You Don't Want to Know, Part 1

Seriously, you don’t.

If you don’t have to, you don’t think about this.

However, everyone my age thinks about this.

Really old parents.

This is not a funny post, a cheery or amusing post. But it’s what I think about, a lot, and what I feel like writing about. Feel free to click away to youtube cat videos if you like. I won’t be offended; I’ll understand perfectly.

I didn’t think about it either, until my father, age 87, moved in with me, after a disastrous divorce that resulted in his giving his wife around 3/4 of his net worth*. He got out of the miserable marriage, his second, but didn’t have enough left to live on independently. I said he could move in with me and my husband. We had a spare bedroom and live in a community that is ideal for retirement.

My father and my granddaughter.

My father and my granddaughter, 2012.

We gave him our bedroom on the first floor, and moved into a smaller room upstairs. He became a constant presence in our lives, either watching TV or sitting at the dining table, reading the paper, watching the birds, napping. At first, he involved himself in activities outside the house. He went to the gym a few times each week, took an Osher class, played bocce with some fellows down the street, and drove to the grocery store for his simple needs – Cheerios, bananas, chicken noodle soup, milk.  But he began to lose his ability to communicate. He couldn’t find the right words,  couldn’t process everything that was said to him.

He was unobtrusive, non-demanding; his needs were simple.  He rose at 8 in the morning, went into his room at 8 at night. I worried that he wasn’t getting enough mental stimulation, because he watched a lot of TV. He loved Mash and Cheers reruns. He must have watched all their seasons three times. Usually he was loving and considerate, and we all got along.

Not that there weren’t problems. My dad was impatient with my grandson,who has fetal alcohol syndrome disorder. The child’s behavior made him angry. Which in turn made me angry, regretting my dad’s presence in our lives. My dad occasionally snapped at my husband, who was an angel with him throughout this period and continues to be. I didn’t attribute the “snappishness” to old age; it’s always been the unlikable part of my dad’s personality, his critical side. But these problems were rare.

For his age, he was remarkably healthy. He took a weekly pill for his thinning bones, but nothing else. Normal labs, normal heart and blood pressure. A winner in the longevity gene lottery.

He lived with us for seven years, until May of 2015, when he was almost 94, and we moved him into an assisted living facility.

What happened during those seven years?

He began to fall. He fell at the gym and cracked some ribs. A x-ray showed severe thinning of his bones. He fell at the airport, coming back from a trip, and broke his collarbone. He started using a cane. Going outside to get the newspaper, he fell in our driveway and banged his head. We spent all day in the ER waiting for a CT scan that showed no brain injury. He started using a walker, then fell in our home several times, occasionally getting a bloody scrape. If my husband wasn’t around, I had to call 911 to get him up off the floor. Those were frightening events.

Every night, he got up several times to go to the bathroom. I could hear him moving around, and it was anxious-making. Was he going to fall?

He had a couple of small car accidents. He hit an armored truck outside the grocery store but when he didn’t see any damage, he drove away. (His car had a big dent.) Well, the armored truck driver saw what happened and took down his license number. When I got home that day, there was a county sheriff’s cruiser and a highway patrol car in my driveway. Fortunately, there was no damage to the armored car, so he got off with a light charge.

I didn’t like riding in his car when he was driving. His reflexes weren’t sharp, and he didn’t compensate by being slow & cautious. Note: if you don’t like riding with your elderly relative, it’s time to take away his or her keys. I hesitated; what a hard decision. It would remove his freedom to come and go.

Until one day, leaving a parking space, he put the car into Drive instead of Reverse, and smashed into a wood ramp leading into a building. There could have been someone on that ramp. The next time he might be in a parking lot, and hit a person. It was time. I took his keys and sold his car.

When the weather was nice, he could go outside and walk up and down the street, with his walker, but I went with him. He needed my help to get down the one step to our walkway, and to get himself to the street along our gravel drive. He tired easily, pushing the walker. He was frail.

Last winter it became too hard for us. He was refusing to shower, to shave, to brush his teeth. Incontinence was beginning to be a problem. Someone had to be with him all the time because of the fall risk. I called 911 twice, in the middle of the night. I worried about the future, his care. When one of my sisters suggested assisted living, and another one offered to help pay for it, we didn’t immediately reject the idea.

A new facility was opening near my house, five minutes away. I took the first step, and made an appointment with the marketing office.

Next blog post: You Don’t Want to Know, Part 2: Notes from The Place.

*I asked him why he gave her such a significant share of his assets, assets he’d accumulated for a lifetime and intended to leave to his children.

“You don’t understand,” he said.

“You’re right –  I don’t understand,” I said. He was not able to articulate the circumstances. Clearly, at 87, he was easily manipulated into this settlement.