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A Family Affair

So this one may mean more to my healthcare friends but, we’ll see. I read this passage of Scripture about a week ago and it has resonated since then. Whoever says the Bible isn’t applicable to modern day has never read it. I have to say though that once you read the passage and then why it stuck with me I don’t want you to think that I’m writing an editorial. Not on the current state of things in the U.S. or the state of things in South Africa. I think it may be more about the state of families and faith worldwide.

“Support widows who are genuinely widows. But if any widow has children or grandchildren, they should practice their religion toward their own family first and to repay their parents, for this pleases God. The real widow, left all alone, has put her hope in God and continues night and day in her petitions and prayers; however, she who is self-indulgent is dead even while she lives. Command this, so that they won’t be blamed. Now if anyone does not provide for his own relatives, and especially for his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” – 1 Timothy 5:3-8

Kinda harsh, right? But I saw this in healthcare in the U.S. Families neglecting, often so they could collect social security or whatever money, for any use other than to care for the elderly family member. You saw it, social work got involved, often things were resolved to a better, certainly not perfect, situation. There is something to be said for medicaid/medicare going directly to the nursing home. You see in the States, especially the South, most people try to keep their relatives at home, most seem to provide good, loving care. Yes, the system may be abused. There does need to be a better respite system for certain, but all in all, these cases weren’t nearly as common as I’ve seen in South Africa.

The context here is different. Working with three different cultures in the same setting it becomes oddly diverse yet similar. Yes, there is abuse so that money can be gotten, pensions or grants used for other purposes. But also, there is a huge amount of indifference. The “I just can’t be bothered to deal with this.” It’s so calloused. It’s so heartbreaking. Here in South Africa, the people staying at Living Hope are in a “nice” place. Only 8 beds to one large room. I haven’t been but am told that the hospitals here run wards of around 30 beds. Imagine that in your local hospital right now. Nope, wouldn’t work. Some of our patients don’t see family while they are with us for valid reasons. They might be there for respite because the caregiver had to go out of town or it’s just too far or too expensive for the family to travel to us. But then there are the ones who are abandoned or they see family, but the family does nothing to help find a good home, a good, safe place for the patient to go. The government run nursing homes here have more than a 6 month and likely up to a 12 month waiting list. Imagine the results.

Here in South Africa there is a common saying. “We’ll make a plan.” This does not mean what you think it means. It means more of what an American might mean when they say, “Sure, I’d love to, just let me check my schedule first.” Likely ain’t going to happen, folks. Maybe not for the same reasons. It’s just something to think about later, when I get around to it. The social worker today told me after I jokingly said we’d ‘make a plan’ that we then needed to “implement the plan.” Catch my drift?
All that to bring it back around to this..Now if anyone does not provide for his own relatives, and especially for his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever. Where did our love, our responsibility, our respect go for our family? Why, both there and here, do we let government take care of our own flesh and blood because we can’t be bothered? If Christ asked us to love the least of these and we do that without much of second thought, why is it so hard to cross whatever relational bridge to extend that same love and compassion to our elders? I’m not saying nursing homes are bad. I feel quite the opposite actually. I’ve spent a lot of my career caring for elderly. I gotta say those grannies and grandpas (oumas and oupas) can be quite special. Sure it’s hard, when they don’t remember, when they get aggressive, when they can’t care for themselves. But our mandate isn’t to be the one to necessarily do the bathing or feeding but to make sure that at least someone does. It’s tragic the amount of abandoned elderly here and I can’t for the life of me not feel like this passage of Scripture is alive and well and meaningful in the 21st century.

Soap box complete. Stepping down now.

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