A Sweet Elderly Couple

Grief Anticipated, Part 2

When I was little, my dad could do anything. Tall, slender, and movie-star handsome, he was also strong and smart. During those golden times when he wasn’t out of town on his railroad work, he came home in the evenings for dinner and teased me about liking only chocolate ice cream. He could pick me up and swing me high so that my feet seemed to touch the stars.

And my mom, though a little pessimistic, was efficient, steady and capable. She is the one who read to me when I was little and later, when I was trying to learn how to write, told me how to spell word after word. She is the one who fixed the meals, kept the books, did the laundry, made grape jelly from the vines on the back fence, and told us, Honest to Pete, don’t run in the house — I have a cake in the oven and it will fall.

Now I am the strong one. I am efficient, steady and capable. I can go get the car from half a block away and be back at the clinic entrance while Mom and Dad are walking the 30 feet from the reception desk out through the automatic doors. At 87, Dad looks just like my great-grandfather did at 95, except that Dad keeps losing weight; Mom cannot keep track of appointments or her checkbook.

When Dad and I had some time alone during one visit, we talked a bit about his cancer. He was unsure of his own medical outcome. I pointed out that none of us knows how long we will live, and told him that I was not worried on that score, as long as he had a Savior. He replied, “I sure do!” He wanted to make sure Mom was taken care of, and I assured him that all three of us kids would help both him and Mom with whatever they needed.

But my next responsibility was tougher than I imagined. Dad slept a lot during the day but kept getting up in the night. Mom would awaken to find him getting dressed “to go take care of something on the railroad.” She could not convince him he had retired years earlier, or persuade him that someone else was on duty to handle the problem. She would call me, and all I could do was remind her to pull the cord to call for a caregiver. Mom was exhausted and under constant worry, afraid to sleep or to let Dad out of her sight for fear he would wander off. It was past time to look into memory care.

The nurse at their apartments recommended a facility right around the corner, convenient for Mom to visit. The two places referred residents to each other all the time, she said, and they would take very good care of Dad. We toured the place, the staff met Dad, and we set a date for him to move in. My husband Brent and I brought him some furniture and things from their house. Martha and I shopped for the few other items he would need, while he and Mom looked over the lease.

Paranoia is one symptom of Alzheimer’s. Dad called me at Target, interrupting our shopping to tell me that the residence contract was “suicide” and that he did not want to sign it. Martha and I should get lawyers to protect ourselves. Panicked, I called the nurse, who reassured me that everything was fine. Martha and I finished our shopping and got back there as fast as we could check out and go.

There was not one thing wrong with that contract.

Who was this sick, confused, helpless old man who had replaced my dad? Still his daughter, I continued to care for this elderly stranger with kindness and affection… but also with a growing detachment. Dad could not possibly be safe outside a secured environment. He needed memory care as much for Mom’s sake as his own. The staff assured me that he would get personal attention and have activities to do. I did not expect him to be happy about it, but placing him here was the only logical thing to do; in fact it was unavoidable.

After the move, Mom got some regular rest and started to feel better, but her forgetfulness and general state of overwhelm remained. I struggled with patience as I encouraged her to put all the bills in one place instead of leaving them lying all around; same with her to-do list, and lists of things she needed from the house.

People at both residences tell me how charming and much-loved my parents are. It pleases me to know that I belong to such a sweet elderly couple.

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