Connie Zoeller wrote:
It's not as simple as saying 'it's a family's duty to care for elders'. And yes, my parents felt they were a burden no matter how many times I held their hand, looked them in the eye and said 'you are absolutely not' a burden. I loved them and don't regret a minute but they weren't blind and they could see the toll it was taking. So when I see people putting their elders in homes/institutions, I can't fault them. The problem lies, as I see it, in the creation of places where people can be cared for that are nurturing, and humane. But anytime you have something run by a company or a corporation, profit will always be the #1 goal and that will always result in shortcomings that affect the level of care. Add to that the fact that where I live, there is a severe shortage of nursing home workers so even in places where they do their best, the care is sometimes below par. Hence the reason I kept mine at home. Yes, a hundred years ago families took care of elders and the community supported them in that effort but it's not as easy as that anymore as times have changed.
I am currently the sole caretaker for my elderly mother who has Alzheimer's. 3 1/2 years ago I left my home, my job, my own family, my small farm I'd been growing for over 20 years, and everything I had to take care of my mom when my dad died from cancer. I'd been "caring" for them before he died, on weekends, doing yard work, taking care of the house, managing repairs and maintenance, doing grocery shopping, etc. But when dad died, mom had no one. She couldn't drive a car, cook a meal, do a load of laundry even. People think Alzheimer's is a memory disorder, but it is so much more than that. There is no facility in the world that can nurture and humanely care for anyone with alzheimer's or dementia or other medical illnesses that seem to increase in prevalence as one ages.
Building a community that cares for the elderly is a great dream. But then reality hits the fan. For me it came long before my mom presented me with a handful of her own poop and wanted to know what it was. I'm in multiple groups for caretakers and the one consistent thread among every one of those groups is that as soon as the work shows up, everyone leaves. Families are the first to abandon ship and the worst of the lot because not only do they not help in any capacity, they complain and condemn the one person who is doing all the work. They stand back and say "this is how it should be done" without having a clue what needs to be done. There is a LOT of talk, a lot of ideas, a lot of planning, a lot of research and information and promoting the cause. And meanwhile, the caretakers just have to get on with it.
Despite all the talk, the millions raised for research and funding for various diseases that effect the elderly, the good intentions of individuals or communities such as this one, ... no one cares on a day to day basis about giving up their own needs and wants and desires to care for other people long term. And should they? Is that an ethic of permaculture? Is being self-less a good permaculture practice?
I have a new farm a few minutes from my mom's house which allows me to have something to fall back on. My spouse and I have debated selling it and focusing entirely on mom and then buying something new once she passes ... but we can't. As much as we sacrifice and give "to do our family duty", we can't give up our own wants and needs. So how would we ever expect anyone else to do so? I mean, what are the choices here? A family duty to care for your aging loved ones that results in soul-crushing caretaking? Or paying someone to do it for you? That's it. There are no other choices out there. Not even permaculture has managed to create fairy godmothers.
Putting everyone together in a mass community/village doesn't change the fact that someone needs to change my mom's diaper while she screams at them that she doesn't need help and to leave her alone. It won't change the reality that Uncle Joe won't leave his clothes on and Cousin Mary is a hoarder. Although I would love help. I'd love to have a community that supports us. Having someone come in once a week to clean the house and someone else who will sit with mom while I go to the grocery store and someone who will spend an hour doing therapy with her and someone who will bring their kids over to have tea would be amazing. But who does those things anymore? Especially without being paid $25/hour or more?
I guess my point here is that permaculture doesn't exist in a vacuum. For it to really work it has to be incorporated in life as we know it in such a way as to make it better for everyone and no village for the elderly will ever function that way. We dream of permaculture on a grand scale, encompassing everyone and everything, but we practice it on an individual basis - one-on-one, face-to-face, intimately, passionately, and compassionately. Permaculture for the elderly already exists in the lives of every single caretaker paid or unpaid, family or friend, neighbor or stranger, who takes the time to care.