Changing The Guard: Caretaking Your Parents

Honoring Dad’s Birthday on January 27, 2011

Dad would have been 94 today.  But as much as he loved life to the end, he wouldn’t have minded not being here.  He was missing Mom and getting more frail.

However, I miss him.  I have to be honest, I don’t miss being tied to the house and worrying about him.  But I do miss him.  The nearly five years I spent caring for him and the 5 years I spent helping him care for Mom are something I will never regret.  I was hard, it was expensive, but I got that time with Dad and I have no regrets.

I started this blog because I needed a community during the last year of Dad’s life.  I could have used one from the beginning.  It was so overwhelming.  It crept up on all of us slowly, but the day Dad was so ill and Mom couldn’t be left alone and I realized that I was in it alone, it felt like a tsunami overtook my life.  It got better I learned how to manage.  I learned to enjoy some things,

I have had a year to rest, to reassess my life and where I want it to go.  I know that one thing that will be important to me is to help others who are entering that phase or are in the middle of it or nearly the end is knowledge and support.

I am a baby boomer who spent the last 30 years as a psychotherapist working with people from the womb to the grave.  I know family dynamics and systems.  I have worked with them professionally and personally.  Its time that I start giving back and helping people who are experiencing what I did and more.

I am reopening this blog, with a pledge to write at least weekly, and to open up a mentoring program for people who need personal help along the way.  As I progress there will also be a community forum and a resource center.  But I am starting slowly.  The first issues will be concrete ideas about how you can get your situation organized so that you can care for your parents and still find time to enjoy them and your life.

Its an adventure, one of the hardest you will ever make, but it will be worth it.

Dad and His Friend Rose in His Last Months

January 27, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Dad Died on November 21. 2009; It Was a ‘Good Death’

By a ‘good death’ I mean that he was almost 93 and he died in his sleep.  The last thing I did was to tuck him into bed and tell him I love him.  Now, I would have wanted him young and healthy again, but since people have to die, it can’t get much better than that.

Dad loved life to the end.  I often think of the song, “Old Man River” where the dock worker mournfully in a very deep baritone, “I’m tired of livin’ and scared of dyin’, But old man river, he just keeps rolling along.”  Great song, but Dad was the opposite.

Dad never tired of living.  In the last few weeks, as a life long Republican, he stated that he didn’t think health care reform would work, but he’d like to be around to see if it does.  He never lost his interest in the world.  At the same time, he wasn’t afraid of dying, nor did he regret its approach.  8 years ago, at 85 when he was awaiting his quintuple bi pass, he was nervous.  I asked if he was afraid of dying.  No, he wasn’t, but he was worried about who could take care of Mom the way he does.  And while he enjoyed Rose and he and I loved to watch games together, I think he was looking forward to being back with Mom.

The night before he died, he had planned to sleep in his lift chair.  He had been doing that more as it was getting harder for him to get out of bed and make it to the bathroom.  He didn’t want to tell me that, but I knew.  A few hours later he called me down and asked me to help him talk his long sleeved shirt off.  Standing in the hallway, he said he just decided he wanted to stretch out.  Now I wonder if on some level he knew.

I helped him out of the shirt without knowing that I was going to wear that flannel shirt jacket over my blouses for the next few weeks.  I walked him to his bedroom, lifted his feet onto the bed, kissed his forehead and told him I loved him.

The next morning I woke up at 5, as usual and hung out upstairs for a couple of hours catching up on the DVR.  It was Saturday and my plan was to spend the day watching football with Dad.  Iowa was playing Indiana later to end a very successful season. But I was in the habit of waiting to go down, knowing that I needed this time to myself.  About seven I went down, went into Dad’s room and saw him so still.

There had been many days when I did that and went over to make sure that he was alive.  How many times did I go over and put my hand on his quiet chest to make sure he was still breathing?  But that day, I didn’t have to.  I knew he was gone.  Funny how after all the wondering, you just know.  “Oh, Daddy”, I said.  I went over and touched his cold face.  He was definitely gone.

I called Rose who left work immediately and spent the day with me.  She and I watched the Iowa game, but we really spent more time talking about Dad.  There were tears, but I appreciated that Rose knew how to grieve this wonderful man. There were a few tears, but mostly celebration of the life of this great man.

One of the saving things of the day is that Dad and Mom had prepaid their own cremations years before.  That helped Dad when Mom died and it certainly helped me that day.

