Aid & Attendance · Caregiver · Presidential election

Aid & Attendance, part 6 / March 1, 2008

My mother and I met with the man who handles fiduciary matters for the VA here in Providence. He came out to Garden Manor. I arrived early and told my mother that someone would be visiting us in order to have me sign some papers so that she could have some extra income. I started to tell her that this was all the result of Dad’s WWII service but the look on her face told me that this didn’t add up, so I let it drop. She liked the idea of getting extra money each month–this is due more to her lifelong concern with making ends meet than with any awareness of her current financial situation. She does often ask me to give her some cash to keep on hand, claiming that she often needs it, and I usually put this off. When she first moved in I forgot to remove about $40 from her purse and the money disappeared. I’ve given her a few dollars here and there but that always disappears, too, so I won’t do that anymore. A friend suggested that I look for play money–maybe having some of that would ease her feeling of vulnerability. If I could find some that looked remotely like real money I might do this–it’d be interesting to see whether that would disappear, as well.

The VA man was very kind to my mother–he asked her a couple of the questions from the MMSE (”Do you know who the president is?” No. “When is your birthday?” March 31, 1922. “Who is this woman [pointing to me]?” My daughter.). I’d had to bring along an updated financial accounting of my mother’s affairs, plus a letter of recommendation (written by my boss) for myself. He explained the accounting I would have to give to the VA if I spent more that $1000 at one time on anything, and the end-of-the-year financial accounting that would be due. Then he inspected my mother’s room.

After he left, my mother said to me, “Since you did all the work, you can keep the money,” which made me cry a bit when I remembered it later on.

I’ve received a letter from the VA confirming that I am my mother’s fiduciary, and I’ve opened a trustee account at the bank for the money, when it arrives. She should be receiving a substantial retroactive benefit (considering we applied over a year ago), and I’ll have to get the VA’s permission to apply a chunk of that to the home equity balance (from which I’d been borrowing to pay her rent each month). The paperwork and regulations overwhelmed me at first, but, step by step, I’m figuring things out. At that point, I’m going to post an account of my experience on Debbie Burak’s site in the hope that it will prepare others.

My mother has been in a fairly good mood, although she has lately been preoccupied with the whereabouts of “the boys”–presumably students that she feels responsible for. I tell her that I’ve spoken to “the office” and that they will look out for the boys in her absence.

Last Sunday we went out to lunch at our usual spot, a creamery about a half-mile from GM. I could feel the woman in the booth behind us looking at us, and finally she leaned over and said to me: “Is that Mrs. P. who taught third grade?” I said yes and she told me that my mother had been her teacher, and that she was now a teacher herself because of my mother. “You are awesome,” she told her. My mother was eating her hot fudge sundae (the whole point of going out to eat) at that moment, but she paused for a minute and smiled, even though I know she didn’t recognize the woman. I whispered something about my mother’s condition to her.

So that’s where we are today, a snowy March 1st. I always feel as if I have so much to do, but I wonder if that feeling is self-perpetuating, a habit I’ll need to break. I’m thinking of putting it all aside today and walking over to a nearby college where Barak Obama will speak. Rhode Island has a primary this coming Tuesday, so in the past few weeks we’ve seen Hillary, McCain and Huckabee. At this point I intend to vote for Hillary but I can understand how appealing Obama is. He could actually be any race and still command the attention he’s getting. I believe that Hillary has the smarts and the experience to be president but I don’t underestimate the unifying power of presence, which Obama possesses. He’s smart, articulate, charismatic.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the symbolic aspect of the presidency–how deeply do the American people want to see themselves in the figure of the president? What happens when they don’t? This came to me when I was watching a documentary about Theodore Roosevelt, someone who was a problematic political figure before he became president upon McKinley’s assassination. I think he came to epitomize America as it wanted to see itself at that time. Brave, vigorous, smart, tenacious. It would be thrilling to me to look at the White House and see either Hillary or Barak looking back at me.

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