• As I chatted with a colleague of mine – a woman turning seventy – we discussed how important mail is to elders. Most of us look forward to seeing “what’s in the mail.” Maybe it’s the mystery. Those little white envelopes. Those large, flat, brown ones. The dreaded ones with the “windows,” which usually means a bill. Reality for most of us is that there is more unwelcome mail (as in bills) than welcome mail (as in checks and/or letters). But still, the mystique is there. That quality of the unknown is powerful.

    Mail is important to everyone, but elders often have, in general, less daily variety to look forward to, so that one event of the day, the delivery of the mail, can become a real focus.
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    The history of having looked forward to the daily mail throughout our lives is what makes losing that daily focus all the more poignant for an elder. So, how to deal with an elder’s mail can become a sore point between parent and adult child.

    My mom had, without much thought, done the practical thing, when she was caring for my grandmothers (at separate times). She had the mail delivered to her house and brought them what came, minus the bills and other things that were important, but that could get lost. I don’t remember that there was a huge issue, but then, I wasn’t all that involved.

    When my mother reached the age that she was forgetting many things and not understanding quite a bit, I struggled to keep track of her bills and tax items that would be delivered to her apartment along with tons of junk mail, an occasional letter or card from a friend, and many magazines. I’d find bills wadded up among the torn up envelopes. I’d notice late fees on things, as I took over paying her bills. It was frustrating, but she wouldn’t have any part of transferring her mail to my address. I did the best I could and lived with the situation.

    When mom went into the nursing home, it was easy enough for me to do the address change. I didn’t want her financial information going to the nursing home and getting lost in the piles of stuff on her bedside table or the basket she kept next to her chair, much less her garbage can. However, she resented my doing it. She knew having the mail go to my address was the smartest thing to do, but she wasn’t going to smile about it. And I don’t blame her.

    I visited her nearly every day, so I’d bring her every bit of junk mail (that didn’t present her with an opportunity to throw away her money), along with meaningful cards, letters and her beloved magazines. I even brought her all of the catalogs I received, just so she’d have more “mail.” But she hated not getting her mail directly.

    I tried to guess what was in an envelope. A couple of times, I was wrong, and it was something she could (and should) have opened. She was very resentful, when that happened. Again, I didn’t blame her. I certainly didn’t intend to open mail that was from her friends, but her welfare was in my hands. I could only do my best.

  • It’s one more of those awful losses people deal with. It has to feel demeaning to have someone else screen your mail, childish not to have an address and get it delivered in your name. But practicality and financial safety sometimes trumps kindness. Rather like taking away the car keys, taking away the mail (before it is screened) can be a safety measure. It’s painful for all involved, but often necessary.
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    For more information about Carol go to www.mindingourelders.com or www.mindingoureldersblogs.com.

Published On: February 22, 2007