For the last three years I have been living with my grandmother as I complete my studies in journalism. It astonishes and angers me the number of vultures that have preyed on her polite and kind nature. I have seen her throw away thousands of dollars over the years despite my attempts at intervention. I've seen it come through all angles, through e-mail scams, telephone scams and door to door salesman. I've struggled between a balance of giving her the dignity and respect that she deserves and calling her out for her sometimes unwise decisions. The time eventually comes when you have to ask the question, is your loved one still capable of managing their finances independently?
In her prime, my grandmother ran a booming business with dozens of employees underneath her. In a time where men dominated the computer industry, she was a trailblazer who built a software company that provided navigation for airplanes. She was intelligent, driven and sharp.
In her later years she had a stroke, and won a fight with breast cancer. She is still smart, she is kind, and she still works as hard as she can with the cards she's been dealt. But as hard as it is to admit, her capacity has diminished. I don't think it's something to be ashamed of, as it happens to all of us at one point or another. Still, many seniors feel a deep sense of shame about this and have a hard time coming to terms with it. So, how do you approach such an issue with tact?
How do you intervene without disrespecting, without insulting your loved one and without threatening their cherished independence? I don't want to tell my grandmother that she's incapable because I know that would hurt her. It's also not true, at 74 she is still capable of many things, but she is most definitely weaker than she used to be. I also can't stand by and let the vultures pick away at her hard-earned savings.
Often times when she receives these kinds of calls, she does politely decline. But many of these telephone scammers are relentless, you can say no a dozen times and they will continue to go on. My grandma grew up in a more polite time, a more civilized era. It is hard for her to simply hang up the phone, or reply with rudeness. Some of these callers will push past the point of ridiculous.
I have picked up the line on occasion when I know that she is dealing with someone dishonest. Recently, I told one such caller that I would call the police if they did not cancel a monthly subscription to a service that she wasn't using. She had flat out told them she didn't want it but they had ignored her and continued to try to sell her until she either agreed or hung up the phone. Even after my threat to call the police, they continued to tell me why I wanted their service. With such ruthless and aggressive sales tactics, what is a kind and polite lady to do?
To those of you in a similar circumstance, I think that if we love our elders, then we must intervene. They have worked too long and too hard to be taken advantage of. But we must also do it with tact. They have earned respect and dignity for all the years they have lived. I am in the process now of figuring out what that looks like, but I think it should go something like this.
Grandma, you have done so much with your life. You have also done so much to provide for and love your family. So much, that we feel it is our duty to do the same for you, to protect you the way you have always protected us. I am asking you to trust me, the way I have trusted you. I don't want to make your decisions for you, but just as you helped me to make important decisions in my life, I want to do the same for you. I want what is best for you for the rest of your years. I hope that we can work together in the future in making good financial choices.