Friendships can mean different things to different people. For example, one might say they are close to their friend, then discover something about them that they would never have suspected. To the friend, you may have just been an acquaintance. Both individuals were content with their perceived levels of closeness.
With the elderly, there can be a sense of familiarity that is based more on familial connections than actual knowledge of a person’s circumstances. You may love your grandparents, but what is their current health situation like? Maybe you have a long distance relative you always talk to by phone and they never complain about anything. We’d just assume that everything was good with them and consider the relationship as a close one, but never know that they were struggling to pay bills.
My uncle passed away recently from heart failure. My father and my uncle were close. They spent many of their off days together. They would go to the movies, have dinner together, watch out for one another. My father considered his brother to be his best friend. A close relationship, many would say. After my uncle’s passing, my father discovered that his brother had been living in unhealthy conditions. There had been no running water in his home for some time. Because of this, he took showers at my fathers’ home occasionally, but usually just washed himself with a cloth at home. He did not have garbage pick-up. Instead of taking his garbage to work, where he had access to large trash containers, he would place his garbage in a spare bedroom. If a television would burn out, he would toss the broken one into a room and buy another one.
This has caused distress on my father’s part because he now feels guilt for not having known about the conditions his best friend had been living in. No one knows if my father could have done anything to change how my uncle was living, but my father feels burdened by what he didn’t do.
If you feel like you have a “close” relationship with an elderly person, make it a point to visit them at home, ask them questions about how they’re getting by. While the person you are close with may have been your support throughout your life, the time may be coming that you need to be the support in theirs.