It’s not easy caring for an aging parent in your home. Often, it’s just as difficult to be that aging parent, knowing that no matter how real the love is between you, your adult child is shouldering a burden in tending to your advancing needs. It is often a recipe for frustration, resentment and miscommunication on both sides, made worse when families put off conversation and planning until a crisis hits.
“People think, ‘Oh, this is something I don’t have to think about until I’m in my 70s or 80s,’” said Dyan Walsh, director of community and caregiver services at Eastern Area Agency on Aging in Bangor. “But families really need to be starting this conversation sooner.”
Mainers in the Bangor area can kick off that essential conversation on Sunday, April 10, with a free screening of the short documentary “Nine to Ninety” followed by a guided discussion. The half-hour film captures the true story of Joe and Phyllis Sabatini, an elderly couple in California living with one of their adult daughters, her husband and a 9-year-old granddaughter. When 90-year-old Joe Sabatini’s health takes a turn for the worse, the family must decide how to best meet everyone’s needs. The solution they hit upon is both unsettling and powerful, according to film director Alicia Dwyer of Los Angeles.
“It is a difficult decision they reach,” Dwyer said. “But on the flip side, it shows the power of clear communication, and there is something very inspiring about that.”
Dwyer said she undertook the project after her colleague and friend, film producer Juli Vizza, disclosed the caregiving drama unfolding in her own family. With a record of making small, powerful independent documentaries, Dwyer found funding and decided to shoot the film.
“At first, we assumed the main characters would be Juli’s mother and her aunt,” she said, referring to the two grown sisters located on opposite sides of the country trying to do what’s best for their aging parents. “But within days, her grandparents emerged as the real core of the story.”
The film premiered at the Hot Docs Film Festival in Toronto, was nominated for Best Short by the International Documentary Association and has been selected for inclusion in a U.S. State Department program that brings contemporary American films to international audiences. It has aired on PBS channels and is wrapping up a national schedule of community screenings and discussions.
The event in Orono is hosted by the University of Maine Center on Aging and the Eastern Area Agency on Aging. Staff from those organizations will be on hand to facilitate discussion and provide resources for families who need guidance as they plan for eldercare.
Walsh of Eastern Area Agency on Aging suggested that Mainers at midlife attend and bring older family members with them.
“We’re all going to age. There’s no way to stop it,” Walsh said. “Families and communities need to be talking about it.”
The “Nine to Ninety” screening and discussion will be 1-2:30 p.m. Sunday, April 10, in Room 115 of the DP Corbett Business Building at the University of Maine in Orono. It’s free to attend. Refreshments will be served, and Vizza will be available for questions.
Additional Maine screenings are scheduled 1-2:30 p.m. Monday, April 11, at the Muskie Community Center in Waterville; 5-6:30 p.m. Monday, April 11, at Central Maine Community College in Auburn; and 1:30-3 p.m. Tuesday, April 12, in the Lunt School in Falmouth.