I was in the bread aisle of the grocery store when a middle-aged woman approached me with a pained expression on her face. “Mary-Ann, I really do have to ask you something,” she alleged, wringing her hands in distress. “Sure,” I replied, clasping a loaf of pumpernickel.
“Do Hutterites really kill their elderly?” she gushed.
“Yes, yes, we do. At a certain age when they can’t work anymore and get sick and forgetful they become such a bother,” I told her matter-of-factly.
She was thunderstruck.
The notion that Hutterites would knock off their elderly is so far removed from reality that I couldn’t help having a little fun at the poor woman’s expense but by the time she caught on I nearly had to mop her off the floor.
There were similar gasps in the audience when I told this story at the Seniors Gala Luncheon in Prince Albert last week. Hosted by devoted senior’s advocates John and Hannalore Fryters my keynote address for the 200 seniors in attendance was captioned, “How Hutterites Care for Their Elderly.” As one might expect the account of my conversation with the woman in the bread aisle raised a few eyebrows.
The way Hutterites care for their elderly is truly exemplary and mainstream society could learn a lot from their model. Hutterite seniors are greatly beloved without regard to how little they contribute to the community or how dependent they become. Caring for them is considered a great honor. Common worries that seniors in mainstream society face such as fixed incomes, finding caregivers and getting to the doctor or grocery store are of absolutely no concern to Hutterites in their golden years.
They are cared for in their own homes by their own family and are served according to their needs and wants. Most colonies have a special cook that caters to the specialized or dietary preferences of seniors. The elderly that are infirm or critically ill will have round the clock care. In addition to family on the colony, their daughters who may have married to other colonies are brought in on a 3-week rotation basis to look after them so they are never alone. Grandchildren are also engaged in the care-giving and are taught that it is a privilege to look after their grandparents. By the time I was 8 years old I was washing the floors in my Oma’s home on my hands and knees every Saturday afternoon. She would sit in her rocking chair and point to the places that I missed with her cane. Oma was a tough task master and I always felt so proud when I pleased her. The O Henry chocolate bar for a job well done was all the inspiration I needed.
Many Hutterite seniors continue doing light community work. Able bodied senior women still like to go to the community kitchen with the younger women to help peel potatoes or to the slaughter house where they sit at a table with their peers and pick the last of the pin feathers after the geese or ducks have been plucked. This way they stay plugged in to the Hutterite hotline for the latest gossip, romances and death notices. Senior men like working with the bees or tinkering in the machine shop in their old age. This pattern of young and old working together is holistic and strengthens community bonds.
Ensuring the elderly are included in the social life of the community and taking their interests and limitations into account preserves their worth and dignity to the very end.
I have to give the lady in the bread aisle credit for having the courage to ask a tough question. It ended with a hug. She was flooded with relief and I was relieved to clear up a misperception.
Mary-Ann Kirkby is a Hutterite Author and Professional Speaker. Her national best-selling books, Secrets of a Hutterite Kitchen, and I Am Hutterite, are available at www.polkadotpress.ca. Contact Mary-Ann at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Facebook @ www.facebook.com/maryannkirkbyhutterite
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