A full house gathered at Stamford’s Ferguson Library on a rainy Wednesday night last week to view the 2018 Oscar-nominated film “Edith + Eddie” and to learn about issues surrounding appointing a conservator and caring for an aging parent. Presented by SilverSource and the Library, the screening was followed by a panel discussion with experts in the fields of estate planning, probate, geriatric health, faith and social services.
Laura Checkoway, the film’s director introduced the film, explaining that the project began with documenting the love story, but quickly turned into an intimate look at deeper issues associated with losing the ability to advocate for oneself. “I wanted to learn more about falling in love at ages 95 and 96. At a meeting we learned about a disagreement between Edith’s daughters about how to best care for their mother and it turned into so much more,” said Checkoway.
The 29-minute film follows Edith Hill, 96, and Eddie Harrison, 95, the country’s oldest interracial couple. Viewers learn of their recent marriage, and witness their obvious care and affection for one another, but also watch the couple ultimately become separated by Edith’s court-appointed legal guardian against their wishes. While the separation is disconcerting for the audience, it distresses Eddie so much that he passes away just weeks later.
A discussion followed, led by moderator Kathleen Bordelon, Executive Director of Silversource. The panel of experts included, Hon. Gerald M. Fox, III, probate judge for the city of Stamford; Jevera Hennessey, Esq., specializing in estate planning and trust admin.; Ellen Bromley, Director, Stamford Social Services, city of Stamford; Dr. Allison Ostroff, Director, Division of Geriatrics, Stamford Hospital and the Stamford Health Geriatric Assessment Center; and Rev. Dr. Douglas A. McArthur, Senior Pastor, First United Methodist Church.
Bordelon asked, Was this a love story? “Their love was so strong, there’s a sweetness between them,” said McArthur. “They needed each other and we’re a witness to a sacred bond between them. Was this a love story? Absolutely.”
Did Eddie die from a broken heart? “Look at George Bush,” said Dr. Ostroff. “The stress of losing a spouse does wear down the body. There’s data now, broken heart syndrome is very common.”
Struck by this cautionary tale, the panel offered valuable advice, stressing the importance of filling out a healthcare proxy form and getting a power of attorney. Getting a living will and completing a Medical Order for Life-Sustaining Treatment (MOLST) form were also suggested.
“It’s good to have the conversation about what you want way before the time you need it,” recommended Bromley. “Having a conversation early on about how you want your old age to look and planning ahead in a meaningful way is important.”
“You should designate someone to make decisions for you when you’re unable to make decisions for yourself,” said Hennessey. “This prevents a hearing to make that choice,” and warns, “not everyone has your best interest in mind.”
Judges will follow your advanced directives. “It’s when there are none that I have to make a much tougher decision when there are competing family members who want that responsibility,” said Fox. “If you think there’s going to be a question, you should put it in writing in advanced directives.”
Questions about managing a parent’s safety arose. “We try to keep people in their home. I need examples as to how a person is unsafe,” said Fox. “As long as a person is not putting themselves in danger or anyone else, they have the right to behave any way they’d like.”
“Happiness and safety are my two goals in aging,” said Ostroff. “For most of our lives, happiness is our focus, but when you’re older, safety often becomes more important. Sometimes you have to give up some joy for safety.”
The bottom line: “A Conservator is substituting judgement,” said Fox. “It helps to know what the person would have wanted. It’s a gift to provide this information.”
SilverSource, founded in 1908 is an independent, nonprofit organization that advocates for older adults and provides case management, emergency financial assistance and other services to positively improve the quality of life for people over age 60. In addition, SilverSource is an information resource center and referral source for older adults and their families. SilverSource, Inc., is a 501(c) 3, and is located at 2009 Summer Street in Stamford, CT 06905. For more information visit www.silversource.org or call 203.324.6584.
The Ferguson Library is Stamford’s public library system, consisting of the Main Library, DiMattia Building; the Harry Bennett Branch; the Weed Memorial & Hollander Branch; the South End Branch and a traveling Bookmobile. It provides free and equal access to information, ideas, books and technology to educate, engage and enrich the Stamford community. For more information visit fergusonlibrary.org. or call 203 964-1000.