Gus met some reality today, he got two shots at the Cambridge Valley Vet from Dr. Suzanne Fariello. He is sore and drowsy, and has been sleeping between my feet – one of his favorite spots – all night. He was too sleepy to even play with Fate.
Madeline was sitting in the Activity Room when I came in with Red this afternoon, I said hello and she asked me and Maria if we wanted to hear her story. I said we did, and Maria and I both pulled up a chair and sat across from her. I can tell you that Madeline's story is true, it is archived online and in old newspaper stories, often on the front page.
She is a strong presence at the Mansion, she is always meticulously dressed and quick with a joke or wisecrack. She tells me every time she sees Red that his collar is too tight, and I always agree and remove it while we are there. When I return, she tells me his collar is too tight.
We turned down the boombox in the corner of the room – you good people bought it – and the room quieted. The day Activity Director had just left, the residents had painted for much of the afternoon.
Madeline said the story took place in the Bronx, in the late 1920's, she lived in an apartment with her brother, Mother and father, who was a successful businessman, but was also a vicious alcoholic.
Madeline said her father repeatedly threatened her, her mother, and her older brother, who was 18 at the time. He beat all of them often, and their lives were filled with terror.
One day, her father came home drunk, and came into the apartment with an ax.
He said he was going to kill Madeline and her mother, and he raised the ax over his head as if preparing to strike. Her mother grabbed Madeline and both of them screamed for help, and her brother pulled out his pocket knife – it was large for a pocket knife – and stabbed his father once in the heart before her father gasped and fell down backwards.
He never got up.
Madeline's mother called for the police and an ambulance, and her father was taken to a local hospital where he died shortly after his arrival. Her brother was arrested and charged with patricide, but was released three weeks later when a judge ruled the killing was justifiable and in self-defense.
He had killed his father to protect his sister and mother.
Madeline was four at the time of her father's killing, she said, but she remembers every minute of that day, even as she often forgets other things in her life. She is 92, and has been at the Mansion less than a year.
A year after her father's death, her mother died of a heart attack and since her brother was not able to care for her, she was sent to an orphanage in the Bronx, where she spent the next decade.
When Madeline spoke, the room was quiet, the residents still. I asked her if she loved her father, and she thought awhile about the question. "I'm not sure I was able to love anybody," she said.
I thanked her for her story, and she said she was grateful to me for listening. I said our stories are important, they are who we are. She leaned over to pat Red and told me his collar was too tight.
Connie told us today that she is getting ready to return to work, she can read again, walk to the dining room again, breathe more comfortably again. Her back is healing, she did what she needed to do and walked herself back to health. Today, she and Maria talked about a joint project – Connie would crochet some little fishes from a pattern book and Maria will make a wall hanging or a quilt with them.
They both liked the idea of working together, and it could be a work of love for both of them. This is a very bright spot in the sometimes bleak picture facing the extreme elderly in America, and some of the residents at the Mansion.
Today I admit I got angry at the way the elderly are treated in America. Aside from the struggles of the people in the Mansion, I am heartsick at the rape of the elderly by the medical, political, medical and pharmaceutical systems of the country. I hear about it all the time.
A woman named Emily sent me a message about her mother, typical of the scores of messages I see like that every time I write about the Mansion.
"We can also help (the Mansion and other such facilities) by fighting back against Medicaid cuts," Emily wrote."I had to file for Medicaid for my mother when she needed skilled nursing care at $8000 a month. Most nursing homes are more – we are lucky to have a Church based home that is not for profit. My mother worked for 30 years as a teacher saved for retirement but could not have imagined the cost of care when dementia took her memory. She passed peacefully two weeks ago after receiving loving care at her facility. We were luckier than most."
This is the story of Connie and so many people in the Mansion, hard-working, taxpaying people who worked all their lives, and did as they were told and saved for their retirements and saw their security and savings wiped away in moments by a chronic illness or a stroke or cancer. They are not deadbeats and parasites sucking off the system, they are you and me and our mothers and fathers.
Emily was correct, there are much harder stories than hers to be told in any nursing home or assisted care facility all over the country. She went through a kind of Hell with her mother, and considers herself lucky. And she is right. I don't wish to be political in this work, there are enough people screaming at one another in America, but the story of this vulnerable and ordinary people does need to be told, and that's why I started working with Red at the Mansion.
Connie asks me not to write about most of her struggles, and I honor her wishes, of course.
She has worked all of her life, and like almost everyone at the Mansion, and Emily's mother, she never imagined that her savings would be washed away so quickly by the skyrocketing costs of getting old and sick in America. She couldn't bear to see her sons give up their lives for her, so she chose to go into the Mansion and leave her world behind.
It seems a shell game to me, the trusting people who put their money in IRA's and retirement plans, only to find it is virtually worthless against a tidal wave of corporate and political greed.
While the politicians argue about how much care they can take away from the sick and the elderly, no one is actually doing anything to stop the root problem – the runaway selfishness of corporate America, especially the insurance companies and pharmaceuticals, who have, according to many credible reports, practically purchased the U.S. Congress and blocked any serious effort at reform.
Who will speak up for these good people hidden away in nursing homes and assisted care if we don't? They are where most of us will be, and soon enough. Very few people are wealthy enough to withstand the profit-obsessed corporations who have turned our very lives into lucrative profit centers. We can't afford to buy soap for the elderly in their need, but we can sure give billions and billions of dollars to doctors for procedures that can't work and are thoughtless to mega-corporations who charge thousands of dollars for things that cost pennies.
