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Elder Care by Government ... or Friends & Family?

Caring for seniors and the vulnerable members of our family and community is more than a burden, it is an opportunity for organically growing the riches of humanity.

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We care about people - and especially about our family and close friends. But sometimes it just seems "easier" to let these loved ones depend on government programs than to reach out personally. So we don't grouse too much about Social Security and other taxes that we know support the vulnerable groups that, who knows, we could become part of at some point.

But what if we could work some "caring moments" into our everyday routines? What if we could become efficient at caring for those who have cared for us ... and whom we care about? Would you be willing to help rebuild a bit of that safety net in your own local -- very local -- community?

"State and local governments would identify retirees who need assistance with such tasks as medication management, housekeeping, meal preparation and transportation. These people would become eligible for vouchers enabling them to hire assistants from certified personal-service companies for a low hourly cost. A federal subsidy would top up wages, ensuring that workers earned above a reasonable minimum," states Nancy Folbre, in an article entitled "Improving Home-Care Services, Creating Jobs".

Maybe we could work these safety net services into our own schedules:

  • Medication management
  • Housekeeping
  • Meal preparation
  • Transportation
A few other items are also essential for good health and vitality. Visiting. New experiences. Adventure. Productivity - like gardening or babysitting or baking, or organizing family photos, etc.

With just a little thought, and regular schedules, such as helping refill pill boxes once a week; or scheduling our kids to run the vacuum cleaner and swipe out the bathtub each Saturday morning before they go play with friends -- or maybe making a tasty "extra dish" a couple nights a week and freezing them. Maybe simple things like that could enrich our own relationships, and reduce the loneliness and struggles for one or two seniors we adore.

This is not to deny the necessity of paid team members to be there during extreme or ongoing challenges. But family interaction is always vital.

It occurred to me the other day that my son will be 60 when I'm 80 (approximately). We'll BOTH be old :-) Who will do the heavy cleaning for BOTH of us? Who will we be able to help with childcare and gardening tips? And memories, and making new memories that enrich the soul?

The multigenerational web of knowledge, relationships, exchange of services is an important part of a social safety net -- for everybody. We really can't afford to BUY all these services at retail prices with layers of bureaucracy intervening. We need to barter these services based on caring and sharing and learning from one another.

I recently helped a dear friend who was 15 years older than me with a variety of little jobs as we spent time visiting and drinking many a cup'a tea. By spending time with her and learning to know one another's expressions and emotions and hot buttons, I was also prepared to help her during her final months during her struggles with cancer and a broken hip and her final struggles before death.

Only by developing a caring exchange of time, services, knowledge and supportive encouragement were we able to spend those months together with open hearts.

It took time away from my work. It was sometimes more costly than I would have liked. But friendship has worth that is much deeper than financial stability or even career advancement. Friendship develops a humanizing value. We put things into perspective better when we know the specifics of struggling to pay outlandish medical bills. Or how everyone wants money for everything after your husband dies -- the go-to guy for all things broken.

We can't rely on government and strangers and even hired assistants for this transfer of humanity among friends and neighbors and family.

So, I hope you have the guts to take time off from your busy schedule and enjoy the tenderness, the gentleness, the inspiration, the fears and the heartaches that come with helping people you love with real, essential services. With love.

Edited by Carolyn Allen
| careers for women |

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