Lean On Me . . . But Not Too Much

Grief and Loss, Respite for Caregivers, Senior Home Assistance, Senior Home Help, Taking Care of Elderly ParentsEven I am getting to the age when some of my friends are dying.  In fact, my friend Rose, age 57, died this weekend after a long and courageous battle with breast and ovarian cancer which had spread to her brain.  It is difficult, to say the least, to lose a friend.

The skill of making new friends is important to possess as you age, especially if you end up leaving your home and community and moving into a senior housing or assisted living building.  As a social worker for a company providing home care services for seniors, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard from my clients about how difficult it is for them to get close to people in the senior living facilities in which they reside.  The difficulty, surprisingly, doesn’t lie in not knowing how to make new friends.   Rather it lies in the decision about whether or not they want to get close to someone, yet again, who may end up leaving them in one way or another, forcing the senior to experience yet another loss.

Senior buildings are filled with seniors!  By the time they arrive in these facilities, they have experienced a number of losses including, but not limited to, the following:  spouse, home, belongings, health, friends, spiritual community, independence, privacy, mobility, etc.

Then they get to know the person who lives across the hall from them or maybe even all the people on their floor.  They socialize with others by participating in the activities which are offered by the building’s management. In essence, they make new friends and adjust over time to their new living situation and to the new people in their lives whom they slowly begin to call friends.

Then one day, an ambulance comes in the middle of the night to take the neighbor to the hospital after a fall.  Or the other neighbor dies.  Maybe a friend can no longer return to their apartment and ends up in a long-term care facility.  Sometimes the children come and move the friend halfway across the country to be closer to them.

Regardless of how it happens, the person affected ends up feeling abandoned and begins to wonder if it’s a good idea to make another friend.  My senior clients tell me they don’t want to get close to anyone else because it’s just too difficult to lose them.

That’s why it’s important for seniors to have multi-generational connections.  These can be found in family members, faith communities, or through organizations like Little Brothers, Friends of the Elderly.  Everyone needs a strong social support group, and your elderly parents are no different.

I have no answer for this dilemma.  I just know that people do better when they have others with whom they can converse, share meals or newspapers, or take walks.  And I know that it gets more and more difficult as people age because those we attach ourselves to, if they are our age or older, have a higher risk of leaving us in one way or another.

Julie Ellingson, LSW



November 22, 2011

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