Tuesday, June 23, 2009
It’s been over one year since we first got the phone call that Mom “may or may not, be a victim of what may or may not be abuse.” It’s been over 12 months….over 365 days…..over 8,760 hours……over 525,600 minutes….over a life time ago.
How I long for the days before that, when I was in total ignorant bliss, where I lived in a naïve world in which people took care of one another, and would not intentionally hurt anyone; especially someone so vulnerable as Mom. I long for the days when visiting Mom didn’t mean confrontation or anxiety. I long for the days when I could remember Mom as she was when I first met her. I long for a time passed. I long for a time that I cannot go back to, and that, at this point in my life, is over shadowed by the knowledge of what was done to Mom by a group of people, in a place, that I trusted.
I thought when Mom passed away, “it” would be better. I thought that when she died, that I would feel better. I thought that when she was laid to rest, so would all of my anger, and sadness be laid to rest. I thought that when Mom no longer was in pain and fear, my pain and fear would go away also. I thought when Mom’s agony ended, so would mine. It didn’t.
I think a lot now. I think about Mom, and how she tried to tell us what was going on. I think about how we should have done more research into nursing homes. I think about how we should have questioned things more in the nursing home. I think about how we should have demanded better of the nursing home. I think about how trusting we were when placing Mom in a nursing home. I think about how much we didn't know. I think about why someone would do this. I think about the other victims, their families and friends, and how awful it is for them. I think about sadness. I think about guilt. I think about forgiveness. I think about anger.
I question things now. I question what kind of world we live in. I question respect. I ask how it is that we have lost respect for our elders; for people; for each other. I question how the proprietors, administration, supervisors and workers lost their respect for the people in their care. I question how it is that vulnerable adults became dollars and cents, and not human beings. I question our response to people’s pain. I question why that pain is minimalized……..literally dismissed…….by people who claim to be advocating for the vulnerable. I question why the laws weren’t better equipped to prosecute. I question why our law enforcement wasn’t better trained for this crime. I question why the nursing home didn’t have safe guards in place to prevent this crime. I question why we don’t have the resources to get information before making such huge, life changing decisions as putting a loved one in a nursing home. I question why the neglect, abuse, and deaths of vulnerable adults is readily accepted and then dismissed. I question why the law makers aren’t listening. I question why the government looks the other way. I question why all these advocacy groups, apparently more then 50 groups in Minnesota alone, can’t seem to make a difference. I question why I can’t seem to get anyone’s attention. I question why so much of the community doesn’t seem to care about what has happened in our midst. I question why so few seem to get what this is all about.
This is about the anguish of the victims. This is about how a heinous crime effects people who contracted one of the most mean spirited diseases known to man, and can no longer speak in what we consider cognizant thought. They forget words; they lose their train of thought. These wonderful people forget how to walk, and then forget how to talk. Because they have forgotten how to pick up a glass, they become dehydrated. Because they are no longer able to use a bathroom, they must lay in wet and dirty incontinent attire, and then come down with severe bladder and kidney infections time and time again, because no one has time to give them a drink of water when they are thirsty, or change them when they are dirty. Eventually their brain does not communicate with their body at all. But one thing they don't forget; Feelings. Just as with anyone who has been a victim of violence, these people are traumatized. But because we don’t understand this disease or what has happened to the vulnerable with the disease, we don’t even consider treating them with more kindness, or being a bit more careful in how we “come at” them to do their daily cares and helps. We don’t consider that they are in as much distress as any woman who has suffered abuse, or any child that was cruelly abused, or any man who has come home with Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome. We don’t understand that how we approach them triggers memories. Horrifying memories that cause them to scream, and fight, and cry, and beg the worker to not do that to them. It is not even a remote consideration to have a professional psychologist just sit and talk to them in a calm and caring manner. And because we are not educated enough to realize what is happening to them, we blame them for becoming behavioral problems, and send them to doctors who medicate them so that life is easier for the people entrusted to take care of them. I question if anyone will care when someone in a nursing home abuses me. I question why I can’t make this stop
I wonder about the future. I wonder how many more elderly have to suffer. Each month I wonder how much longer……how much longer before the lawmakers safeguard the PEOPLE, not just the money. Each week I hear of another families struggle to have their loved one treated with respect, and I wonder how much longer before administration in any particular facility will stand up and say, “This is not right! It has to change!” Each day of my life I wonder how many more families will learn of their loved ones abuse in a long term care facility and will have their lives, and the lives of their families changed forever. I wonder how much longer I can do this. I wonder how much longer my life will remain in turmoil, pain and conflict. Members of FANHA support group and family and friends attending Criminal court hearings, letters and phone calls to legislators, celebrities, news programs, and talk shows, decisions to be made about to litigate or not to litigate, and then finally, someday actually be able to grieve and put Mom to rest in our hearts. I wonder when this will all end. I wonder if I will ever be able to forgive. I wonder if I will ever not be afraid of a nursing home. I wonder if I will ever trust anyone again.