Those of us who live outside of the system score small victories. We buy air conditioners, picnic tables, books and puzzles, soap and shampoo, send letters and cookies and flowers and pretty pictures of our dogs and cats, and pay for the Mansion cat to be spayed and innoculated. We do what we can do, and that is actually quite a lot. We bring what light we can bring to the darkness.
I hope Maria and Connie do their fiber project together. It will be a substantial victory against a cruel and broken system.
Every afternoon, shortly before three, Sylvie comes upstairs with her walker and brings the letters she receives every day from the Army Of Good, all over the country.. She reads each one carefully, and shares some of them, and tries to answer as many as she can.
The letters have had a profound effect on Sylvie, they have created a loyal community around her that she has come to treasure, they help give structure to her days and focus for her mind. Sylvie is a remarkable woman, you can write her at The Mansion, 11 S. Union Street, Cambridge, N.Y., 12816.
It is sometimes difficult to find out what the Mansion residents need, the residents almost never ask me for anything, and the staff is shy about asking me for too much. This afternoon, it was quiet, and I asked a number of people I have come to know and trust (and whose trust I think I have earned) what is needed, and I learned that there are some immediate needs to address.
I will take care of some of them – I have about $150 left over from the picnic table fund that was so successful, and some I am asking for some help for. Please do not feel any pressure to help, but if you can, it will be welcome.
The Mansion is a Medicaid facility, it is not like those $10,000 to $15000 a month residences. The government pays a fraction of that.
The residents generally come to the Mansion with their resources depleted, and quite often with the resources of their family depleted as well.
We are not a generous country when it comes to the elderly, except for the outrageously high prices charged them for medicines and drugs and health care. In our country, we keep people alive beyond all reason by any means and then punish them for needing so much help.
They come to the Mansion when their life savings are gone, and they are totally dependent on Medicaid for the roof over their heads and the care that they receive. The staff is dedicated and heroic, but also stretched thin and paid little. That is the nature of Medicaid facilities.
The Mansion cannot provide its residents with personal effects like toiletries, soap, body wash or shampoo, and when their accounts run dry, which happens frequently, they sometimes run short of these things. We live in a country that begrudges the elderly poor – all of them have worked all of their lives, but growing old is expensive in America, even for the rich, and these people are not rich – basic necessities like soap.
Midway through the month, some of the residents run out of things that help them stay healthy and clean and feel good about themselves. The staff members often spend their own money to assist them, but they don't make a lot of money.
Congress can't seem to try to cut enough from the Medicaid budget. I shudder to think of it.
Maria and I went to the pharmacy and we bought several large bags of soap, moisturizer shampoo and body wash and brought it over to the Mansion.
If anyone is so inclined, it would be helpful to send some more soap, body wash and moisturizer shampoo, the things we brought should last a couple of weeks. You can send these things to The Mansion, 11 S. Union Avenue, Cambridge, N.Y., 12816.
Barb and several other residents have run through the hundreds of books in the Mansion library, they are voracious readers. Barb and her friends like to read romance novels, and if any of you have used romance novels sitting on your shelves, they would be welcome here.
Jane is in need of some watercolor kits and coloring books, she is drawn to painting, and has no confidence about it. We are working on that. I went and bought three coloring books at Battenkill Books and will bring them to Jane tomorrow. If any of you have simple watercolor kits to send to the Mansion (11 S. Union Avenue, Cambridge, N.Y., 12816), that would be appreciated.
At the Mansion today, I was told of two residents who need clothes, their families cannot help them and they have no money and few things to wear. Their clothes have been worn through, some from accidents.
Tomorrow, I am bringing a check to one of the staffers, who has volunteered to go out and buy some clothes at a nearby thrift store for these residents. I am giving her $70, this is from money donated to me for general use for the Mansion residents. I have several hundred dollars left in that fund.
It is risky to buy clothes for people you can't see and I am not at ease identifying them.
So I will take care of providing for these clothes out of the money donated to me. I don't think it makes sense for people to send clothes from the outside, these clothes are only needed by one or two people, and I can handle it.
If I need more help, I will ask. And if you wish to donate to me to support this work and dispense aid when I can, you can send a donation to P.O. Box 205, Cambridge, N.Y., 12816. You can also contribute via Paypal, Friends and Family, my ID is [email protected] If you choose to donate funds, please mark them for the Mansion, I keep that money separate from mine. The donation button at the bottom of this post is for my blog, not the Mansion.
Connie is getting ready to start knitting again, your letters have been profoundly healing and uplifting. She has enough yarn (more than enough) but very much enjoys your letters (The Mansion, 11 S. Union Avenue, Cambridge, N.Y., 12816. ) She read several of them to me this afternoon.
She has suggesting working with Maria to produce a quilt together, and Maria is much excited about it. More on that later.
This was an important time for me and for Maria at the Mansion. Our eyes were opened further to the need of the residents. It is important for me to listen and better understand some of their unseen and invisible needs. I appreciate their trust in talking to me.
The soap, shampoo and body wash is a good example. I don't seem them shower and bathe, so that is not something I would know. I have learned to ask the right questions of the right people, and I appreciate your support in this, and understand those who can't or don't wish to help in this way.
As always, some of the most meaningful and effective support is free, and your letters are important, uplifting and transformative for them. Thanks for listening, and for being there. Our joint undertakings for good are among the most meaningful and satisfying of my life.
We are keeping one another grounded and hopeful. We are helping the vulnerable. We are going good.