Monthly Archives: November 2011

Only Child looks into elder abuse

Mum and Dad when both were alive.

Think of the most elderly person in your family – a grandparent, aunt, a parent, a spouse. Would you want them to be abused? Maybe they are still living their life full steam. And maybe not. Put yourself in the position of a much older-than-you person. Would you want to be abused?

My Mom and Dad were not abused as elderly parents. That may be partly because they didn’t live long enough to get past their early to mid-60s. I visited my godfather (when he was still alive) in a nursing home plus visited other nursing homes when doing interviews for newspaper and magazines articles (not on abuse) and found the treatment of their residents varied from okay to really good. In fact, in one instance, one of the nurse’s aides actually came over to a patient with dementia sitting in a wheelchair specifically to take her to her room to change her diaper. The aide gently told the lady what she was doing in a friendly but matter-of-fact manner. This is the opposite to some of the stories we read about nursing home abuse of the elderly. So, I have not personally seen elder abuse and my opinions are gleaned from what I’ve read and heard. The only “seen” of abuse is that TV commercial which is shown looking outside from a window with its blinds closed. Outside in the driveway, a young man is taking money from his elderly mother. We don’t see who is looking out the window and that is very effective for this topic.

The above is financial abuse and in the United States that constitutes 12.3 per cent of elder abuse (See Many of us associate elder abuse with physical abuse in nursing homes. But that is only part of it. According to the same statistics, neglect gets the big statistic for abuse at 58.5 per cent with physical abuse coming in at 15.7 per cent. You can check out the website for more statistics. But elder abuse is more than a bunch of statistics.

When you consider neglect, think about someone’s grandparent or parent living alone or in a nursing home and their children seldom if ever come to visit. Or an elderly man or woman stuck in their home because no one – family or friend – comes to help them out to get groceries, take them to doctor’s or dentist’s appointments or even just stops by to visit. Sure, there are “care” organizations (for a fee) with some covered under various medical plans. But they are few and far between. Think of a crowd of people lining up for a big sale at a store, all for maybe five to ten actual items available for sale. That might give you an idea how bad the situation is in North America at least. And there are more of us getting up in age.

Read more about elder abuse, surprisingly more in the home, at (American Psychological Association, Elder Abuse and Neglect: In Search of Solutions).

How do we want to be treated when we are elderly? According to Statistics Canada (Family Violence in Canada, 2007, by 2015, there will be more of us over 65 than under 15. Who’s minding the elderly? Scary thoughts.

Here are links to a couple of recent Toronto Star stories on elder abuse.

“Elder abuse a ‘hidden crime’ MPs say” Nov. 17, 2011–elder-abuse-a-hidden-crime-mps-say

For those interested in the nursing home situation, see “Nursing home reform requires grassroots support says advocate,” Nov. 19, 2011.”–nursing-home-reform-requires-grassroots-support-says-advocate.

I have only touched the tip of a really big iceberg which among many other things consists of not enough long-term care facilities, the high cost of long-term care facility living, insufficient number of caregivers in these facilities, stress and burnout from caring for an elderly parent or spouse at home. The list is endless and I don’t pretend to know all of it.

I would like to get a dialogue going on this topic. Please comment.

Meantime, here’s a happy true story. Remember my friend Carol whose Dad died. I talked about that in last week’s post ( Carol’s mom is still alive and Carol and her husband had to put her in a long-term care place a few years ago. Her mum has dementia (and that’s a whole other subject). Carol’s mom may have not gotten into the best (or the worst either) of places. But Mum has a good friend in her roommate. The roommate looks after Carol’s mom, taking care she gets her meals, gets around in the nursing home, etc. Carol, in turn, gets this woman flowers and really when she visits her own mom she is also visiting her roommate. Just as well, the roommate’s family never visits.

Not completely happy, but the story shows some hope and inspiration.


Sharon Crawford

Only Child Writes


Filed under Elder abuse, Eldercare, Elderly parents, Health Seniors, Nursing Homes, Only child

Only Child on elderly parents

Only Child's Mom and Dad

If my parents were still alive they would celebrate their 62nd wedding anniversary November 25. Sadly they died when in their 60s (that’s age, not anniversary years). Dad was 66 when he died in 1965 and Mom was 63 when she died in 1971. Contrast that with my friend Carol’s dad who died earlier this month at age 88. Carol and her husband looked after her dad for six and a half years following his head injury from a traffic accident. They even moved in with him across the street from me and also managed to maintain their out-of-town home. I don’t know how they did it and I have only admiration for them both. I also don’t know how or even if I could have done it if by some miracle Mom, at least, would have survived her brain aneurysm. Dad with his cancer spanning almost seven years (including two remissions), is another story.