My  chief goal that day was that it not be a circus and it could have been.  There were 5 police officers, the EMT people, three I believe and the two people from the cremation service.  But I have to hand it to them all, there was a lot of concern and respect.

Dad died a good death.

However, my first idea was to stop this blog as I was no longer going to be dealing with the day to day challenges of careing for my elderly parent.  In the two and a half months since he has died, I have rethought that.  I still care deeply about the issue and know that a community for caretakers is very important.  I know I have a lot to offer both personally and from a professional perspective to that community.  I am continuing.

February 13, 2010 Posted by | Blessings | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Dad Fell Again

10 o’clock at night.  I was upstairs at the back of the house with the door closed almost asleep.  Dad, 160 pounds, was downstairs in the front of the house when I heard a big thud.  Rushing down, I found Dad on the floor.  It didn’t take us a long time to get him in the bed.  We actually had a couple of laughs, well gaffaws, while doing it.

But tonight when Rose was supposed to come over, he didn’t want to go out.  He doesn’t trust his legs. He has also had some of his spells, but I hated that now he was wanting to keep himself at home.

I joked about how I didn’t want him sitting around all the time.  It was an opportunity to disspell his concern that I didn’t want him out.  But he seemed so depressed and wasn’t at all interested when Queen and I were talking about how he could exercise his legs.

But later I saw him doing some leg lifts and then he asked how much a stationary bike would cost.  God bless him.

August 20, 2009 Posted by | Joys and Frustrations | , , | Leave a comment

Some Cheer


A year or so ago, sitting in the Newark airport I saw a sign about Nola Ochs, a 95 year old woman who had just earned her college degree.  Well, I had to do a lens about her, the link is above, and also found more wonderful really old people who were still doing amazing things.  There was a 109 year old blogger!  100 year old who were sky diving (no thank you).

And I just found this picture with an article about a 102 year old Harley ‘biker chick’.

Ya, Dad isn’t going to make this list, and maybe not your parent.  But we can do it!  (Note to do the Pilattes machine again tomorrow!)

August 15, 2009 Posted by | Blessings, Heroines and Inspirations, Uncategorized | , , , | Leave a comment

What to Do?

Rose came over tonight for a second visit this week.  She took Dad out to get groceries and presumably dinner.  They got back awfully early, without dinner.  When I asked Rose she commented, “He fell but he doesn’t want you to know.”  Why on earth not, I feel so bad.

Rose said that he thinks ‘we’ don’t want him going out.  That wasn’t me, it was the doctor.  When he comes in, I drop hints all over the place that I really like to see him go out.  Go out more….

Its so sad that he thinks I want to keep him in.  What would you do?  How would you get the message across.

August 15, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , | Leave a comment

25 Item To-Do List EVERYONE Should Be Doing

I found this while Stumbling.  Great list!

25 Item To-Do List EVERYONE Should Be Doing

Posted using ShareThis

August 12, 2009 Posted by | Take Care of Yourself, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Are You An Optimist or a Pessimist?

When I was a kid I read an essay that said that pessimists are the lucky people.  The theory was that most things are disappointing which gave away the author.  He went on to say that optimists are continually disappointed.  If the plane lands a half an hour late, the optimist is disappointed.  If it lands safely, the pessimist is delighted.  Since it is late much more often than it doesn’t land, the pessimist is set up for a lot of happy times.

However, I tend towards optimism.  That is not to say that I don’t have the normal amount of anxiety and fear, or days of just wondering how I am going to do it: but I am an optimist.

I have feared that we wouldn’t get the right help for Dad, but I really knew that we would.  I worry about money, but know we will find it.

Optimism has worked for me.  Yesterday, I had a great day planned.  My appointments were lined up perfectly, five of them and I would be able to be home early.  Yea!  Then after #3 I couldn’t get my car out of park.  This had happened a few times, but I messed with it and I went.  Not this time.  I had to call a tow truck, glad that I had renewed by AAA.  He got it started so that I could drive to my mechanic, it took an hour and $40.  So what’s to be optimistic about?  Well, it didn’t happen when I was in the middle of no where.  The two missed appointments could be resceduled. The truck came quick and while I was waiting to fix it, I went to Third Place for lunch and met someoneI hadn’t seen in months.

There!  I was right.  Now, I could have looked at this from a pessimisitc perpectic.  Would I have been better off?

What do you think?  Is it possible to become more optimisstic, assuming you want that.

Me?  I think that it helps me with the task at hand.  Even if I’m wrong.

