Your Hand In Mine

July 19 2020

Rules. Rules. Rules. We recently needed to move our dad to a senior’s facility with a higher level of care for him. With Covid there are rules, so many rules. Even coming from one residence with no covid to another without the virus, and having had several tests himself – he still had to be isolated in his room for fourteen days. I had to believe that when that non-isolation isolation (we were thankfully still allowed to visit) would be over Dad truly would be in a good place. He’s now on a memory care ward but please please don’t jump to conclusions! Don’t sigh and say dismissively, “Oh, okay, that’s that then.” My dad has dementia – but I know this about the ‘D word’ – you can’t decide what that means for him in particular, or compare it to someone else you know. Yesterday I listened to a poignant podcast about an elderly woman with dementia, and how she told a daughter she didn’t initially recognize, “This is who I am now. Accept this version of myself. Know I love you still.”

In the years since my dad’s had dementia I’ve made irratic frustrated attempts to learn more about the disease, and what I’ve learned most from that is that the way a person’s mind leads them down the path of dementia is unique for every soul. My family has had to learn what sometimes frightening path my dad’s mind has taken him along, as well as all the ways he is wonderfully still the same.

The kind doctor that first diagnosed him told him, Dementia doesn’t mean you’re crazy. It just means your memory isn’t working the way it did before.

My dad is still my dad. He is still honest and good, (though sometimes cranky), with charming wry humour. ‘How long have you been on oxygen?’ – a doctor recently asked. “Same as you,” he said, “since I was born.” And when I try to cool off his hot apartment, instead of telling me he is cold, he asks me if I can find him an ice pick. A nurse brings him his medication and he offers to split it with her.

That humour is evidence of a sharp funny mind. But the same mind doesn’t see the boundaries of his own changed body. Why can’t he get his drivers license back?, he wonders despite being on oxygen, and off-balance even with a walker. It’s on his bucket list to ride a horse again, he tells me and he’d like to get a two bedroom house with a stove to have people over and cook say, a few eggs.

People warn us how sad it will be when he doesn’t recognize us. I can’t predict, but I don’t think that’s going to happen. He knows exactly who his five children are, not always where we live now, but who we are is locked in. He doesn’t know he’s called one of us a dozen times in half an hour. Or that he asked us what time we’ll arrive two minutes ago, or he already called to say Happy Birthday to the brother whose birthday he amazingly remembers. Still if we can get the conversation past why he can’t move into his own place, and honestly sometimes we can’t, we can still engage in conversations about the times that as he says, were a life time ago.

My parents marriage was the union of two people who believed not just til death do us part, but in loving each other completely until then. Their strengths shone through their union but for the last four years our mom had to assume care for the husband who had previously done the heavy lifting for her. Fourteen months ago mom confided to me, “Dads worried about what will happen to him if something happens to me.” I tried to be funny, ‘We are too Mom, so you better stick around.” A month latter, the day after their 66th wedding anniversary, to our childish surprise – she unexpectedly died.

He managed in the assisted living facility we’d helped them choose for a year without her – his guiding light. He’s frail, and weak of body, but not of mind in the way too many think. Yes, he has dementia but he can tell a good story, and set you to laughing with his wit.

Funny what memories we hold onto. Being the middle of five kids it would have been rare to have my dad’s attention all to myself. But I remember going to a department store once – just him and I. I have a vivid memory of how before entering the big store he took my small hand in his big strong one. I honestly remember being so happy to have my dad, holding my hand, just the two of us out together.

What I wish I’d told my mom that day fourteen months ago when she, I realized, was the one worried about him managing without her, was this, “It would be ok Mom. We’ll take care of him.” What I didn’t know as a kid was that my turn to take his hand and make him feel safe would come. It’s not easy to do that always, but listen hard Dad – we’re trying.

It’ll Be Okay, Mom – Fingers Crossed

It’s a different sort of summer. For months (years) we’ve been encouraging (harassing) my parents to change their living situation. I sugar coat all the words to make the struggle easier. And I can’t stop myself from thinking about myself and my husband, and our same age peers – what living situation will we choose in our ‘golden years’?

Without doubt we will all want to stay in the houses that we’ve renovated and refitted with carefully chosen granite and then more fashionable quartz , where we’ve taken down walls making great rooms as great rooms became the fashion. But when the time comes, as it has for my mom and dad, when that big yard, the staircases, even the meal preparation and bringing in food, has just become too much – where will we land?

It’s taken a while for my four siblings and I to all be on the same page agreeing that, as proud as we may be that these people that raised us have managed to keep their own household going for all these years, (65 years in fact) but now it’s time for them to have an easier life. My dad has various health issues now and simply put – they need a supported living situation.

I could write a book on the journey involved in searching out the right – what I call – ‘retirement residence’. I call it that because it sounds nice and (fingers crossed) hopefully it will be. My parents will have their own apartment- we are not talking about a nursing home or the dreaded ‘long-term care facility’ that one might need some day. They’ll have a bedroom, living room ‘kitchen area’ and the oversized bathroom these places feature.

It was that tiny kitchen that we all wished was something more. They’ll have room to bring the dining room table we’ve told our stories around, but there are just a very few cupboards. Where to put the platter that’s held the turkey for decades of Christmas’s , or the collection of vases from years of bouquets, what about the big bowl for popcorn with a movie on tv, or the big lemonade pitcher for drinks when family arrive with thirsty little ones?

Because of that tiny kitchen ‘spot’ we took my mom and dad to view a higher end retirement residence this week. No question that it was attractive and, despite it not being necessary – with three meals provided in the first floor dining room- it featured an actual kitchen, complete with full fridge and dishwasher. This brand new building, with residents moving in for the very first time was lovely, but when we returned to the place more comfortably within their budget we saw folks already friendly with each other chatting on a Sunday afternoon outside, and in the dining room an elderly woman was playing the piano loudly and with spirit, for whoever cared to listen.

We went up to take measurements to see if perhaps the china cabinet might fit, to hold special treasures and more practical items (it will) and I stared down the mini fridge.

I know my parents will only need to keep a quart of milk, or a few refreshments for when they don’t want to walk down the hall to the ‘bistro room’ that is always open, but it is the idea, that after a lifetime of taking care of themselves they don’t need their own butter or mayonnaise or a dozen eggs, that is bothering me.

That will be okay, mom, I think. We’ll go out to shop for what makes you happy in that puny fridge. In the next few weeks we’ll get busy choosing how to make this home. We’re putting our trust in the good we see here – the supportive kind staff we’ve met, the opportunities to socialize with your peers around new tables, and that wonderful woman playing the piano.


……To read about another sort of leaving home click here for My book Text Me, Love Mom on Amazon