by Kathryn Larlee, Attorney
This post is part one of a series of blog posts discussing the importance of senior independence in our communities.
The year is 1912 and a young woman sets out from Virginia in a horse drawn buggy. She is moving to northern Maine with her husband who works for the railroad. This woman rolls up her sleeves and goes to work, making a home. She can cook a full dinner, including bread, on a wood stove, she has enough property to keep a garden, a woodshed off the kitchen, and 10 children, each one born at home; she can do this. During the depression, she sets out a bag of food and a sleeping bag on the back porch for the hobos who are drifting through. The sleeping bag is folded and left on the porch, sometimes with a note of thanks. When her husband dies and her children are grown, she continues in her home; this place is infused with her spirit, her heart, and the work of her hands.
In 1979, she is hospitalized for complications related to diabetes and has her leg amputated below the knee. She waits to be released to go home. No one answers her questions about when she can expect to return home. Finally, a nurse informs her that she will not go home, she is too old to take care of herself, and she will have to go to long term nursing home care. She regards the nurse for a long moment, then says, “I might as well just die, then.” The nurse gives her a kind pat and reassures her that she will be fine. That night, the woman prepares for bed as usual. She never wakes up. Did she just lose the will to live when she had no hope of returning to her home, her life and the activities that gave her the sense of living?
It can be easy to look at a person who is older and see only a frail person in need of help. However, that person has a history and a story and an identity that is still alive and vital. The vitality of that identity demands to live, to be a part of life. Each person has a sense of what he or she needs to feel that life continues to have meaning, and for many adults that means being able to stay at home rather than going to a facility.
The Administration on Aging (AoA), through the Older Americans Act and other legislation, supports programs that help older adults maintain their independence and dignity in their homes and communities. In addition, AoA provides funding for a range of supports to family caregivers.
Kathryn Larlee is a licensed Michigan attorney who assists the Mid-America Pension Rights Project with research, appeals, and client support. Ms. Larlee also works on the Legal Hotline for Michigan Seniors providing advice and support to seniors on a wide range of legal issues. Ms. Larlee is a graduate of Michigan State University College of Law and worked with the Chance at Childhood Clinic at MSU before joining Elder Law of Michigan. Ms. Larlee began with Elder Law as a Legal Intern in 2013 and continued to work as a volunteer until she joined Elder Law of Michigan full-time in August 2014.