Sunday, December 13, 2009

The Old Branch

It's been quite a while since I was here last.  I didn't realize how much time had passed since my last post. I keep meaning to come by, share a few thoughts, but the thoughts I've had have been too private to put on the web. 

In the meantime, I recalled a conversation my youngest brother Grant and I had some time ago. "Do you realize we are now the Old Branch?" he said.  What did he mean by that, I asked.  "Well, you know.  The family tree, how it branches off.  Do you I can't think of anyone who's alive of Granddad's brothers and sisters?   I'm not sure about Grammy's sisters.   And even in Mom and Dad's generation, there are only a few left."  We started naming names of those we knew who were still alive or known dead, but we do not know all the names as the extended family is very large and widespread.  "That makes us the Old Branch of the family tree," he said.  "We're now the ones the kids turn to for answers and we're supposed to know them.  I can remember when Mom and Dad in their forties and Grammy in her fifties, and I  still thought they knew everything." 

Me, too, I thought that, I said. 

"But I'm at the age they're at and I don't feel I know as much as they did at the same age," he pressed.

I thought for a moment.  "They knew different things because times were different, simpler in many ways.  They knew what they needed to know for the times they were in.  We'll need to know things based on the times were in."

"How do we find the answers?  How do people know how to do things?"  He was clearly worried.  "The girls (his daughters) are going to be looking to me for answers, and I'm afraid I won't know  them."  

"Nobody knows everything, and when you run into a situation you don't know, you find someone who has experience or knowledge, then you'll know, too," I reassured him.     

It was probably about the time when we were trying to figure out how to resolve the conflict of providing for our mother's health care needs and balance her needs to live independently. Gone are the days when it was common and expected the elderly  would live with their children.  Now it's either senior housing or nursing homes.  Times change.

She lives three hours away from us, a long drive in the summer, a harrowing drive in the winter, and never a convenient drive in the best of circumstances.  We leave the relative slow and safe two-lane highways of our New Hampshire country roads for the four- and six-lane highways of the Massachusetts cities to the south of us.  We wanted her to live closer to us so that we could keep an eye on her and follow her medical care to ensure the best possible care for her. 

Neither my brother nor I were prepared for the incredible volume of paperwork that the two states required to be completed. On the surface, it should have been so easy.  Pack her up, move her to a nursing home here.  Transfer her Medicare and Medicaide insurance information.  But it wasn't to be so.  A folder was created. 

Compounding the frustration was the piecemeal sharing of information.  A representative would say a form was required to be filled out. My brother filled it out, turned it in.  But you don't have power of attorney, they said.  So he took time off to become an authorized POA, seeing a lawyer, getting documents signed, going to Massachusetts, filing paperwork.  Now you need to do the form over.  So  he did.  He did, turned it in.    Aaaah, but another form was needed.  Why wasn't this given during the last visit?  A shrug, no excuse, perhaps a misunderstanding,  but the new form still  needed to be filled out if we wanted to proceed.  This happened multiple times, always followed by a shrug and no apology.  Was there no one who knew the entire process, who could give and tell us everything that was needed in one meeting, to explain the entire process, to expedite the processing, who wasn't on vacation or out sick!  Our mother is 80-something, time is valuable.  A shrug.  Everyone is doing the best they if you could just complete this and return it, someone will review it.  

Eventually, New Hampshire made it so difficult to move our mother here that we had to resign ourselves to leaving her in Massachusetts, on her own, in the care of home health care aids and visiting nurses.  We do not have the social programs that support the elderly here (or children, really, in my opinion).  Some of this is based on the socio-economic base or our state's residents and some of it is "cultural."  What doesn't kill you only makes you stronger, and pull yourself up by your bootstraps thinking.  Daniel Webster, a famous Patriot and statesman, said that God makes mountains but New Hampshire makes men, or something like that.  There's not a whole lot of sentimentality. 

I marvel at all the changes that have taken place since the time of my grandparents birth.  A hundred years of change, the automobile, indoor plumbing (my grandmother's house only ever had an outhouse!), man walking on the moon, computers, fax machines, color TV (do they even make black and white anymore like when I was a kid?!), digital cameras. 

My Ole Sweetie-Pi, Earl,  has a different viewpoint.  He says we are rapidly becoming the generation that is being left behind.  He doesn't see the Old Branch as having the answers, not the way our parents did.  He sees us as asking more questions, leaning more and more on our children for answers.  Technology has divided us, he says, and the gap will grow wider, as technology advances and we don't keep up. 

I'm not a fatalist but I am a realist.  I told a sweet, lovely lady (who is in her early retirement years) that I blog for a hobby.  Her eyes glazed over, she nodded and smiled, and I realized she didn't know what I was talking about.  Does make me wonder what she thinks I'm doing, though.