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When people imagine their retirement, spending their golden years being abused is not what they picture. Sadly that is the case for many older people in Waitaki, and across New Zealand. As part of Elder Abuse Awareness Week, one Oamaru woman shares her story with Ruby Heyward.

It was a Tuesday when Mary* got a call from her daughter-in-law.

She remembers the day, because the call – about her her teenage grandson Ryan* being kicked out of home – changed everything for her.

Ryan had got into some trouble and, despite warnings from his dad, Mary, whose name has been changed to protect her identity, decided to take him in.

“I thought ‘I’ll calm him down’,” she said.

But for the next two years, that would not be the case.

“When he came in he didn’t say ‘Thank you Nanna’ … he came in and started trouble.

“The more I did for him the less thanks I got.”

Ryan quickly fell into a routine of verbally abusing his grandmother, and stealing her belongings to sell for drugs.

“[He called] me all names under the sun,” she said.

“I knew it was abuse.”

Mary, who is in her 70s, struggled to eat because of the stress the abuse caused.

Then lockdown rolled around. Unable to leave the house, and advised not to go to the supermarket, Mary became isolated with her abuser.

Despite her vulnerability to Covid-19, Ryan would invite friends over who would often stay until the early hours of the morning partying.

“[They were] climbing through the windows … all his friends were coming along drinking and smoking drugs,” she said.

Mary asked them to leave to no avail.

And with the rising tension of lockdown, Ryan’s abuse towards his grandmother became physical.

“In the end I got pushed around.”

Police were called to Mary’s home about 16 times over two years.

A few months after lockdown she kicked Ryan out, but the abuse did not stop. So, earlier this year, she decided enough was enough and took out a protection order against him.

“It felt good. Everything went off my shoulders.

“I just couldn’t take any more of it.”

But she did not receive the support of her family, who could not understand why she would do such a thing to her grandson, an attitude they did not hold when it came to Ryan’s abuse towards her.

During her experience, she did receive support from one of her sons. Without it, she would have felt so much worse, she said.

Age Concern Waitaki elder abuse response worker Sharon McGregor said those who experienced abuse often felt alone, or as though they were the only one experiencing it.

But that was far from the truth.

In the year to June 30, 2020, Age Concern investigated 2411 elder abuse referrals made by police, social services, family, and neighbours – 75% of which had abuse substantiated.

In Waitaki, Age Concern received one referral a week, Ms McGregor said.

Mary, who was one of those referrals, is in a much better place now, but she still tightens up if anyone becomes confrontational with her.

“I feel edgy sometimes,” she said.

She still feared Ryan and was scared he would hurt her.

“There are so many elderly women abused by their grandchildren,” Ms McGregor said.

Age Concern helped those affected by elder abuse by providing one-on-one support with social workers such as Ms McGregor.

During Ms McGregor’s visits with Mary, she noticed a big change in her confidence, especially after she stuck up for herself.

But that was not the only change; Mary also had a new friend.

Upon moving out, Ryan left his pet in her care.

“He’s the first pet I’ve had. He’s good company for me.

“If he can’t find me, he comes calling for me.”

For anyone for whom Mary’s story might resonate, she offered this advice; “don’t stand back and let it go”.

People should stand up for themselves, call the police, or ask for help, she said.

* Names changed to protect identities