HELP LINE: Sometimes a chance is all you need to help

“PRIDE COMETH BEFORE a fall,” we’ve been told. Well, nothing can hurt your pride (and other relevant body parts) like falling over, but, no, I’m not going to go on about “fall prevention,” although it puts more of us in nursing homes and morgues than you might care to know.

No, today I’m going to go on about “pride” and independence. And fear.

And “help.”

Not long ago I was contacted by the son of a local gal. The son lives in another state with a family, a job and a life, and he obviously loves his mother.

He contacted me looking for help for his mom, because he thought she might be “slipping.” You know, maybe not remembering everything, maybe not eating so well, maybe not getting the housework done. Maybe not remembering everything, like medical appointments. And maybe not being able to get around anymore, and maybe … not … maybe.

We talked on the phone for a while. As it turned out, he and his sister, who lives in another state with a family, a job and a life and, as it turned out, obviously loves her mother, were going to be in town soon, so maybe we could get together and delve into a bit more detail about “help.” Sure! And maybe, says I, your mom could join us.

Well, she did, and as it turns out, she and I had talked about this and that at one or two events in the past. No, we don’t hang out together on weekends, but we were certainly able and quick to say, “Hi. How are ya?”

We talked. They talked. I paid particular attention to what Mom had to say.

So what’s my take on Mom?

Well, maybe a little early memory loss and maybe a bit of relatively “minor” confusion, but mostly alert, bright, quick to laugh and able to pretty much follow the conversation, but I’m no diagnostician.

Help at home

We talked. They talked. Son and daughter, who obviously love their mother, wanted Mom to get help at home as soon as possible. So we talked about homecare agencies, home-delivered meals, transportation and blah blah — even “housing options,” which is a euphemism for things like assisted living facilities, etc. But mostly we talked about help at home: agencies, private providers, etc. Help at home.

The kids were respectful of Mom’s independence, but the kids were also afraid for her. I don’t blame them.

Mom took all this “help at home” talk with something less than unbridled enthusiasm: She smiled a lot and nodded a lot and kidded a bit and pointed out all the things that she was doing for herself, thank-you-very-much, but mostly she smiled a lot and nodded a lot. I started focusing pretty much exclusively on Mom and Mom started talking more-or-less exclusively to me. Sometimes, it’s easier to do that with a stranger.

Mom and I both knew what would happen: The kids had families and jobs and lives in other states, and soon they would have to go home and all of this would go away. Mom was doing a great job of “getting through it.”

So, I negotiated with Mom: “What’s the hardest thing for you to get done these days?”

“Vacuuming!” (Note: Vacuuming is often a biggie, because it’s hard work, especially in a split-level home.)

“Well, and on some days, getting the laundry up and down those stairs …”

Other than that, everything was fine.

You could hear the kids’ eyes roll.

Here’s what Mom and I negotiated: She and the kids would contact all of the local homecare agencies for prices, “minimums,” procedures, etc. (Note: The kids were footing the bills).

And they would find one who could send in someone just to help with the vacuuming and the laundry.

“Hey, look: If she rubs you the wrong way, you can always fire her or get somebody else.”

While Mom’s enthusiasm remained distinctly bridled, she saw the same thing that I saw: a way out.

A way to ameliorate the kids and get them out of town and off her back without seeming ungrateful or making them angry.

“I can live with that.” She smiled.

The kids didn’t, but they saw the same thing that I saw, which was that this was as good as this was going to get, and that’s what did, ultimately, occur.

Not about sides

The other thing that occurred was that the kids — who obviously love their mother — were a bit disgusted with me. They expected and wanted me to be on their “side,” to see that Mom needed help and to help them talk her into “help.”

Here’s why I didn’t do that: It almost never works.

We come charging in, set up all kinds of “help” (because we obviously love our mothers) then go back to our families, our lives and our jobs, and as soon as Mom figures that your plane has landed, she fires everybody and stops everything and resolves to never go through that again. And to be very careful of what she says to you.

It’s about independence and it’s about fear, but for today, it can just be about “pride.”

Here’s what I got: a chance. There was a chance that the homecare aide who came in to help Mom with the vacuuming and the laundry would be a good, decent, pleasant, respectful person. They often are.

And there was a chance that they would become “friends,” in a professional way. There was a chance that, as time went on, Mom might be open to a little more help with a few other things. And there was a chance that homecare aide would become the eyes and ears in Mom’s house; a decent person who could see how Mom was really doing.

And there was a chance that Mom might even call me to talk it over, so I was willing to take a chance at having a chance, rather than know darned good and well that Mom would blow up the whole darned thing before the kids got through airport security.

We’ll see. I don’t blame the kids for being disgusted with me, because they didn’t get the “help” they thought they wanted. Mom got more “help” than she thought she wanted, but she could live with it.

And, happily, I got the only thing that I wanted: a chance.

“Help” only helps if the person being helped thinks it helps. Otherwise, it’s just another annoyance, and we all know how we deal with annoyances.

Pride is important.

Respect is important.

Love is important.

I’ll take my chances.

Public hearings

Every four years, Olympic Area Agency on Aging goes through a broad planning process to develop the next Four Year Area Plan, engaging community, stakeholders, clients, staff and local leaders.

Once in draft form, we present that document during a public hearing process in each county.

We invite members of the community and providers to attend the public hearing in their region or to send us feedback on the plan.

In Clallam County, the public hearing will be Wednesday from 10 a.m. to 11 a.m. in the Board Room, No. 160, at the Courthouse, 223 E. Fourth St., in Port Angeles.

In Jefferson County, the hearing will be Thursday, from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m., in the Commissioners Chambers at the courthouse, 1820 Jefferson St., Port Townsend.


Mark Harvey is director of Clallam/Jefferson Senior Information & Assistance, which operates through the Olympic Area Agency on Aging. He is also a member of the Community Advocates for Rural Elders partnership. He can be reached at 360-452-3221 (Port Angeles-Sequim), 360-385-2552 (Jefferson County) or 360-374-9496 (West End), or by emailing [email protected].

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