Sunsetting Between The Books

When was the last time you visited your local library as an adult, san child?

This is now the third visit to my local library – all within the last week! I didn’t come here for the books, the internet or the really large oak table, but rather to see if I could recapture a level of deep concentration that a library somehow gave me when I was younger. I love the quiet.

I find a table and notice the same people from the weekend. None of us are studying per se, but we are all rather “busy”. Laptops open, papers spread out on the table, scrappy notes and pens abound. It’s like there is a mirage of “Do No Disturb” signs floating overhead.

I didn’t realize that you can mingle and talk in small groups these days. There are even broadcast announcements letting everyone know that the pediatrician from the local hospital is here to meet you and talk about best practices in child nutrition. There are open plan sections for teenagers with large posters where the kids have signed up to the cause of “No Bullying!” I notice a caring dad overseeing his young son as he completes the day’s homework. In the far corner there are two “worn-out” gents resting in the lounge chairs while reading the newspaper.

I couldn’t have looked more like I do when sitting on a plane – Bose noise-canceling headsets on, laptop open, pounding the keyboard in deep concentration. Then I meet Pat.

She had walked over to my table with her hand outstretched with a question. An attractive, petite senior citizen with stacks of papers held together with elastic bands and her hand clasping a bottle of liquid paper. So neat. So organized. Dressed in a baby blue leisure suit and white sneakers, she is no more than 5 feet tall with gold rimmed glasses that slip a little as she walks. “Sorry to disturb you but I have a question please…my elder sister has senile dementia and I think I must be getting it too. What is today’s date?”

Pat has a purse-sized paper calendar with the top right corner folded on the month of March. Every day has penned notations. I say,”It’s April 2, 2014 and can I help you with something else?” I closed my laptop as Pat took my hand and led me to “her” table. She has a long list of reminders beautifully handwritten on her precious piece of paper.

I take a closer look and each item was chronologically listed by month and date and what she has to do. At first I thought she must be a Senior Citizen’s Club Secretary but no, she is doing her home bookkeeping here at the library. She used to go to Kinkos she says, “But it got too cold – they must turn up the air conditioning!”

There were five distinct piles of carefully bound documentation that seemed many decades old. The yellow faded tint and the dusty edges of keepsake papers. With bright eyes and a melodic beat she tells me that she grew up on Montana and as a school teacher met her husband who sadly died in a plane crash some 40 years ago. She lets out a sigh, “I never remarried, so I have no children or grandchildren – just me!” Pointing to all the papers she says, “I have to do all of this on my own and it’s getting harder as my memory fades!”

Pat shows me the primary list and we note that she needs to write a check to her gardner. Once she found her spot by today’s date she was just fine to continue her bookkeeping.

I returned to my work and notice out of the corner of my eye that she was packing up getting ready to leave. It was already nearing sunset and it had started to rain. The car park is quite a walk and she had five cardboard boxes all neatly stacked. I quickly packed my gear and said, “Hi there, I can help you carry these boxes?” She indicated she would do five trips back and forth otherwise.

So as we walked through the exit doors she started a new conversation about money and accountants. She clearly was very worried.

“I’ve been with the same accountant since before my husband passed and he has to be more than 90 years old. I’m not sure he knows what he should be doing and he has an assistant who is a nice lady. This is why I am doing all my paperwork in the library. I said that I would take all my receipts to him in neat boxes.”

After placing the boxes in the trunk of her car, we stand in light rain as the conversation continued. Simply her instincts were telling her that something was not right with the management of her taxes and financial affairs. Yet she doubted herself because of her spotty memory.

She asked, “Will you be back here tomorrow? I said, “More likely the weekend, but here is my phone number. I’m only 10 minutes away if you need anything.”

It made me think of our senior citizens who live alone and develop early signs of dementia – the practice of writing everything down and managing their day-to-day life by routine and familiarity. I really worried about the financial management concerns that she had expressed with a touch of anxiety. My own mother says about herself, “I might be forgetful but I’m not yet totally stupid.”

It got me thinking about what would I do if I was Pat. Are their aged care service providers or business management advisors that help the elderly with the day-to-day management of their affairs?

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