Friday, July 17, 2009


Oi. I've been through the mangler of dealing with the ongoing parental crisis. My father and I haven't had a true fight in a long time -- maybe never, because he's Dad and I'm Kid, and now I'm not the Kid -- but we had a real fuss late last week when I asked if we could make inquiries about getting and staying on assisted living waiting lists so that he and Mom can move when they're ready.

This was the most innocuous of requests, especially because my brother would move them back to Montana within the month if he was the boss of them. Dad wouldn't hear of it. The argument got weird fast: what, he exploded, if Mom dies? The ratio of women to men in their retirement community is 16:1, you know. (Hunh???) No one would be happier than I to see either of them go on to new partners but what did this have to do with the fact that Mom is alive, can't walk much, will never drive again and the isolation this will impose?

"What if I die first?" he burst out again. "Then Mom will stay in a nursing home," I said, a bitter fact but inescapable. "I've taken a couple of tumbles myself," he lashed out. "Do I need to be in assisted living?" "Not as much if you used your white cane," I said.

What did any of this have to do with a refundable deposit on a long waiting list?

I think it had to do with painful emotions, which my father has been careful to avoid all of his life. Fear, anxiety, helplessness, suspense, confusion, resentment, loneliness, love, sorrow and grief -- I don't know that I've ever seen those feelings play out so volubly before. He's been the Doctor and the Colonel and now he depends on strangers to change the batteries in his hearing aids and wonders if he has the money to cover what could be a very expensive future.

I've seen laughter in my father. Graciousness, intellectual passion, silliness and playfulness, affection, admiration, pride, generosity. I've seen and experienced his harshness and anger but they've been short-lived. This is new territory where Slavic stoicism is more dangerous than it seems because it's crumbling.

Later that night I heard him telling my aunt that there was no way he'd go into assisted living, "it would drive me bat shit." I went to my room and cried, called my brother and got the commiseration I needed but was still so angry I couldn't speak to him for a day, thus waving the flag of "Francie Is in a Mood". Even my mother asked, when I stayed home and cooked dinner instead of being in a car with him, if Francie Was in a Mood.

Yes. Francie Was in a Mood. She was in the mood to scream or twist his wrist behind his back. She found some alone time instead of doing either.

Thirty-six hours later he called a friend in Montana and my niece and I heard him saying it was time for him and Mom to move up North and into assisted living. Lisa came into the dining room with wide eyes to find my eyebrows hovering above my head, which was spinning. My mother can't remember having a shower and my father is changing his mind and using phone calls to relative outsiders to tell us what he's thinking. It's like everyone's speaking in Voices.

I realized in that episode that I was enabling him as surely as if I was buying bourbon for a drunk. As long as I'm there, he doesn't really have to face the fact that he can't see and that life without vision at 93 years of age is limited. Who will tell him his tomatoes are red or that he can take the plastic tops of his Aerogrow garden? Who will read him the catalogue for the Library of Congress Books for the Blind? Even Mother won't be able to do many of these tasks, unable to walk that far or get her breath to talk that much.

The nursing home where she's been finishing rehab has announced that she has plateaued. The Medicare Express has turned Local. They're urging assisted living or keeping Mother in the nursing home, which would be the death of her, and Dad has announced he's bringing her home on July 24th, two months after her fall. He's given my brother the go-ahead to put down a deposit for one of the places in Missoula, which is giving my brother the same kind of chilling thrill that Dad's blindness gave my mother by putting him in charge and giving him a new sense of being the jury.

I don't understand the financial fiascoes my father has ignored and that my brother feels is Dad's shrinking capacity to run his own life, but I have cottoned on to the fact that when Dad charges in to remove Mom from the care facility and doesn't want to talk to my niece (she's a hospital social worker and knows Medicare better than God -- she's been our savior) first because he's got to get bars up in the shower, he's acting on all those frightening emotions rather than the logic we can allow at the remove we have from the situation. I managed to convince him Lisa needed to be involved in every inch of the next week in order to secure the next round of Medicare benefits and I managed to get through to him that in the 20 hours a day he won't have a nursing aide to help out, he needs to find the time and ways to take care of himself. "If the neighbors ask you to go water-walking, say yes and ask a friend to sit with Mother. Let's get an intercom system so you can watch TV in your bedroom when she's in the den. Don't be afraid to ask Monica (their aide) to look at your tomatoes or take you to the hardware store."

What have I missed?

Mother is going to take an enormous toll on him. I know this because he took an enormous toll on me and everyone kept telling me, "Take care of yourself," a concept I couldn't follow through on. I have little experience of really taking care of myself, and even less experience in saying out loud what I need and what I will do to take care of myself. This deficit should have been clear 30 years ago but it took the last six weeks to really get it.

I have it easy, too. My father isn't going to be able to leave my mother for a psychic spa, whereas I'm beginning to understand that the first thing self-care consists of is largely to leave people to their mistakes and frailties and live at a remove from them.

Maybe this will be easier when I can get to sleep on Eastern rather than Pacific Daylight Savings Time...


Laura N said...

It's good to hear an update from you today. What a tough time it is for you & your family. What a blessing to have your niece be helpful with medicare.

Your next to last paragraph about self care struck me hard. I need that tatooed inside my eyelids.

Anonymous said...

oi is right.

my only piece of advice: get your dad a video monitor from babies r us/buy buy baby. that little "mom tv" was my salvation for a while.

Unknown said...

You are right to step back, Frances. And I agree with your analysis of your dad's actions and emotions and thought processes. At his age, he's actually lucky to still HAVE thought processes. :-(

Getting old is not for the faint-hearted, nor is caring for the elderly in our families. May the Force be with you.

gardengirl said...

I just found your blog yesterday, after reading PFT again, and loving it even more the second time. I've been gorging myself on your wonderful posts, and finally had to gather up my courage and leave a comment. First, thank you. Thank you for sharing your bravery, and your honesty, and your talent. You are inspiring. You've made me realize that for women like us, life is a highwire act across the Grand Canyon--except there IS no other side! The wire just stretches out forever, for the rest of our lives. The trick is to learn how best to balance yourself, to survive the things life throws at you without tumbling off and plummeting to a carb-laden doom. Sometimes people Do fall and the bottom is "Call the fire dept. to get this 500 pound woman out of her house". Sometimes you cling to the wire by the fingernails of one hand, and pray for one little break to get you back up on that wire. Sometimes things click, and you can step along through your life, managing your food well week after week, and it seems possible that you might eventually be taken for a normal girl. But the fact is normal never happens. I know I'll be on this wire for the rest of my life, it's the body and mind I was dealt. I believe you are on the same highwire. I wish for both of us the strength to keep balancing, to keep moving forward, and at the end of the day to look back with pride at how well we managed the challenge.
I am sorry for the length of this comment, but I had to say this to you, this one time...


Bea said...

Oi squared. I guess my only advice is to provide the most care you can find (that will be accepted and afforded) and hope for the best. Do not expect to be able to prevent all the disasters. They frequently open the door to needed change in the care situation. They also come with allowing people to assume responsibility for themselves.

Ditto about the eyelid tatooes.

Unknown said...

Yikes. It sounds like you just got the "kill the messenger" treatment -- he had been in some sort of denial about how bad things were getting, and you somehow managed to chip it and see the resulting explosion. Your sense that pulling back for a bit and giving him some time to work through this (and see how difficult it will be to manage on his own) seems on-target to me.

Glad to hear that you got away for a while -- sounds like you needed it.

Jess said...

It can't get any better than this.