My parents are in their eighties. They were fairly active thru their seventies. Then my Dad, the healthiest of the two began to decline much faster than anyone would have thought.
My Dad was a NYC Firefighter in the sixties, seventies and eighties.( Engine 82 & Ladder 31 among others ) A real hero. But Dad did not like ,or trust, doctors or dentists. Mainly because of the lack of economic compassion . He let his teeth go and ended up with many small seizures or strokes. All added up to limited walking and an Alzheimer kind of thinking. Thoughts in his head but can’t make the words come out right.
Last month,(June 2010) Mom broke her hip. I live 1300 miles from them and my brothers. I was the last to find out the situation. When I did my family, all eight of us, decided that this was the time to go help Mom and Dad. Not an easy decision. Besides all the goings on of life, my Mom had been quite vicious to us in the past, with the help/complicity of my siblings she was allowed her version of truth unquestioned. Regardless, through the years we made constant efforts so the children would know their grandparents. We seemed to achieve a relative peace.
Upon our arrival, I found my father in a condition of neglect. Disheveled, unkempt hair and nails and unwashed. This is what my brothers called allowing Dad his ‘autonomy’. I was amazed that anyone could let him stay in this condition. Within a day we had him trimmed and washed and cleaned up. His spirit was visably regenerated. Every time I saw a need in his personal hygiene I asked him first and then helped him in accomplishing the task. Some how my brothers mixed up the ideas of autonomy with neglect. My mother still in the hospital, my brothers had been sharing the duties of my Dad. And yet they fought the idea of my returning home to help out. “We don’t want Dad confused” and “The kids will be too much” were some of their concerns. My brothers have children too but mine were regarded differently. Justly so, I guess. I talked to my children about their DA, about how they can and should help and how the interactions of myself and my brothers affect decisions in our life. My brothers thought this information classified,”not for children”.
From the moment we showed up Dad knew who we were. In fact , the first thing he said to me was “What took you so long!”. Pop even recognized my husband. The kids love their DA and would sit with him and be his aide as much as kids can.
My husband left after a week to return to his job. We knew that this could be a long term arrangement but my father is my husband’s friend . This is what we want for ourselves and others; love, encouragement, help, and friendship. I was alone in a crowd.
My Dad is probably the most important figure in my life. He is who I measure others by. His influence colors much of how I see the world. To see him dismissed in conversation while in the same room by my brothers was devastating. All I could think was ‘how did we grow up in the same house’. They would treat him like a child or neglect him in the name of autonomy. When I was ‘caught’ getting him into bed so he would not be on the edge I was scolded. “WE don’t PUT him to bed” and when I explained he was on the edge I was again given the complete autonomy rule. Safety and comfort was not in the plan though because until we arrived (July) the air conditioners had not been installed! We installed the downstairs and basement machines. My brothers did Dad’s room at this impetus, complete with extension cord coiled next to Pop’s bedside! My bedtime routine became simple. Since I was the care-giver for Dad during the day, as well as my own kids, I let my fifteen year old son stay up with Pop till bedtime. Some nights he went early some late, my son just had to be there ‘in case’. I was in the next room if needed. However, even this was to be disparaged by my siblings as not good enough. Autonomy be DAMMED!
I was truly amazed at how well Pop could still get around and converse even when his mouth would not cooperate. He looked great with his daily grooming. He would let me shave him every other day. Wash him everyday and even had a rinse for his mouth. He had pains in his legs that with a homeopathic cream disappeared. He seemed to enjoy being clean, who doesn’t? Pop would doze as I washed his face with rose water. His diet was varied and I had a hard time keeping the treats he liked in the house. He has a voracious appetite! He can almost run around the house, even though walkers are made for floors Pop can manipulate them for grass.
Finally it came time for Mom to come home. That’s where it ends. My mom could not bear the thought of me and my kids in her home for anything more than a visit. Her house, her things could not be changed or moved. This was inevitable with me in the house (not leaving ).Even so much as moving the TV so Pop didn’t have to negotiate a second set of stairs. She was coming home to a full time job, my Dad, she could not do. She was limited in her mobility due to to her hip and no one but me had offered to move in to help. She said no. I tried to explain that if I did not stay a paid care giver would be needed. That they may only qualify for a very small amount of time. This was her decision and not so remarkably the boys did not interfere.
I explained that a return trip, if needed, would not be possible in my financial circumstances. My husband, while angry about leaving his friend without his daughter, said that we knew Mom would be the biggest advocate or obstacle. So, I informed the children that we would be going home. And amazingly enough ,only at the end of a month there did I find that two of my five brothers were in favor of my staying, they couldn’t help enough because of their own family situations. Failing health, autism and in-laws all being factors. But it is and was Mom’s decision.
I’ve been back for a while now. My anger is now more pity and sadness. I send pictures and call Mom. Dad can’t talk on the phone. But I get to say I love him. Mom sounds tired and I am sure she is. What I can do is learn to not worry about the things in my life but the people. My home is where people care about me and for me. The Qur’an says that sometimes the thing that we dislike most is the thing that is best for you. Mom isn’t sure she believes in God. I Do.