How many more will suffer neglect, abuse and death? The National Center on Elder Abuse estimated that more than a million (1,000,935) seniors suffered abuse or neglect in a single year. That’s approximately 2 victims every minute of every day, of every year. The sad part of that is…….. over 1 million victims is probably under estimated. Most abuse goes unreported and uncounted. I’m not sure there are answers to any of the other questions and ponderings yet.
I find myself wishing….and not wishing. I would never wish any of you or any member of your family, to have to go through what I and many others, and more each day, have to go through, for who knows how long. It is a life changing experience that absolutely no one on this earth deserves going through; especially the victims who have spent their lives fighting in wars to keep our freedoms, in the most wonderful country in the world; who worked hard, paid their taxes, supported and raised their families, and then had the audacity to get old and come down with a disease that makes "normal" people think of them as useless, worthless, inconsequential, and not worthy of any respect. Absolutely everything about this kind of abuse and neglect of vulnerable adults is horrifying. I can only work hard, wish much and then pray constantly, that policy, procedures, training, and laws will change enough to begin to prevent this kind of neglect and abuse so that you and your loved ones will never have to go through what we have. I wish people cared more.
As an advocacy group, Families Against Nursing Home Abuse (FANHA) is trying to get the community to understand what happens to the victims; and the fall out to their families and friends. What we are trying to get the community to understand is that changes in policy procedure and law, have to come, or this is what we can all expect our last years on earth to be. We are trying to get the community involved so that they too, will contact legislators, and demand change.
I think. I question. I wonder. I wish. I advocate. I pray. Tomorrow, I will pick up where I left off today. I will make the phone calls. I will write the letters. I will work for policy, procedure, training and laws that will help the elderly. I will speak out when asked, and some times when I’m not asked. But always there will be one motivation pushing me to do what I don’t think I can do anymore; forcing me to continue down a path that I never wanted to be on; the memory of a woman who would have swallowed her tongue before saying something unkind; The memory of a woman who welcomed me into her life with open arms; The memory of a woman who never asked what I could do for her, but what I needed from her; The memory of a woman who never withheld love from anyone in her midst; Mom.
Mom was 1 of 15 known abused at a Nursing Home for a period of at least 5 months. I represent Families Against Nursing Home Abuse. We are the families of the 15. We are asking you to please hear us as we speak with you about Long Term Care.
I feel that this subject is so incredibly important, since it not only affects those already in long term care, but it affects my friends who are looking at going into long term care facilities within the next 10 years. It affects my going into a long term care facility within the next 25 years, and it affects my children, when it is their turn. Not only that, but it effects you, when it is YOUR turn to go into a long term care facility.
When people asked me why this is so important, I used to say, “Because the average American has 2 options. Grow old and more likely then not, end up in a nursing home, or don’t grow old.”
I cannot begin to tell you how much I believe in the idea AND the reality, that Long Term Care needs to be the center of change. Right now our laws are 40 years behind any other. All of the laws that apply to abuse of children, spouses, mentally challenged, physically challenged, and the laws that apply to any sort of sexual abuse, do NOT apply to the elderly. How did this happen? Why did we forget that our parents and our loved ones, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, and yes….even our children who need to go into long term care facilities, are just as important as any other living human being?
