The long-running British television series Midsomer Murders probably isn’t the first place you’d look if you wanted commentary on aging in the twenty-first century.  After all, it’s a murder mystery show on which people of all ages die, the lead is not in any consistent way involved in elder care, and all of the regular characters are working-age adults.  However, the show portrays seniors as integral parts of the communities in Midsomer County (the extremely murderous fictional area in which the show is set) and often uses side plots to address issues in aging.

In general, the show does a good job of integrating aging issues into its plots, and seniors are never just jokes.  The two aging-related subjects that arise most frequently on Midsomer Murders are the vulnerability of older adults to fraud and the financial challenges that arise because seniors on fixed incomes can’t continue to live the lives to which they have become accustomed.  These two sides of the aging coin—seniors as victims and seniors as active agents looking for ways to meet their own needs—combine to show an interesting portrait of aging in the twenty-first century.

The two plots converge in interesting ways in the two episodes of Midsomer Murders that deal most directly with seniors.  The Season 3 episode “Blue Herrings” is set in an Assisted Living community of sorts (the show calls it a nursing home, but it bears a lot closer resemblance to Assisted Living in American terms).  In this episode, the main character, Inspector Barnaby, is visiting his aunt Alice, who’s there to recover after surgery.  He notices that there are a lot of strange goings-on at Lawnside, and one of the residents tells him she suspects that two staff members are conspiring to steal residents’ property by manipulating them into changing their wills and then murdering them.  Stolen jewelry and other irregularities compound both the residents’ and Barnaby’s suspicions, and everything comes to a head after a couple of suspicious deaths.

While all is not quite well at Lawnside, it turns out that residents are not being exploited by staff.  The one actual murderer was a resident’s family member, and the situation is just sad.  And the thief was another resident.  Tired of being pretty much confined to Lawnside but unable to afford regular meals out or taxis to the pub, he steals his fellow residents’ valuables and sells them as if they were his own.  While this is shown to be a bit silly and could easily have been played as a joke, the show clearly portrays the situation as having been brought about by the character’s circumstances.  He worked as a chauffeur, didn’t have significant savings, and has bills, so even small luxuries are struggles.  That he obtains them through theft certainly isn’t condoned, but the show treats him with understanding.

In Season 6’s “A Talent for Life,” one of the two central murder victims is an older adult.  Isobel Hewitt loves driving fast cars, and she was accustomed to living a luxurious lifestyle.  As she aged, however, she ran out of funds and had to rely on family.  When she and a friend are murdered while fly fishing, Barnaby first suspects that another friend killed her to get his hands on her assets.  After he learns that she is no longer wealthy, he no longer worries about theft, but he does suspect her hypercritical relatives, who constantly complained that Isobel wouldn’t reduce her expenses.

In “A Talent for Life,” the murder has less to do with Isobel’s age than with how she treated people.  She was fun, but she wasn’t always kind, and that ultimately came back to haunt her.  But her money problems are real problems, and they are caused in part by her age.  In general, Midsomer Murders suggests that it’s unrealistic and unfair to expect seniors to live in poverty just because they are no longer able to work.  At the same time, it shows how older adults are particularly vulnerable to fraud and theft that have the potential to leave them even more impoverished.  At the same time, it lets older adults be human.  Like everybody on Midsomer Murders, seniors frequently have agendas, and they’re as flawed as younger characters.  Seniors can be victims, the show suggests, and they’re uniquely vulnerable in some ways, but they don’t stop being who they are just because they’ve aged.  This commentary is subtle and occasional, but the show definitely has a clear point of view on aging.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve gotten an up-close, personal look at family caregiving.  My grandfather, who is a resident here at Buffalo Hill Terrace, has been having some health problems.  Fortunately, he’s doing better, but it’s meant a lot of running around for my mother (his daughter).  And this week, my grandmother (my father’s mother) is in town.  She’s been having a problem that my dad has the skills to fix, so she decided to pay him a visit.  Since my dad and I both work full time, my mom is the one doing a lot of the preparation and day-to-day caregiving for my grandmother, as well.