August 12, 2009 Posted by | Blessings, Joys and Frustrations, Take Care of Yourself | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Every One Needs a Rose

I knew Rose from several different places in Raleigh.  She kept popping up.  I guess we were meant to be together.  She has some amazing talents, one of which is working with human energy.  She was taking a course in health issues and I volunteered Dad as a guinea pig.  He was skeptical, but liked Rose. One day he came in and showed me how much higher he could lift his foot.

But the real thing happening was that they started to talk and talk and talk.  Rose and Dad truly love each other.  She says that if she were 30 years older he might get her to switch from being a Lesbian!  The fact that she is makes it easier for him to have this friendship/romance.  He is able to have the good stuff, the love, the flirting ,without any worry that he was stepping out on Mom.

Rose comes once a week, on Wednesday at least.  Its date night and they usually go out, unless Rose works late or Dad doesn’t feel good.  They go out for beers, they get pedicures together.  Rose talks about her problems with her love life and Dad counsels and gives advice.  He used to think that homosexuality was bad, but know he is an expert.  Don’t tell me you can’t teach an old dog new tricks!

Everyone should have a Rose.  Heck, I wish I had one.

Fritz Arrowsmith and Rose

August 3, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

“Maybe Now You Will Call Me Fritz”

Visiting Nurses Association, the early years

Visiting Nurses Association, the early years

Tara, Dad’s nurse,  was sent to Dad by his Doctor’s Making House Calls doc.

She was a God send.  Dad, didn’t think it was necessary 21 months ago, but went along.  He was sick then so at first she came daily, then three times, then two and one a week.  She takes his vitals, fills his pills boxes and then calls in meds and reports to the doctor.

That’s on the surface.  She has become a friend and a highlight of Dad’s week.  She has said that she loves him almost as much as her own grandpa.  The tears she shed on her last day here shows that that is true.

Dad has always encouraged her to call him Fritz, but she has explained why she can’t call him anything but Mr Arrowsmith.  It actually has more to do with her having been raised in Alabama.

The third to last time, Queen, the certified aid we hired to come three times a day, five days a week, had just given him a plate of homemade food, and watching him eat with such zest made Tara cry.  Then Dad and I got teary. Queen got teary.  Dad broke the tear fest by saying, “Maybe now you will call me Fritz”.  We all laughed, even though Dad was serious.  She should call him Fritz.

We had it down.  Tara would leave me messages about what meds to pick up, I would get them.  I would tell her about concerns, although I didn’t have to do that much, because she was really on top of it.  In fact, Dad would tell her things about his condition that he didn’t tell me.

I was, of course, ambivalent about that.  In the first place he wouldn’t have told me even if she wasn’t in the picture.  But it was nice to have someone else dealing with this.  I also felt left out, a little jealous of her relationship with them.  Human beings are nothing if not complex.

When the medical team decided that he needed to be in assisted living, no, to be fair, thought Dad wanted that, suddenly Tara seemed threatening to me.  She wasn’t, she was advocating for him.  He didn’t want to be a burden to me AND he couldn’t think of other possibilities.   I felt threatened, there was some sibling rivalry to make it even more complex.   It was getting messy.

But Tara managed to shake me out of the daze that I had been in when I didn’t want to see that he was getting more frail and more open to help.  It took a few weeks, some hard feelings probably all on my part.  But my complacency was shaken and my mind got to working.  I thought of all the ways he could stay home, Tara got that moving and here we are with a great nurse who comes in 3 times a day and some new equipment.  BTW, it turns out that Dad asked for the hospital bed before he decided he didn’t like it.  We are still working on that one.

But I was right about one thing.  He would be miserable in Assisted Living and only wanted to be there because he thought it would be better for me.  Dad doesn’t like old people.

Oh, and Tara, please call him Fritz now.

Times Have Changed

Times Have Changed

July 25, 2009 Posted by | Blessings, The Cast of Characters | Leave a comment

Cutting Dad’s Meat

Its been a really long time since I cut anyone’s meat.  cutting meatI couldn’t have imagined doing it for my Dad, ever.  I would have thought that it was demeaning.  But he doesn’t seem too proud about it.  His hands aren’t steady enough to hold a knife and fork and he needs it cut, its just that simple.

And its a very tender thing to do, pun not intended.  It doesn’t take much time, I don’t know how well I do it, but its something simple that I can do for him.  Just nice moments.

July 18, 2009 Posted by | Joys and Frustrations | Leave a comment