Mom, was a woman of extraordinary character. She lived a quiet and simple life. She grew up, went to work, married, raised a family, and then became ill with Alzheimer’s. What made her extraordinary was her ability to find the good in everyone that she met. You or I may have been able to find nothing good in or about a certain person, but Mom would have. She would have found a reason to say something nice about that person. Her ability to open her heart to any and all that came into, or passed through her life, was also extraordinary. The impression she left on people after only one meeting, was astounding.
Mom’s last years of life were going to be tough enough battling the Alzheimer’s, but having her dignity ripped from her day after day by abuse is just unthinkable. Each day that I think of it, it rips my heart out……realizing each day that Mom will have absolutely no justice, it too, rips my heart out. I am trying with all my strength to accept it, but it is a bitter pill to swallow, and my heart breaks.
I cannot express to you the heartbreak of being left helpless at every turn. Mom deserved so much better. The laws should have protected her. Instead they forgot her. The justice system should have seen to it that her abusers were punished. Instead, they are letting her abusers off with less then a slap on the wrist. The government that she so loyally voted for, and supported has been of no help. Thus far, few have ever heard of our situation nor are inclined to help.
In Mom’s last year, she was unable to defend herself. She was unable to articulate how her dignity was being stripped from her daily. She was unable to make us understand that her combativeness was not a disease, but a desperate cry for help. God forgive us all for not paying attention.
Right now we have laws about finances, laws about family caregivers, but nothing that protects the elderly from the people and institutions of nursing homes that can and do inflict abuse, neglect and death.
When I found out that laws concerning elderly people in Mom’s situation basically did nothing in the realms of accountability and consequence, I were devastated. My dear Lord! “Why are Michael Vicks DOGS more important then Grace!?”
I ask you to consider also, why are the laws for the elderly not as important as the laws for animals? Why is it considered asking to much to have the nursing home, the administrators, and the staff, held accountable for their actions, or lack of, in their facility?
To long have Long Term Care Facilities been allowed to over look bad behavior. To long have they been allowed to sweep aside any responsibility for what staff has done to degrade, humiliate, and disrespect residents. To long has an abuser been fired from one nursing home, only to be hired at the nursing home down the street. To long has the changing of records, and the lack of reporting gone on, so that a facility may make itself appear far better then it actually is.
Policy, procedure and laws MUST be put into place to safe-guard the ELDERLY, not just their money. Things like mandatory video monitoring, mandatory reporting of ALL physical ailments of residents, and mandatory reporting of all disciplinary actions of staff. Sexual Predator Registration for those convicted of sexual abuse. Above all, ZERO Tolerance of any form of abuse, be it physical, mental, emotional, or sexual. All of these forms of abuse to a vulnerable adult are the same as abuse to a child. Conviction of any of these crimes should make it mandatory that they NOT be allowed to work in any health care profession again.
We need to teach law enforcement how to investigate these crimes so that accountability means far more then, “no no. Not nice.” There ARE experts in the field of Elder Sex Crimes, and Elder Abuse, who can train our local law enforcements how to investigate, charge, and convict these horrendous crimes. As I speak to you, there are training programs being developed to ensure that our attorneys and prosecutors will be fully trained in how to use the investigators and the laws in order to convict all predators to fullest extent of the felony laws.
Statistics say, currently for every 1 report of abuse, there are 5 left unreported. If statistics prove correct, this facility has had a possibility of at LEAST 75 cases of abuse in 2008. Is this an acceptable number?
Please have the same zero tolerance for Elder Abuse as you have for child abuse, spousal abuse, sexual abuse, and animal abuse. Elder/Vulnerable Adult laws should parallel those of Child Abuse, or any other abuse that is no longer tolerated. Please remember your loved ones who can no longer articulate their needs. Please remember that this will affect ALL of us sooner or later. New laws, new policies, and new procedures MUST be put into place to hold the owners, administrators, and staff accountable for their actions.