I was a very immature 22 when my Mom died and I remember thinking just after my then fiance and I rushed her to the hospital via ambulance that I didn’t want Mom to be a vegetable. Despite surgery, she never came out of her coma and died five days after the aneurysm.

Carol and her husband are a few decades older than my 22. But their situation and mine raises questions. Which is the better life scenario?

In my case I missed the stress, time, etc. of having to care for an ill or disabled parent. I didn’t have to go through the “put mom in a nursing home or care for her at home” question. (I’m ruminating on that question  for me – for in the future – way ahead in the future, I hope.) The downside here is I missed having my mother around living to an old age. Sixty-three isn’t old. I have to say that as I’m getting there myself. And I miss her still. Sometimes I think her spirit is around and she is trying to guide me. I say “trying” because I don’t always listen too well. And Dad? I still miss him too. Every time I go to Toronto’s Union Station or ride trains I especially think of him. As some of you may have read in previous posts, my dad worked for the CN (CNR as it was then known when it had passenger service) and Mom, Dad and I used to ride the rails for our summer holidays to visit family and friends in southern Ontario and Michigan, plus touristy trips to Buffalo, Rochester and New York City. In my memoir I write

“Board here for Guelph,” he [train official] says and checks our passes dangling from Dad’s hand.  “Uh huh,” he says and grabs the suitcase and duffel bag from Dad, lifting them up onto the narrow wedge between train coaches. “Watch your step, little girl,” and he takes my hand until I’m standing on the square footstool at the bottom of the stairs.

Dad is already ahead of me and he reaches down for my hand. The metal stairs sound like tin beneath my feet and I am thankful I don’t have to kneel on them. We need an usher because Dad now prances up and down the aisles, checking out the seats. I can’t see any difference in them. They’re all the same pale powdery green with a plastic bib draped over the top of their backsides.

“This one will do,” Dad says, pointing to one on the right, a few rows in from the corridor. He flips the back and now two sets of seats face each other.

I sit next to the window and place Darlene on my lap. Mother plunks herself down beside me and straightens the hem of her dress. After Dad places the big suitcase on the seat across from Mom and lifts the duffel bag onto the overhead rack, he sits down across from me.

“You’re going to ride backwards, Daddy?” I ask. 

“Yes,” he says, but he seems distracted and keeps looking up at the overhead rack. Then he stands up and gives the duffel bag a shove, but it’s already up against the wall.

“These racks are too small,” he says.

(Excerpted from “Riding the Rails with Dad” Chapter 7 from You Can Go Home – Deconstructing the Demons, copyright 2011 Sharon Crawford)

But that was back in the 50s and early 60s. Now, with both parents dead and seeing my friends and others caring for their elderly parents, I understand the paradox of our situations. There are good and bad points for each. Probably the best way to deal with either is to accept it. If your parents are elderly and living (even with dementia) be grateful they are still living. If they died younger, be  grateful they may have missed the difficulties of living old. I say “may” because my dad suffered through cancer before he got old.

Count your blessings because there is a lot of elder abuse going on today. Next week’s post will go into this aspect of aging.


Only Child

Sharon Crawford

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Filed under Canadian National Railway, Death and Dying, Eldercare, Elderly parents, Mother dying, Only child memoir, Railways, Uncategorized

Only Child’s teaching heritage from mom and that nun

Only Child sharing her writing knowledge with other writers

My love of teaching writing, the teaching part anyway, goes back to when I was 13. As I have blogged before on February 12, 2010,  I taught my mom to play the piano then. But I also had another go at teaching, thanks to my grade 8 history teacher  the same nun, the school principal who bullied me. But this teaching experience went outside the area of bullying. If memory serves me right, each student had to teach a history class. I chose  to teach about the Fathers of Canadian Confederation, complete with maps, diagrams and anecdotes.

But I couldn’t go up cold to the front of the class and teach. Not me, who had stumbled miserably through a debate. That’s where Mom came in. As I write in my memoir…

After I put the whole lesson together, Mom and I do several dry runs.

I prop up my maps on the dining room table. Mom stands at the other end in the living room and I start my spiel. We also do the dry run in the kitchen, where I go through the whole lesson, using my illustrated props and pointing with her long dressmaking ruler. She doesn’t tell me to talk slower or speak up; she listens, nods and smiles. When I am finished, she doesn’t need to say anything. I know I’ve done a good job and pleased her.

