Saving sanity, one referral at a time

Marcia Mermelstein

BY PATRICIA CORRIGAN, SPECIAL TO THE JEWISH LIGHT

When Marcia Mermelstein, 60, joined the staff at ElderLink St. Louis in September, she brought along a master’s degree in social work and decades of professional service with the Jewish Community Center, United Hebrew Temple, Congregation B’nai Amoona, Central Agency for Jewish Education and Union of Reform Judaism.

Mermelstein also brought first-hand knowledge of how difficult it is to track down answers to questions about lost Medicare cards, specialists who can assess what level of health care an older adult might need or resources that help a person age in place.

“When my mother lived in Kansas City, it was always challenging to try to help her,” says Mermelstein. “I would call numbers I had been given to get answers I needed, but it was never easy to get the right person on the phone.”

Founded in June 2009, ElderLink St. Louis is a coordinated referral service for Jewish older adults, their children and caregivers. It is a project of the Jewish Federation of St. Louis, administered by Jewish Family & Children’s Service, and funded by the Lubin-Green Foundation, BJC HealthCare, and the Carol and Fay Simons Endowment for Senior Services. (See www.elderlinkstlouis.org or call 314-812-9300 for more information.) Referral services are free.

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“We don’t solve the problems of aging here – but we make accessing information easier,” says Mermelstein. She made time recently to talk about programs she has developed to help spread the word about ElderLink.

Is the word out about ElderLink and its services?

Too many people still don’t know about it. My greatest frustration is to sit here with a phone that’s not ringing often enough.

How big is the need for a referral service?

It’s huge. The Jewish Federation created this service to meet needs identified by a task force. At the top of the task force’s list of identified needs was easy access to information and resources.

So a lot of people need this kind of information?

Oh, they do. If you’re in your 50s or 60s, when you see someone at the grocery or out somewhere, people still ask about your kids – but first they ask about your parents. “How is your mom?” “Did you get that problem worked out for your dad?” So many people are dealing with so many issues regarding aging parents.

You have developed presentations for groups to help spread the word about ElderLink. Talk a bit about these programs.

I offer my time and a list of programs I’ve developed to synagogues and organizations. One is “Who Gets Grandma’s Yellow Pie Plate?” In that one, I give tips on helping aging parents get rid of clutter and make decisions about personal possessions.

A few weeks ago, you did a program at B’nai Amoona called “Getting Over Getting Older.” What is this program about?

It’s based on Letty Cottin Pogrebin’s book “Getting over Getting Older: An Intimate Journey.” She wrote the book about her angst over turning 50, and it struck a chord with me.

What is the key message?

The main theme of the book – and the theme of my talk – is about time. Cottin Pogrebin wrote that even though she lived in a penthouse in New York City, was happily married and had a wonderful family, she was depressed about aging. At 50, she figured she probably had about 30 years left to live. One day, looking at her 30-year-old daughter, she realized that 30 years was still time to create something new, something remarkable. That changed her thinking.

Did she say how to stop time from passing so quickly?

She said that time goes more slowly when you are young, because everything is new and you have to pay close attention. Her advice to slow down time is to learn new things, have new experiences – and to hoard time, never waste it, always live mindfully. That also ties in with Jewish beliefs.

How so?

Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel writes that one day a week be set aside to do nothing other than exist, that Shabbat is pure time. He says those hours are a sanctuary in time, a day to stop and notice, to enjoy being alive.

How are your programs received?

Fifty people were at the last talk I gave. I always ask if there are questions about the program or about ElderLink, and I encourage audiences to tell friends about our services. Through these networks of people, the word will keep getting out – and the phone will ring more often.

HealthWatch – Marcia Mermelstein

WORK: Senior adult information and referral specialist for ElderLink St. Louis

HOME: Richmond Heights

FAMILY: Three daughters; four grandchildren

HOBBIES: Baking, quilting, knitting, spending time with grandchildren