Changing The Guard: Caretaking Your Parents

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

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

Pilattes and Me

You have to put the oxygen mask on yourself before you put it on the kids.  You have take care of yourself to pilattestake care of an elderly parent.  I have an additional reason.

Dad has always been a hard working guy, never content to sit for too long without finding some work to do*.  But he’s a man of his generation and ‘working out’ is silly.   He never did it.   I can’t say for sure that it would have made a difference, but his two big problems today are his balance and that he can’t lift his feet high enough to walk safely.  I hate seeing him this way.  He is frustrated, he could fall and it is why he can’t be left alone for long.  My heart breaks for him.

And it terrifies me because I know I will live a long time and I don’t want it to be like that. So I have started back on my Pilattes.  This is a system that focuses on the core (abdominal) area, but is also great for Michelle Obama arms and other areas.  I find that I can build up a relatively decent heart rate. You can go to a gym 3 times a week and pay a lot of money.  You can get tapes and do it without a machine (waaaay too hard for me) or you can buy a relatively inexspensive home machine, like I did, two years ago.  I was doing it daily, until I stopped.  The rub, huh?

The first time I found that about a week and a half into it my shoulders naturally pulled back into a straighter posture as I walked.  I gave it no effort, it just happened.  Now, I have a good posture, one of the many gifts from my Dad.  Dad insisted that I walk straight and tall from an early age.  The involuntary straightening reminded me of Dad’s touching my shoulders showing me how to walk.

So I start again, with Dad and his current problems as a motive.

I find that one piece of wisdom from the fitness gurus isn’t true.  I have always heard them say that once you stop exercising you quickly lose all the gains.  Well, I have found its not true.  It took me weeks to do the ‘elephant’ advanced, but now I am ok.  Not as good as when I stopped, but much better than when I started the first time.  After a year and a half, I am still carrying benefits.  This is not a reason to quit, but a reason to do it, knowing that whatever you do, if you get good enough, will have long lasting effects.  Its just so much better when you continue.

BTW, there is lots we can do to stay healthier longer and even younger.  Is 60 the New 40?

*  When Dad was 85 he had quintupal bipass surgery.  They sent him home after 5 days with strick instructions, one of which was to not lift anything heavier than a milk carton.  A week after he got home, I walk through the guest house to find him turning my mother’s mattress over.  Hmmm…. “Dad, is that heavier than a milk carton”?   …   “Well, I can’t sit around being lazy forever!”  Dad was a hard worker, but not the kind that helped make him stronger in his old age.

July 2, 2009 Posted by | Blessings, Take Care of Yourself | , , , , | Leave a comment