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Her plight could be mine or yours

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Maybe it was the way she was ever so slightly dragging her left leg. Perhaps it was the confused look in her eyes, like she had just walked into a room filled with strangers. It could have been the way she doubled her shopping cart as a walker as she exited the grocery store, ambling towards her car.
For whatever reason, something about the dear lady prompted me to ask, “Can I help you get your groceries to your car?”
She couldn’t hear me very well, so I repeated myself.
“Well, my leg is hurting,” she reluctantly admitted.
I noticed the lone tooth remaining in her lower gums.
And so we began the slow trek across the grocery store parking lot, with my wife, Lori, gently holding our new friend’s left shoulder, while I flanked them on the right.
I neatly placed her groceries in her front car seat. She nodded her approval after I explained, “So you won’t have to reach down to get them from the floorboard.”
“Maybe you should start her car for her,” Lori suggested, after she observed our friend struggling to find her car keys.
A couple of minutes later, Lori was telling me to stop trying: “I think you might flood it.”
“Has this ever happened before?” I asked loud enough for her to hear, half-hoping someone who knew more about cars than I did would hear me, too.
“Yes,” she answered, “the last time I drove it.”
“Great,” I thought, and asked, “Do you know anyone who could help you get home?”
“No, my husband passed four years ago, and I live alone.”
I looked at Lori with a grimace, raising my eyebrows as if to say, “What to do now?”
As I tried again to start her car, a young man came by and offered to give the lady a ride home. She declined his offer.
“My dad knows her, but she doesn’t know me. I guess that’s why she won’t let me give her a ride home,” the young man confided in us.
A legitimate fear aging people who live alone have is that there will be no one to care for them, at least no one they can trust.
And as baby boomers age, that question will become more acute.
That’s because shifting demographics forecast that boomers will have fewer friends and family members to care for them. You may be taking care of your parents, only to find that when you reach their age, you won’t have anyone to care for you like you did them, according to a study by AARP, as reported by the LA Times.
Research predicts there will be a dramatic decline in the caregiver support ratio as boomers age.
Lynn Feinberg, one of the authors of the AARP study, noted: “More than two-thirds of Americans believe they will be able to rely on their families to meet their needs when they need long-term care, but this confidence is likely to deflate when it collides with the dramatically shrinking availability of family caregivers in the future.”
Although our new friend isn’t a baby boomer, her circumstances served as an omen of what could be for many of us.
“Can we give you a ride home?” we asked.
Shaking her head, “no,” she handed me a card for an automobile repair service, one with which I happened to be familiar.
“They are good people, I’ll call them for you. They’ll take care of your car and get you home if you need that,” I hollered to her as she turned her head so to hear me better.
And so they arrived and helped her.
I called her the next day.
“I’m so glad they started my car and didn’t have to take it in,” she said.
“Until next time,” I thought.
“I meant to ask you, do you have any children in the area who can help you?”
“Yes, there are children out here, and some people are about to have more babies.”
“No, I mean, do YOU have any children?” I said as loudly and as clearly as I could.
“Oh, no, I have no children. I live alone.”
It’s the plight of more and more people who have neither the financial resources to avail themselves of retirement centers or the family and friends to care for them as they age.
I hung up the phone with an ominous thought: “I could be one of them some day.”
And given the wrong circumstances at the right time, so could you.
Editor’s note: Contact David B. Whitlock, Ph.D., at drdavid@davidbwhitlock.com or visit his website, www.davidbwhitlock.com.