It’s meant that things are extra busy, especially for my mom, and a lot of planning has gone in to making sure that everyone gets where they need to be.  I help when I can, and I’m lucky to work in an environment that understands and values family commitments, but there are limits to what I’m able to do.  The same goes for my father, a professional in independent practice. 

What this has shown me is that while caregiving for a senior is certainly a collaborative enterprise, much of the work out of necessity often falls on one member of a family.  It’s usually the person whose schedule has the most built-in flexibility.  My mom works part-time and has many interests and responsibilities beyond caregiving, but the caregiving falls mostly to her because her other responsibilities can more easily be scheduled around it.

This may be practical, but it’s definitely not fair.  I know my mom is happy to take care of her dad and, when the need arises, of her mother-in-law.  She does it because she loves them and because they need care.  And my dad is involved with both his own mother’s needs (of course) and with my grandfather’s.  But that doesn’t mean it’s easy or that she doesn’t need or want more support.  Here are some thing I try to keep in mind when thinking about how to be a supportive family member to someone caring for a senior:

  • Careful planning is important.  The primary caregiver knows this, but we can all make sure we’re part of the plan.  If you can say, for example, “I am available on Tuesdays and Thursdays after four and usually on the weekends,” you let the person doing the planning know that you’re willing to help and when it’s practical to pass a task on to you.
  • This planning is all very well, but no amount of planning can prevent a crisis.  Crises are often the moments in which caregivers need the most help, and if we can be flexible, they’re also the times when those of us around them can be the most helpful.  If we can respond by doing what’s needed in a crisis, we can take quite a bit of stress off of a caregiver’s plate.
  • Remember to enjoy being with the senior who’s your loved one and that often, caregivers, too, find joy in the work.  Caregiving is stressful, but caregivers very often do it out of love.  If we can approach it joyfully, remembering that our time with our aging loved ones is always limited, we can help reduce stress for both ourselves and for the main caregivers we support.

If you spend enough time at Buffalo Hill Terrace, chances are you’ll encounter a long, brown, mixed-breed dog walking through the halls with one of his people.  He’s a very friendly dog, so he’ll probably come up to you to say hi.  At least, that’s how many visitors and residents first encounter David and Martha Maurer and their dog, Toby.

Toby has actually been in Martha’s life for longer than David has.  At the time of our conversation, she’d had the dog for about ten years, and now, that’s closer to eleven.  She and David have been married for eight years—both had previous spouses and were widowed.  Toby had a previous person in his life, too.  Martha’s neighbor in Texarkana, Arkansas had adopted him through a rescue program.  But Toby kept digging under the fence into Martha’s yard.  Eventually, Martha and her neighbor agreed that Toby should come to live with her on a permanent basis.  They’ve been together ever since.

After Martha’s first husband died, Toby used to snuggle with her, and he was very comforting.  Soon, though, Toby had two people.  Martha and David are both originally from California.  In fact, they went to the same high school and dated briefly.  Fifty-seven years after their original meeting, they reconnected online, and they eventually married.  Toby quickly adjusted to having David in his and Martha’s lives, and he’s certainly happy to be with either or both of them.

The small family relocated to Montana upon Martha and David’s marriage.  Some years before, David had moved to Somers because he was tired of California.  He heard Montana was a nice place, and when he came to visit, he agreed.  When he reconnected with Martha, Montana was where they chose to make their home. 

The couple and their dog moved into Buffalo Hill Terrace in the summer of 2017, and it’s been their home ever since.  Every time Martha or David takes Toby out for a walk, he stops to greet almost everyone he sees.  They also make regular visits to residents at the Immanuel Skilled Care Center, where Toby brightens the days of residents and staff.

Both David and Martha have long valued community service.  David volunteered with a number of organizations when he lived in California, and Martha still volunteers with a charity that reunites adoptees and their birth parents.  Both David and Martha like to feel like they make the world around them better.

As for Toby, when he’s not out and about visiting current friends and making new ones, he’s an active dog who likes to run around.  He also enjoys spending quiet time with his people.  In spite of his playful nature, Toby doesn’t much enjoy playing with dog toys, and he doesn’t like to travel.  He’s a social homebody, making him the perfect companion for two community-minded seniors like Martha and David!