Respect Your Elders

I think a lot about my grandparents down here.

A lot of the people who come to our office needing assistance are elderly. They are often unfamiliar with automated phone systems, and many have never used a computer (so much for those “convenient” online application forms for aid). They are often the most in need of health care, housing, and financial assistance, and they are often the most overlooked.

On Saturday a 75 year old woman came to our legal clinic. We had a difficult time at first understanding what it was she needed legal advice about, because she’d sort of ramble or her mind would jump to another subject without us realizing it. It reminded me a little of my Grandma D, who has lapses of memory and will sometimes relay the same story several times over, only with different embellishments. I have to admit I don’t always listen attentively.

It would have been easy to do the same with the woman who came to our legal clinic. She had a couple of issues to deal with, and as her stories overlapped in the telling it was difficult to follow what she was trying to tell us and how we could help. Fortunately she was able to sit down with a patient lawyer who listened to her story from beginning to end. Her story is so outrageous, it could easily be dismissed as the ramblings of an old lady. I wish it was.

During Katrina, she was with a group of people trying to evacuate the city. They came upon a commercial truck that was getting ready to drive out, and climbed aboard. The truck was stopped by law enforcement in St Charles parish, and they were then held at gunpoint and taken to jail. They were charged with robbery and attempted looting, and held for 15 days. 15 days of awful food, terrible conditions, and a great deal of fear, confusion, and anger.

Take a moment to think of one of your grandmothers, or an elder you hold in high regard. Imagine her being held at gunpoint by stressed-out, sleep deprived law enforcement agents in the midst of a disaster zone. Imagine her in a jail, after losing everything to a hurricane and flood. Imagine her more than a year later trying to find legal assistance in order to get restitution so she can put her life back together.

When I’m assisting elderly clients I often think of my grandparents. I try to imagine how they would cope with something like this. If our extended family was scattered all across the country during the evacuation, without the money or resources to return, much less take care of them. Would they be OK? Would they get lost in the system? Who would come to their aid? It’s thoughts like these that motivate me to stay another day here, to try to be patient and take time to listen. If it was my Grandma, I’d hope someone could do the same.


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Filed under Family, New Orleans

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