In class, Mother St. Helen calls on me to teach my lesson. I cart my maps to the front, support them against the blackboard and start, from the first provinces into Confederation and tell tales about the “fathers” behind them, I weave an interesting story that keeps the class and Mother St. Helen mesmerized. I don’t falter as I lecture, ask questions, comment on the replies, and answer questions posed by some of the students. It is as if I am transported into another world, where I tell true stories and everyone hangs onto my every word. I don’t recall the class clapping when I finish, but I can feel it in the air that they learned history without yawning.

(Excerpted from You Can Go Home – Deconstructing the Demons, Copyright 2011 Sharon Crawford).

You might say that history keeps repeating itself – not in what I teach, but the fact that I do teach writing (and also editing, although I much prefer teaching writing). When I stand (or sit) in front of a small or large group of writers and share my knowledge I get warm fuzzy feelings. I also feel gratitude, because by sharing back and forth (my students also share their ideas and their stories) I always learn something.

Maybe that is the core. You don’t just get up in front of others and start lecturing with the attitude it’s my way or the highway. Sure, you are telling your story, your point of view, spreading your knowledge, but it is just your tiny part that you are sharing. You are there to learn, as well.

I’ll be doing more of this tonight – although this time I’m talking to a group of writers about how they can also teach writing. There will be Q & A but after the other two panelists also share their ideas. The topic actually is Writers Earning A Living: Alternate Revenue Sources and it’s run by PWAC (Periodical Writers Association of Canada) Toronto chapter, and yes, I’m a member here. It’s in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, 7 p.m. tonight. Details at if you are interested.

One of the other speakers makes and sells cupcakes. It should be interesting and feed the stomach as well as the mind.


Only Child Writes

Sharon Crawford

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Filed under Only child, Only child memoir, PWAC seminars, Sharon Crawford, Teaching, Teaching History, Teaching writing, Toronto writing seminars

Only Child Remembers Mom

Only Child's Mother

My mom’s birthday is November 9. If she was still alive she would be 104. But she died at 63. Too young to die. Of course, I’m going to say that because I’m heading into that age territory later this year, so…

But the age and the date have got me thinking more about Mom. A psychic friend once told me she could sense her spirit’s presence in my house. And I have felt it, not inside the house I grew up in when I re-visited it, but afterwards at the nearby park where my friends and I used to play. I remember Mom’s weird  sense of honesty. In my memoir I have a chapter called “Mom’s Ten Rules of Honesty.” The chapter begins with

“Eat your dessert or the police will come and get you,” Mom says. She points to the front door and nods her head like I better do it or else the Black Maria will roll up the driveway and scoop me up into its dark interior.

I stare down at my bowl. Stewed huckleberries and apples. Black smashed berries and their dark juice seep through the apples. Yuck. Smothering the stew in vanilla ice cream can’t hide the taste of huckleberries, a taste that sits in the middle between sweet and bitter. But Mom insists on growing these strange berries in her garden.

“Sharon, did you hear me?” Mom gets up from the kitchen table, scurries into the living room and stares out the front window. “Oh, I can see a police car coming up the street; it’s turning into the driveway.”

I start to shovel the mixture down my throat. Then I jump up and take my turn at the living room window. Down the street, Mare’s father cuts his front lawn; Mrs. Armstrong sits on her front veranda, with her collie dog at her feet, and a couple of finned cars cruise up the road towards the dead-end street. Our driveway at 139 lolls in its usual empty state. When I finally get the nerve to look straight down at the veranda outside the window, all I see are the two Muskoka chairs – vacant.

Such was my mother’s twist of the truth. My legacy is rich with the fallout from my mother’s Rules of Honesty. She had a skewed sense of right and wrong. According to Mom, I had to tell it all as it actually happened, but she could tailor her honesty according to what she thought suitable for little ears to hear or what she wanted little people to do. Or she could stretch the truth by throwing in a little imagination. I compare it to a ruler, each inch (or centimetre, depending on your generation) from one to 10 being the equivalent of one of Mom’s Rules of Honesty to live life. The higher the rule or ruler number doesn’t necessarily mean the more significant the rule.

(Excerpted from You Can Go Home – Deconstructing the Demons, copyright 2011 Sharon Crawford).

