Elder Abandonment

Her face pulled attention for a photograph.  Local vendors and their story drew wonderment.  The old woman often accompanied her daughter, a regular seller at the Pont Sondet market, along the Artibonite River in Haiti.  They arrived in mornings from the northern area of Haiti’s central plateau, worked the market all day, and left before dark.  Over time the daughter amassed debt, buying on credit and promising to pay later.  Her husband had financial troubles of his own.

One afternoon the daughter left the market without her mother, never to return.  Now the old woman lives at the market.  Other sellers give her handouts and make sure she’s taken care of, yet resent the burden of another mouth to feed. She’s wasn’t supposed to be their responsibility. The old woman is sick and can hardly stand.  She seemed ashamed of being abandoned and showed anger when speaking about it.

A man in a crowd of 15 vendors who care for the old woman made his own plea for help.  They are all poor and the woman is nearing the end of life. Funerals are expensive and she deserves a Christian burial.  Can we take her or give them money?  His breath smelled of rum.  If we made a contribution would it help the old woman, or buy the man rum?  There’s no way of telling.

The need in Haiti is endless and foreigners are looked to for answers.  We have none.  Elder abandonment is rare. Usually a family member is found to take a relative in need.

The market vignette happened so quickly we never got the old woman’s name.  This was my second experience with elder abandonment. The first happened a few years ago to Shirley, a neighbor across the street in Portland, Oregon.  She lived alone for two years after her husband passed away and needed assistance now and then.  We helped when we could.  Her son and daughter, who I never saw in the five years I knew Shirley, managed to get a power of attorney over their mother.  Before the rest of the neighbors knew what was happening, Shirley was moved against her will to a retirement home far from the familiar neighborhood she lived in for most of her life.  We could have helped but were never given the opportunity.  Jonah the cat, who followed Shirley everywhere, was left alone in the house.  He came and lived with us.  Soon after the house was emptied into a garbage bin, remodeled and sold for profit.  We visited Shirley when we could.  Her children were rarely heard from.  Last month Shirley passed away, five years after being abandoned to by two children interested in their mother’s money, but not their mother.

Copyright 2011 Adam Bacher.  All rights reserved.  Absolutely NO usage without prior authorization.

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One Comment

  1. Evelyn Sharenov November 26, 2011 at 5:16 pm #

    The story of Shirley and her family – and Jonah, the cat – is one we share and which will always weigh heavily on my heart.

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