30 August 2007

What she has learned

Heather Bennett, a daughter of Larry and Donna Smith, was in "SiCKO" along with her parents. It was her house in Denver that the couple were headed to at the film's beginning — Heather's husband on his way to Iraq to do "some plumbing," as her son explained. Heather describes herself as "the proud daughter of Larry and Donna Smith." She's right to be proud, because her parents have done this country proud by not shutting up, not resting, but instead relentlessly leading and speaking out. They've done that despite the uncomfortable label of "health care system victim" that catapulted them into what might seem to be a catbird's seat. In fact, both Donna and Larry are more akin to being transformed into canaries in the mine.

Those of us who have been hurt by the despicable U.S. healthcare system have a duty, as Christians, Jews, Muslims, atheists, Wiccans, mothers, friends, and most of all as human beings, to speak out. The private health insurance industry will hurt you too. And if that doesn't outrage you, like the bumpersticker says, you're not paying attention. Heather's family understands. Here's Heather's column.

What I have learned...

By Heather Bennett, proud daughter of Larry and Donna Smith

My parents are featured in the Michael Moore film, "SiCKO." I am one of their six children and I am the daughter who volunteered her home when they had no place to go. I offered my home out of love and understanding that this was what I could do for them at the time. I could not erase the years of financial burden placed on them by their health care woes, but I could offer a soft place to land. For them, the opportunity to tell their story in this movie has been uplifting, dignifying and — and admittedly difficult at times. What people do not know — what people cannot see - is the private struggle behind the scenes for them and for their adult children.

It bothers me that our family did not feel comfortable sitting down and having this conversation together. Perhaps it is too idealistic to think that families do that today. Do adult children know how their parents have planned for the future? Do parents talk about health care concerns and needs? Or are we so caught up in the “me” and in keeping everything private that we don’t stop to talk about it? What is the emotion behind this? Is it fear, embarrassment or shame?

When people ask me why my parents are in the film and why I think this is so important, I answer that my parents are an example of what a couple might have to go through even though they are both working and are fully covered under multiple insurance plans. What I have come to understand over the past few weeks is that the importance of this movie is even simpler than that. It is about having the conversation and then doing something about it.

Inability to have conversations is a big part of the problem in America today. We are so careful about what we say, how we say it, when we say it and to whom we say it that often we decide it is easier not to have the conversation at all. As Michael Moore asks in this film, “Who are we?” My answer is that we are lots of individuals or small family units that are pretty uncaring and unconcerned for those around us. I would argue that Moore’s statement about the “me not we” ideology has bled past our every day dealings with the outside world, straight into our family lives. I know that I myself have learned things about the struggles they have faced by watching them give interviews or reading my mom’s eloquent words posted on a blog or a newspaper article. I also know that I feel utterly unprepared to assist as my parents age.

We live in a different time. Gone are the days that families stayed close together, generation upon generation living in the same community - taking care of each other. In our family, discussions on health care issues, financial issues and independent living issues rarely take place. What is the source of the stubbornness that stops these conversations from happening? How can we regain that connectedness?

If you are the child of an aging parent, I urge you to sit down with your parent(s) and have this discussion. Talk to them about their health. Talk to them about their healthcare. Ask the tough questions. What will happen if there is a major illness? What will happen if that illness is so debilitating that assisted living is required? Would your parent be able to survive the financial drain that a health issue can cause?

Not only do these conversations need to happen within families, but we need to take those discussions and turn them into action. Start with your State Representative, your Congressional Representative and your Senator. Where do they stand on universal health care or a single-payer plan. Have they taken money from the health care lobby? If so, why? Pledge your support for a bill in Congress - HR 676. Challenge each of the Presidential Candidates for 2008 to really explain their health care plan. The voices that rise up from our families, to each state House to the halls of Washington should be filled with anger and outrage at a system that is failing so many. For every day that we do not take action, 50 more people will die.

I wish that I had asked these questions earlier. I wish that I had been engaged in discussions with my parents on an entirely different level. In America, we must get back to a focus on “we”. It starts with asking the questions and planning for the future. Parents must feel no shame or loss of dignity in telling their children what they might need to survive a major illness. Children need to be prepared before something happens.

I urge you to see this movie - parents and children together. Start the conversation and then take action. When you start the conversation, you may be surprised at what you learn. I know I have been.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

To Heather Bennett: I just watched the movie where your parents were shown moving into your "storage room". Was this particular scene sensationalized, or did you really mean to have your parents live in a tiny, dirty room with computer equipment that had to "stay there"? Please tell me that the parents who raised you weren't really subjected to sleeping in bunk beds in a filthy room, while you apparently were alone in bed since your husband went to Iraq, and didn't offer them YOUR bed? Although the may not have had a clear vision about their financial plans and included you in them, did you have to make them less than 2nd class citizens, along with your condescending brother, after they have struggled with health issues? Are you that horrible? What's worse a government that doesn't take care of its citizens, or children who treat their aging parents badly?