I was getting brunch with a friend yesterday, and the conversation turned to assisted living services. My friend was expressing how her family has gotten a lot of flak for putting her grandmother in such a facility, and I shared that I was familiar with the industry because my mother has been working in marketing for assisted living companies for as long as I can remember.
My friend and I agreed that these kinds of services were extremely beneficial so long as the facility provided reputable care. Nursing homes, assisted living facilities, and other forms of elder care allow for the caretaking responsibility to be lifted from the unpaid relative (typically a woman) and placed with a paid care professional, thus reducing the strain on the familial relationship and providing the adequate care that nurses and other health professionals understand how to give.
Caretaking for relatives in need is kind of a Catch-22 in the United States: if you choose to care for an aging or ill parent, you sacrifice much of your own time and well-being, but you’re lauded as selfless and generous, even if you lack the knowledge or skills needed for caretaking; if you choose to place that parent in the care of a professional within an assisted living facility, you spare yourself the distress of engaging in that role reversal (child taking care of parent instead of vice versa), but you might get called selfish or uncaring.
What I learned in Palestine is that, traditionally, children are expected to care for parents in their advanced age. Unfortunately, due to the constraints placed on Palestinians by the Israeli authorities, life for young people can be challenging and often dangerous. Job opportunities are hard to come by, so much of the young adult population is leaving home to find work in other countries. Thus, there is a generation of parents who won’t have the option of having their children care for them because their children have left to build lives for themselves elsewhere.
Enter St. Peter’s Elderly Home in Birzeit, West Bank. In 2009, United Thank Offering awarded a grant to the Diocese of Jerusalem to install an elevator inside a building intended to be used as an elder care facility and community center. The diocese is creating a space to meet the needs of this growing demographic. The elevator will make the building accessible for wheelchair-bound residents, allowing for a greater portion of adults to be taken in. These elders find not only quality care at St. Peter’s, but also a building with space on the ground floor for community use. These adults won’t be sequestered from society; the community (and congregation of St. Peter’s Church on the same campus) will be able to come to them and help give residents a sense of dignity and belonging.