women who struck out from home, many for the first time, and riveted airplane parts for that same war. The men and women who were once the backbone of this country… now left in the dregs to rot.

Western civilization has moved so far and progressed so rapidly that it has picked up on a barbaric custom of the past. Elders and weak babes were once left out in the elements to die because they were of no use to society. Have we not done the same thing, except that we have prolonged death? I have to wonder if we are not almost as cruel. The multigenerational home of the Waltons has been replaced by multi-care-leveled senior facilities where we can shove grandma and grandpa and see them for requisite Sunday visits or holiday outings.

I love quirky characters and have written my share of them. For some reason, I’ve always shied away from writing a dementia character. Working with geriatric psych patients probably gave me a different perspective than others. At some point I think I’ll write one and treat the character gently. As my mother declines, she still has her lucid moments. She still occasionally comes out with bits of wisdom I write down and will share.

Someday, society will have to answer for how we have treated our elderly, mentally retarded, and mentally ill. But as writers, we can paint a picture of how the world should be. While writing quirky elders, we can still respect them. And maybe, we can occasionally let them spout some of those platitudes we hated to hear while growing up that made us the dynamic individuals we have become.

Until next time, happy reading and writing!

20 Comments leave one →
  1. March 2, 2010 7:01 am

    Great blog. I loved the little fable about the panther and the dog. Unfortunately, I think you are right about the nursing homes too. I have an adult son who is physically and cognitively disabled. Teachers and medical professionals are always surprised when we insist on keeping him in our home. The “professionals” suggest that our lives would be greatly improved if we put him in a group home. Also, he should “get used to it” because someday we will be too old to care for him. He is a great joy to have around and I will be truly sorry if the day ever comes when there’s no one left in the family to care for him.

    • March 2, 2010 10:47 am

      Hi Gail:
      I have a friend who has an elder brother who sounds very similar to your son. When her father died a few years past, she and her husband took in her brother. They also have a young child and the added stimulation is good for him. The family has always referred to him as their blessing and God’s gift. There is one other sister, and they have a pack. As long as they are alive and able, their brother will always have a home outside of a facility. I’ve always admired them for that, and I admire you too. It takes a special person to care for special people.

  2. Eclaire permalink
    March 2, 2010 9:46 am

    This is a subject that is dear to me. I have a degree in gerontology and have lamented over the sad treatment the Western world deals out to its oldest generations. I had my mother living with me until the end. Her health was declining and she was no longer able to stay on her own. She was 86 when she decided to give up her independence and move in with me. She so enriched our lives that I wish everyone could experience such joy. Don’t think that everything was roses, because it wasn’t, but it was entertaining. One day she called the police and told them that she was in the “great big house” all by herself and she was afraid. Shortly after that call, the police arrived and asked about the call. My husband and oldest son were home. They took the policeman out to see my mother and asked her if she had called the police. Her response? “I don’t think so. Did I do that? No, I don’t think I did that. You two are here with me. Why would I call the police?” She had so many reflective moments that she shared with me in her more lucid moments. I wouldn’t trade those for anything. They are treasures beyond measure.

    • March 2, 2010 10:52 am

      I have to chuckle here, Eclaire. Before her last series of falls, my mother began confusing TV with reality. She called the police because she knew the stolen baby was down the hall and she was hiding so the kidnappers wouldn’t find her. 3am with sirens blaring, the police arrived and woke up everyone else in the house. Bless her sweet heart. My sister and I are hoping that rehab will help strengthen her enough the at we can handle her at home again.
      And thanks for the joke. It came at the perfect time for me.

  3. Donna Goode permalink
    March 2, 2010 12:00 pm

    Oh, Mary…
    This has been such a touching read and I agree with you so wholeheartedly. First of all, I hope you’ll accept my condolences on your dear mother’s deteriorating condition. So many of us have or have had the care of an aging parent but some of us have had the privilege of caring for them in other settings. They have so much to teach us…if we’ll only take the time to listen. Unfortunately, for those of us with the privilege of caring for them, at least now and again, time is a luxury we don’t often have. Thank you for posting such a sensitive, thoughtful and well-written article.
    –Donna Goode

    • March 2, 2010 10:07 pm

      Donna: I’m so glad you stopped by. I have total respect for the individuals who choose to work with the elderly and who treat them well. I have even greater respect for those who keep them home within the family in familiar surroundings. Most people do not realize this slows the decline. And lastly, I feel sorry for those who truly want to keep the elderly at home, but know doing so could endanger them or their elderly loved one. We are praying my mother will regain enough strength in her legs to walk without falling. With my post-wreck back and multiple joint replacements, I simply can’t pick her up when she falls. I went to see her tonight and took her dog with me. Gracie is a geriatric therapy dog anyway. It was wonderful to see the reaction of all the rehab seniors when Gracie arrived. She knows her job well: love everyone. It also made mom’s day to see her baby again.

  4. marylou anderson permalink
    March 2, 2010 3:08 pm

    Hey great blog: particularly your story about the panther & the dog.
    My materal grannie lives with my family for 20 yrs. shewas 86 when she died.
    The entire family learned about caring for a family member at home. She was pretty confused at the end..although she did not cal the police.
    I am a polio survivor who developed “new” problems in my 40’s. Facing up to these changes were the absolute hardest thing to do ever: like moving in to a new place without stairs; getting the rest of the family on board; and trying not to have my feelingshurt when someone made a comment about my problem…I worry my husband will get tired of “helping” me.
    I try to be as independent as I can so that day when he’s tired is a ways off.