I ask you to call your legislators. Ask them to help in writing and introducing legislation that will truly help those vulnerable adults who can no longer defend themselves against those who would take power and control over them in order to inflict pain, humiliation and sexual aggression.
At this moment in time, I am so frustrated, disappointed and unable to understand how it is that the entire country, politicians, and leaders of our states and country are all appalled at the situation, but no one is willing to actually DO something about it. Do they not understand that one day, they too, will be in a nursing home? Do they think so little of our elderly and of themselves that they will not ensure a safe future for the elderly now, and for themselves to come? How do we get someone to take up the fight and actually write laws that actually protect our elderly and punish the perpetrator?
Yes, there are new laws being introduced in Minnesota. But has anyone really looked at them? They do nothing for the residents of nursing homes. They simply say a family member is not allowed to neglect or take money from a vulnerable adult. Why can’t a bill be introduced to make the kind of mental, physical, emotional and sexual abuse/assault that vulnerable adults endure every day, in virtually every nursing home in America, be a felony in the Vulnerable Adult Act? I don’t understand what makes that so hard to do.
Now, ask me why is this so important to me? Because, for 21 years, I was blessed with knowing a woman of extraordinary character. Because I promised her on her death bed that I would not let what happened to her and the 14 known others happen to anyone else. And now, because while there will be no justice for Mom, the other 14, and all who endured this horror before them, I will honor her and all the others who went through this horrendous ordeal in the best manner possible; with laws that will protect all vulnerable adults. And because there are 14 other victims at this moment in time who were just as extraordinary to their families as Mom was to ours.
Written April 11, 2009
Mom entered this world on December 13, 1923. She was the only girl in a family of 3 siblings, one brother older and one brother younger then she. Mom’s mother was a woman of great faith, and that was passed on to Mom as she grew. Her light would prove that many years later.
Mom grew up in the tiny village of Minnesota Lake, Minnesota. She would grow to have a great love of the outdoors, All through her life she would enjoy camping, and fishing, and boating, biking, gardening, and growing flowers. She would be in bowling leagues, and would love to golf. In later years, she would teach her family the love of the outdoors, and would become her son’s favorite fishing partner and golf partner.
Living in a small village made for a pretty much uneventful growing up, as far as big events goes. But Mom had many friends and was well liked. She studied hard and graduated from High School. But Mom did want to see more. After graduation, she moved to Minneapolis, MN where she worked at the Minneapolis Transformer Company. She would stay at that job until she meets her husband.
Mom loved music. She would play piano, and sing. Even as her mind gave way to Alzheimer’s, and her poor little body would be ravaged by the disease, she would still sing, “You Are My Sunshine.” When words would no longer come to her in a sentence, she would sing her thoughts. I remember one day, as we sat in her room, she looked at me and sang, “It’s so hard to get old.”
Mom married Dad in 1946. I said to Dad, “I have noticed that you got out of the army (he was a paratrooper in WWII 1944-1946) in early 1946 and that you and Mom were married in September of 1946. Given that time span, when you and she met, it must have been love at first sight.” Dad smiled at me, and simply said, “It was.”
Fifty years later, he would say at their 50th Wedding Anniversary party, “I give all the credit of this wonderful marriage to my wife.”
Falling in love with a man from a Russian/Austrian family, whose faith was strict Russian Orthodox was not looked on lightly. Mom and Dad had to pretty much elope. Their wedding was attended by their 2 good friends who stood up for them. But Mom never faltered. No matter how much opposition, or how unkind anyone in Dad’s family was, she held fast. Never missing an opportunity to build bridges, Mom would attend all functions that were invited, and all those that were expected. Mom would always find a kind word, and always opened her heart to her new family. In the next few years, she would totally win the hearts of her husband’s family, and they would embrace her as they embraced any of their own daughters.