To this day a strong sense of honesty, integrity and even justice stays with me. It is important that everyone is treated fairly and that covers the good and bad of each person. I’ve been taken to task for going after someone who has treated me wrongly or unfairly but I believe that if someone messes up they need to be held responsible. Often this means I confront the person – and that’s what I get the flak for. However, I also do the flip side of the coin and try to show my gratitude for someone who has helped me or is doing something good. An example of the latter is one of the members of my East End Writers’ Group who decided to help me with the publicity for our 10th anniversary celebration and did. Now, she is having a book launch for her memoir and I am doing my part to promote it and work it out so I can get to it (and the other book launch a few hours earlier the same day).

In case you are interested her name is Susan Siddeley and her book Home First: a memoir in voices is being launched Sunday, November 13, 4.30 p.m. at at The Flying Beaver Pubaret, 488 Parliament Street,  (just north of Carlton St. and south of Aberdeen). in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. For more information on Susan and the wonderful writers’ retreats she holds in Chile check out her blog at

Do I follow my ethical criteria all of the time? No. Was my mother perfect? No. But as I write near the end of this same chapter in my memoir…

Mother’s honesty didn’t just encompass telling the truth; it covered people’s basic integrity and how they dealt with the screw-ups, bad times and bad luck that always pop up in life. Nothing is certain except taxes and death, but the trick is to wind yourself through the days, months and years until you die – without falling into the muddy waters.

(Excerpted from You Can Go Home – Deconstructing the Demons, copyright 2011 Sharon Crawford).


Sharon Crawford

Only Child Writes

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Filed under Book launch, Death and Dying, East End Writers' Group, Home first memoir, Honesty, Integrity, Life learning, Mother dying, Only child, Only child memoir, Responsibility, Sharon Crawford, Susan Siddeley

Only Child on naming names in memoirs

Only Child reads excerpt from her memoir You Can Go Home - Deconstructing the Demons

Anyone who has or is writing a memoir has run into it – the “do I name names dilemma.” This topic has come up in the Women’s Memoir Writing group I belong to on Linked In as well as in the Crafting the Personal Memoir course I am currently teaching. And the Internet is full of ideas about what to do and what others did.

Some of these ideas are wild. Wait to write you memoir until everybody in it (except you, of course) is dead. Well, if you wait, your spirit may have to come back to earth to do so. Show what you have written to everybody in it. That can just make matters worse as I can personally relate to from just showing one chapter to cousins.  Change the names. Don’t tell anybody you are writing a memoir (except your writing critique group and swear them to secrecy) until it is published. Do you really think no one will blab about it?

A few years back when writing the original version of my memoir, I emailed one chapter to a cousin who had helped me with family background information. She must have passed it on to her siblings. But it wasn’t this chapter that stuck in the craw of one of her sisters. Nope. This cousin was upset because she didn’t want her children reading in a published book about the mental illness of a dead uncle. Our parents had “hidden” this uncle from us until one summer he showed up visiting another aunt and uncle and then our parents had to open up. Except their stories didn’t jibe. Flash forward to years later where some of us cousins discussed just what was the story with this uncle. The objecting cousin was not one of this bunch although she probably heard about it from her siblings. She later said she “would be very angry” if the book was published but wouldn’t sue me (I asked her). However, she had no problems with me writing it and publishing it as fiction, names changed, of course.

Which I’m doing. One family story became the basis of a fictional short story  I wrote and had published in an anthology. The details and family situation changed – only the theme remained. And no, it wasn’t about my late uncle with the mental illness. Not yet…

At the same time I had done a manuscript evaluation exchange with another author and he said that my story was the most interesting in my memoir.

So, I changed it, including the title to You Can Go Home – Deconstructing the Demons. I deleted all the old family history (except for my parents and my grandfather) and wrote more of my story – the whole focus and theme changed. I also used pseudonyms (and state that in a Disclaimer at the beginning) for all but my parents and myself. That won’t hide it all but I felt it was the best way for me to handle the situation.  Did I do it because of this cousin’s objections? Partly. But more so, from reader feedback.

The bottom line is when writing a memoir you have to decide for yourself whether to name names or not, what to show to family members or if to show anything to family members; only chapter excerpts for fact-checking might work best. If someone has a different take on something, why not include their take (but give them their credit)? Remember everyone sees a situation differently. You can always show the draft to a lawyer if you are really worried about libel.

And here are some of those websites I checked out.–to-do-so-requ-397127.html

Do a Google search for “naming names memoir” and see what you find.


Sharon Crawford

Only Child Writes


Filed under Family Flak Memoirs, Libel in Memoir Writing, Memoir writing, Memoir writing course, Naming Names in Memoirs, Only child, Only child memoir, Sharon Crawford