Ralph Boyd is my next door neighbor. He's 75, lives alone and is loosing his memory. The other night he woke up at 2:00 a.m. standing in the middle of the street two blocks from his house. He had no recollection of how he got there. A few days ago I saw him standing in his yard and asked him if he wanted to run some errands with me. He did. As we rode together, he told me that he wasn't able to keep track of his bills anymore and that he wasn't eating right. He said the thought of going into "one of those homes" was getting him down lately. He eventually admitted that he was really scared. He had even been entertaining thoughts of taking his life.
Ralph needs a good friend. His elderly sisters are in Texas (where he now wishes he could be), too far away to be of much help. He's proud and fiercely independent and doesn't want anyone telling him what to do. But he knows he needs help.
When I think of coming to Ralph's aid, my mind begins to click off a long, time-consuming list of things that need to be done. Contacting his sisters, sorting out his finances, arranging new housing, putting his house on the market, getting him and his belongings moved to Texas... there are scores of complicated decisions that Ralph will need assistance in making. I just don't have the time. And he just doesn't have anyone to help.
Our Adopt-a-grandparent ministry that works with seniors isn't set up to provide this kind of intense support. I already tried to apply some gentle pressure there. I contacted a couple geriatric programs but found out that Ralph has too little money to afford quality support services and too much money to get public assistance (not that he'd accept it!). He's never been involved in a church so he doesn't feel at libeerty to turn there for help, either.
I like Ralph. He's got a great sense of humor (although it's a bit salty at times!). He comes over when he sees me working in the yard and almost always brings a cold diet Pepsi for me. He sometimes makes a pest of himself when he calls six times in the same afternoon with the same question. But mostly I enjoy him. I just don't have the time to be the involved friend that he really needs, that's all.
There needs to be a program for people in Ralph's situation. What are seniors supposed to do when they lose their ability to function independently and have no family or trustworthy friends to turn to? Perhaps we should consider expanding the Adopt-a-grandparent program to include more intensive in-home support services. But our staff are already stretched too thin and have to scramble to fund their work at its present level. I'd like to initiate a new service but I have a dozen other programs within FCS that place demands on my time and energy. Running an urban ministry can be a very consuming responsibility.
If I weren't so busy, I might even find it enjoyable assisting Ralph in this time of transition. But like I said, I have a ministry to run, a ministry which addresses many pressing needs in our community, a fairly wholistic ministry. Unfortunately, I just don't have a program designed to meet Ralph's special needs. But then you can't expect a ministry to do everything, right? Right INDEED! A ministry can't take the place of a good neighbor!
Let's get started, Ralph. Let's call your sisters.