After a self-inflicted estrangement of about 30 years, Roy’s aunt called us. With no explanation for the distancing, she was gently reinserting herself into our lives.
And I suppose it was understandable. She is now 95 years old and alone. She never had children, and her marriage ended decades ago–a matter she has never spoken of. She told me she was sick and scared and wanted to see us.
I relayed the message to Roy and we discussed what to do. She had been cranky and critical when we last had contact, and we wondered what was up. We decided to proceed cautiously but to go and visit her. We were shocked by both how much she’d changed and by how much she had remained the same. She was still feisty and opinionated. She seemed lucid and pretty darn sharp for her advanced years. However, she was frail.
Subsequent visits have shown us that she really shouldn’t be living alone. She has good days and not so good days as far as mental clarity goes. She is vulnerable. A stiff wind could knock her over, never mind a mugger. She has come to rely on strangers for friendship and help getting groceries and doing her banking. An unscrupulous person could trick and manipulate her. It happens all the time.
We offer advice carefully because she has the right to make her own decisions. She says she can’t live alone, but blocks every attempt to find her seniors? housing with more supports. I played telephone tag with various governmental voicemails to find the current procedures for accessing seniors? housing. With her permission I called service providers like Telus and Shaw to set up automatic withdrawals to handle the bill paying. Getting to the bank to pay in person was an imposition on her friends and getting harder all the time.
The issues surrounding this situation are many and complex. There is a fine line to walk between allowing the elderly personal autonomy and the right to make their own decisions, and the need to safeguard them from those who would take advantage. And some days even from their own diminishing capacity.
Because I’ve been asked to be the executor on several people’s wills, I feel a responsibility to educate myself. The Wills and Estates Act changed significantly in Alberta in February. This is not a responsibility to accept lightly. There is significant personal risk if you screw up, and presenters love to tell horror stories about executors being sued and found liable.
Roy and I need to redo our wills and this time include the all-important Enduring Power of Attorney and Personal Directive pieces. It takes wisdom to make these tough decisions. Yet when done, it should provide peace of mind for us and for our survivors. Young or old, alone or with survivors–it’s gotta be done, from where I sit.
Hazel Anaka’s first novel is Lucky Dog. Visit her website for more information or follow her on Twitter @anakawrites.