Not long after their marriage, they would move to Austin, MN, to be closer to Dad’s brother. They would have 2 children. Judy, the youngest, would marry and present Mom with 4 beautiful grandsons, whom she adored. Ron would marry a woman with 3 children whom she would open her heart to. At her passing, she would have 4 grandsons, 3 granddaughter-in-laws, 2 great grandsons, and 2 great granddaughters. She would also have 2 step grandsons, 1 step granddaughter, 2 step granddaughter-in-laws, 1 step grandson-in-law, 10 step great grand children and 3 step great great grandchildren. Had she been able to put it into words, she would have told you, that she loved them all. Later on, she would work for the Hormel Company, as a Market Surveyor. It was said that Mom had a remarkable way of talking to people, so that even though people didn’t particularly like taking surveys over the phone, they would be happy with the experience. Mom LOVED to chat.
By the photo albums we have gone through, it was obvious that Mom had a lot of friends. It was also obvious, that she truly loved life. In all photos she is smiling, laughing, and looking as though she thoroughly enjoyed whatever it was she was doing. Well, except for one. Even Mom had ONE moment of stubbornness and pouting.
Not having a sister of her own, her cousin Doris became her sister. This loving relationship would last throughout their lives until Mom’s death in 2009. Doris would say that Mom was also the sister that she, herself, never had. They would spend their lives raising their children together, camping together, crocheting together, and sewing quilts together, and their husbands would become best friends. Doris would write in her sympathy card, “When your Mom and Dad both became ill, it changed not only their lives, but our lives as well.” Sometimes we don’t see the impact that one person has on another, until it kind of smacks us in the face.
Mom had an incredible number of nieces and nephews, who all had large families of their own. (Coming from a small family myself, the numbers are enormous to me.) She never missed sending a birthday card to each and every member of the family, never missed a confirmation, graduation or wedding. And if she couldn’t make it in person, there was ALWAYS cards from Auntie.
It’s hard for me to write a biography of Mom when I have only known her for 22 of her 85 years. I don’t know a lot of antidotes about her as a child. I don’t know what kind of a child she was. But I do know this. I know that Mom was loved by everyone that knew her. I know that she would never say an unkind word about anyone. As a matter of fact, if she heard someone talking derogatorily about another person, she would always find some good about that person…..even if she KNEW you were dead on. I know that Mom was looked up to. Even her older brother, Kenny, when in need of talking to someone for whatever reason, it was “Sister” that he would call.
It seems to me that Mom was a “mother” to everyone that needed her. When her older brother’s wife passed away, it was Mom who took up the slack, and became a 2nd mom to the 5 children. When my mother passed away 3 years after first meeting Grace, she became another mother to me. She encouraged and lifted our spirits. She would always find a way to boost our hopes, help to squelch our fears, and give us cause to try to better ourselves.
Was Mom a saint? Probably not. Was Mom one of those exceptional people that, if we are smart enough to recognize it, are a gift to have in your life? Absolutely.
I think that a testament to the way Mom lived her life is, people who met her only a few times in their own lives, would say, when hearing of her death, “Oh, I’m so sorry. She was such a special person. I really liked her.”
I have often wondered why Mom had to live through abuse in what should have been a quiet and peaceful end to her life. She was such an exceptional person. Mom was truly a living example of her very name. Why would she have to go through this? Then I hear her voice saying, “why not?” “There’s a problem in the world, and we need to fix it.”
Losing Mom was almost as hard for me, as it was to lose my own mother.
I once heard that if we have one or two really good friends throughout our life, we are truly blessed. Anything more then that, is just frosting on the cake. As I look at my life, I am amazed to find that I have so many wonderful friends, lifelong friends, in the United States, and throughout the world. So I am truly blessed, and I have more frosting on my cake then I possibly deserve. Mom, is the cherry on top.
So, I must agree with my friend. Mom was in inspiration in life, and continues to be an inspiration in death.
Mom left us on Tuesday February 3, 2009. She slipped away from us quietly, peacefully, and sweetly, just as she had lived among us.
This was written the night of Mom’s funeral, February 9. 2009