    • March 2, 2010 10:13 pm

      Hi Mary Lou:
      I have to admit the tale about the old dog and panther came to me from Eclaire, who posted earlier. It just seemed like such an excellent summary of part of what I wanted to convey.
      I’m sorry to hear of your struggle with Polio. Contrary to popular belief, it is not a dead disease. I can also empathize. After my wreck, my biggest fear was being a burden. I tend to try to do things I know I shouldn’t just because I don’t want to bother someone. I learned the hard way, better to bother someone than have another surgery. Now my biggest fear is ending up alone in a nursing home when I’m older…

  5. March 2, 2010 4:22 pm

    Mary, I found your post, and each of the comments so far, incredibly though-provoking. I’m lucky that my parents, both in their 80s, are still healthy and sharp of mind. But who knows what the future will bring? Our society is too youth-oriented and too fast-paced. We need to learn to slow down, appreciate the small things and find value in everyone – and make room for them in our lives and hearts. Thank you for reminding us of that.

  6. March 2, 2010 10:16 pm

    Allison: I think you’ve hit the nail on the head. We need to slow down and appreciate each other. We are all unique, valuable, rare and precious. It would be nice if everyone could remember that. Thanks for stopping by.

  7. March 3, 2010 11:48 am

    Mary, with the help of wonderful caregivers, I was responsible for my mother during her final years. I am so grateful that she was able to spend those at home. (Due to foreward thinking on her part, I might add.) She died in her sleep in her own bed two years ago. I am still processing that in my writing, so a very special character will be in my 2011 book.

    • March 3, 2010 3:44 pm

      Ah, Blythe, I’m so glad your mother was able to be home with with you. That is my hope for my own mother. I’ll be looking forward to the special character you mentioned in 2011.

  8. March 4, 2010 8:39 am

    Hi Mary. I’d love to be as clever as that German shepherd! He certainly has the power of positive thinking. I’m so sorry your mother has become your “child.” She’s lucky to have you looking out for her. I lost both my parents to cancer, my father when he was only 59 and my mother at 75. Hence, I have no direct knowledge of elder care. My grandparents lived into their 80s, and both died at home and were waked in their living room in true Irish style. I recall my very dedicated aunts hiring a hospital bed and a companion lady to stay with my grandmother while they worked. My mother-in-law spent her last years in an Alzheimer’s home, a very sad situation, and yes, the people who work in such places are special. Thank you for a thought provoking post.

    • March 8, 2010 10:41 pm

      So glad you dropped by, Pat. There is nothing like a good Irish wake. You should see my family with the Italians on one side of the room wondering at the Scots-Irish. My father was the second McCall to have meatballs, ravioli and canneloni on the food table.

  9. Robin Hillyer-Miles permalink
    March 5, 2010 10:18 am

    Great post Mary!

  10. March 9, 2010 12:50 pm

    In Croatia there aren’t that many facilities for elderly as in the western world. The grandparents are the part of the family till the end. And those who do end up in the nursing home staff would never treat the way they are treated here. That’s just unheard of. The communities are so close knit that something like that kind of treatment would be detected and reported so soon by the families that they would not have time to do much harm.
    I remember my grandma living with us during the winter months and her funny stories about her young days. She never called police though, the generation gap was so huge that she never used a phone and did not know how to use one. We’d pass her the receiver if my aunt wanted to talk to her and she’d looked at it as if “what am I suppose to do with this?” Her and the technology did not mix! That is something I’d like my children to grow up with. But, my parents are far away on another continent and my in-laws were bit closer (in same country and province) but we don’t get to see them often either. Everyone’s life is so busy these days that no one sees how life is passing us by.

  11. Judy permalink
    May 8, 2010 5:07 pm

    Love the fable. That was cute. Mary, you are so right about those left in nursing homes. But lately, I’vemet more and more young people meaning my kids ages, that are caring for their parents at home…for as long as they can. What a blessing. So maybe we aren’t all lost. I have a friend who worked with Alheimizers who said these people are lucky…they get to live life twice. Once forward and then backward. It is hard on those who love them but from this perspective, maybe the sting isn’t so sharp.
    Bless you for taking such care. The panther will never visit your door.

  12. buffi permalink
    July 6, 2010 5:45 pm

    I enjoyed this, Mary. I too, took care of my grandparents. My Mammie just passed (right after my mother) and now it seems my 94 year old Pappie may soon follow. 3 deaths in 1 year…rough. Though taking care of them was exhausting, and emotionally trying, those years with them mean soooo much to me (and to my children who helped me).
    We don’t cherish our elderly as we should, and it’s sad.
    I’m glad I stumbled across this blog, Mary. It brought back many wonderful memories of my mother, Mammie and Pappie. I wish your mother well, and God bless all those who are caretakers. It’s a gloriously difficult, yet rewarding job. 🙂
    Love you Mary! ~buffi

  13. July 7, 2010 9:24 pm

    So glad you found me, buffi. My online time is so restricted in the e-coli infection. Mom gets worse day by day. I’m really missing the old her. It is even harder to care for the elderly when they have mean dementia. I’ll keep you in my prayers. So sorry you’ve been through so many deaths this year. Wish you were here.

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