The holiday season has always been one of my favorite times of the year. My grandparents lived about three hours away, and we did not get to see them as much as I would have liked. Like all families, we kids had sports and engagements; my parents had work and other obligations. As an adult, I wish more than ever to get some of that time back. One particular year always stands out in my mind. My Grandmother was an excellent cook. She always made some of the best meals that I can recall. There was never any measuring of ingredients or cookbooks involved. She was like Mickey Mouse in Fantasia, conducting the components into their various pans and bowls. The mixer would sing, the stove pumped out pies, turkey, and a multitude of scrumptious dishes. There appeared to be no effort at all. She would buzz from room to room, preparing dishes and visiting with family. Looking back as an adult, I am much more in awe than I was as a child.
One year things changed. Between the start of school, when we were last there to that very Thanksgiving, things were not like they were in the previous years. We arrived in the morning at a house with smoke billowing from the kitchen. The microwave was emitting a bevy of sparks, and the tinfoil was the culprit. There was tinfoil in the microwave, along with a black piece of bacon and a cup of coffee. As kids, we thought it was kind of funny that Grandma almost caught the house on fire with a bit of tinfoil.
We had no idea that there was a progression of a disease. She said that she didn’t realize that it was nested in the microwave with her coffee. She gave a chuckle, which opened the gates for us kids to have a good laugh with her. We joked about it with her, not in a demeaning way, but she thought it was kind of funny, and so we played along. Not long after, she started to ask about the smell in the house. We thought it was strange, but she would have a good laugh again, as the story was retold. At some point in the early afternoon, the plans changed. My dad decided to let her have the day off, and we enjoyed a quick meal to go from the grocery store. It was not the feast that we were accustomed to, but we could understand the change with all the excitement. After all, the microwave did almost burn entirely up. My Grandmother never did cook for us again. There is still a part of me, now in my adulthood, that longs for her rhubarb pie and candied yams. The smell of food brought our family together around their small wooden table for my entire life until that day. Looking back, there were warning signs. On the previous trip, the house was not immaculate like it had been. There were spoiled dishes in the fridge. There was a candelabra that was covered in wax, along with the table. The signs were there, but it took a specific event to finally see that my grandparents were no longer safe by themselves.
There were a few instances after that day that finally forced change. The change was scary. They went into an assisted living that was much different from the one that I work at today. It was a room with a bed and TV, not far off from a skilled facility. But they were safe. We came to visit them more often. We made more time to be there. We still celebrated holidays and birthdays. We knew that they were safe when we left. I hold an array of memories as close to my heart as the smell of turkey and giblet gravy. Had action not been taken, I may not have those memories. So to all of you, and from my heart, I ask that you evaluate the living conditions of the elderly and investigate those things that don’t seem consistent with the image you knew just months before.
Here are a few things that you can look for:
1. Full medication bottles that were not recently filled.
2. Problems remembering to turn off or how to operate appliances.
3. The home is not adequately clean.
4. The temperature of the home is not congruent with external conditions.
5. Fire hazards.
7. Missing steps when preparing a meal or completing a task.
8. Changes in hygiene.
9. Changes in physical ability.
Be cognizant of changes, and if your gut tells you that something is wrong, investigate. Have an open dialog about why things are different and always approach it from a place of love. Enjoy your family this holiday and cherish every moment.