With holiday festivities over and recent winter snow and ice, many mid-Missourians might tend to get a dose of cabin fever. Then when it’s time to go to work or get some necessary errands done around town, getting out in the cold and snow may seem like a royal nuisance.
But imagine not being able to get out — even when the weather is nice? Or rather than having a hectic to-do list, not having enough activity to fill one’s day.
There are a good number of folks around town who are in such a spot. Some are disabled or elderly or in some other situation making them a shut-in.
I visited several shut-in’s Sunday afternoon in the bone-chilling cold. These were folks who are members of my church but are unable to make it to weekly services.
The conversations centered around their health status, the quality of care they were receiving and the weather. There was also frequent references to family photos, the pride of a granddaughter’s accomplishments in school, a son who was having to move out of state for a job opportunity, a new great-grandchild.
It means a lot for older folks living alone to have a network of family and friends who check up on them, often daily. One elderly woman is so thankful for having an adult daughter and son-in-law who live in town and are more than happy to zip over to help with anything and everything at the drop of a hat. She is so looking forward to them including her in a family gathering three hours away — a journey utterly impossible on her own.
Most people value staying in their own home if at all possible and sometimes go beyond the time it is safe for them to do so. Some have a realistic plan about how they can maintain a care support network, while others lament their personal finances for the seemingly inevitable day when moving into a care facility is necessary. One conversation revealed a basic understanding of the concept of Medicare spend-down, where nearly all one’s savings must be consumed before any nursing home bills will be covered by the program on a senior’s behalf.
Since my last turnout serving home communion about a year ago, three members had since passed away. One’s health just kept going downhill. Another had been taking blood treatments for a disease for 15 years and finally was overtaken by his chronic condition. Cancer claimed a middle-aged fellow who left behind three adolescent girls.
In visiting with older folks, it’s difficult to think this might be the last encounter you will have with them. I don’t know how many times I have seen an obituary of some acquaintance in the paper and think back to the last time I saw him or her. How I could have more cherished those moments. All the things I wish I would have asked them.
Such a realization was clear last spring visiting my uncle, who also had been worn down over several years with cancer. Shaking his hand goodbye felt like a final goodbye. Sure enough, he passed away in the fall, and his funeral nearly filled their little country church with people touched by his life.
Funny how that happens with some folks, living alone in their twilight years, but their funeral is crowded. Maybe it should be the other way around: What if shut-ins were typically exhausted by a parade of daily visitors, then their funerals were attended by many who had been already paying their respects while the dearly departed was still among the living?
Beyond the conversations about family and old times and such, every person I saw Sunday was genuinely thankful for the 15- to 30-minute visit, while several specifically thanked the church for “not forgetting me.”
This time of year is especially tough on the elderly and those living alone. The flowers aren’t blooming, there aren’t enough sweaters to feel warm and taking a short walk out to get the mail can be dangerous. One woman said taking one breath of the frigid air into her fragile lungs, she’s just asking to get sick ... and perhaps risking her life.
If you are active, youthful and have your health, please count your blessings. With busyness being the norm much of the year in many households, the infrequent wintry day to stay home with something good to read and a cup of hot herbal tea is just fine.
Steve Spellman hosts “The Mid-Missouri Freedom Forum” at 5 p.m. every Tuesday on KOPN/89.5 FM.