Getting old, gracefully

In these heartwarming stories, Leah Abramowitz shows how, with the help of social workers, people cope.

Aging in Wellness and Adversity (photo credit: Courtesy)
Aging in Wellness and Adversity
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Leah Abramowitz, who now works at Yad Sarah in Jerusalem, made aliyah from the US in 1957 and worked as a geriatric social worker for most of her professional working career. Drawing on her work at Jerusalem’s Shaare Zedek Medical Center, where she joined the staff in 1972, and as coordinator and co-founder of Melabev, a network of daycare centers for the aging mentally impaired in 1981, she has compiled a collection of 25 short stories.
All the stories are fictional but are drawn from real-life characters and incidents that she and her fellow social workers encountered, and indeed that our hard working social workers deal with on a daily basis with patience and compassion.
I think I was asked to review this book because I’m old, not elderly – I passed that stage a few years ago –  but old. I am not sure when the word elderly came to replace the adjective old to describe us oldies, but it seems to have gained currency because of a fear of aging. After all elderly doesn’t sound so bad, like getting on a bit, whereas the word old has a ring of finality to it. After old there’s only one further stop on the train and that’s the terminus. Well, with this book Leah Abramowitz does her best to dispel some of the fear of illness towards the end of life’s journey.
A fact of life is all of us die in the end, which isn’t such a bad thing considering how crowded our planet would be if we all lived for ever. But aging and the need for terminal care does not just affect those who are sick and approaching the end of life’s journey. It affects relatives, friends, neighbors, even passing concerned citizens, as this book illustrates with characters that are recognizable to all of us. The stories tell how together with the medical staff the social workers are able to offer comfort and support. Sometimes this help is practical, sometimes emotional but always where help is needed it is provided, both to patients and to their relatives.
Sometimes the general public is unaware of how many times the social workers act as advocates for the patients and their carers when it comes to bureaucracy and hospital rules and regulations. With tact and patience they work quietly behind the scenes to solve problems of support, continuing care and ensuring that no patient is abandoned, no carer is left to deal with needs that they do not have the resources to deal with. They go to great lengths to find solutions to what may appear to be insuperable problems.
In these heartwarming stories, Leah Abramowitz shows how, with the help of social workers, people cope. She describes the care of loving families, but also the care and compassion that the professionals have to supply when for various reasons relatives are unavailable or unable, either for physical or emotional reasons, to manage. Her vast experience shows in the range of patients and their visitors that she describes. They range from the confident and cooperative across the spectrum to the frightened, the alienated and the frankly awkward customers, whether patients or visitors.
On the cover Leah Abramowitz hopes that this book will be a useful tool in preparing young people for a future in the caring professions, and indeed in my opinion it should be required reading for all our potential social workers, nurses, physiotherapists and hospital auxiliaries. But the stories also stand alone as a slice of life that some of us have experienced, or unfortunately will experience. The stories, some poignant, some uplifting, some sad, but always hopeful, can be read just as a darned good read. On finishing the book I was almost surprised that the cover didn’t glow in the dark from the love, compassion and empathy stored between its covers.
The little sketches, which head each story, are mostly the work of Ayal Berkovitz, the author’s talented grandson, and neatly encapsulate the subject of the story. The bright and attractive cover, designed by the author’s equally talented granddaughter, Tamar Greenwald, captures the spirit of the book.
There is the famous Bette Davis saying, “Old age ain’t no place for sissies,” but this book shows that with the devoted care of our health professionals even in adversity it can be made bearable.
I hope that the book will be translated into Hebrew and other languages to allow it to reach a wider public.
Aging in Wellness and Adversity
Leah Abramowitz
Mazo Publishers 2018
148 pages; $25