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.

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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

The Equipment Arrives

imagesThursday night and suddenly Dad has a hospital bed in his room.  Tara, his nurse was here and Dad smiled when he described how she took down his old bed.  She has been talking for a while about how he needed one.  Medicare paid for a lot of it, but a couple of hundred came from him.  His insurance won’t pay.

My sudden job is to help him learn to live with it.  And to deal with my feelings.  I want Dad to make his own decisions, I get upset with people who talk to me in front of him, as if it weren’t about him.  Yet, I am bothered that this happened without my knowledge.  I am not going to say anything, just help him.

Now, Dad sleeps on his back, not really possible in a hospital bed.  However, I know that sleeping with bent knees will help his back AND he easily sleeps in a chair.  So I try to convince him to crank up the back and the legs and pretend that he is in a chair.

The first night was ok, he had a good night sleep.  But this morning he is ‘sick’.  He can’t explain why.  I think it has to do with the fact that he didn’t sleep last night.  On top of that, he couldn’t get out of bed when he had to go to the bathroom.  He just wants to call them to get rid of the bed and if they won’t take it he will cancel the lift chair.

That is how he is handling the changes.  Get rid of them.

I am trying to help him talk about it.  30 years as a therapist, I am pretty good at it, and I use all my skills.

I have mixed feelings.  I am not sure why this happened so suddenly, although I am sure Tara doesn’t think it is sudden.  I asked Dad to make sure that he knew the bed was coming.  The answer isn’t really clear.  I know she wants what is she thinks is best for him, but she has an agenda.

I am going to have to step in and deal with Tara and why things are happening so fast.  Why is she dealing with an equipment company in Knightdale when there is one a mile from here where he could go in and try these things out before they are delivered?

I want to bury my head and not deal with any of it.  I don’t want to be responsible for these things.  But I am.

July 11, 2009 Posted by | Needed Services | , , | Leave a comment

Well, Should I Be In Charge?

The cast of characters is changing.  For a long time Dad has had a weekly nurse who comes to the house weekly, his and my friend Rose, who takes him out at least weekly, and me, with an occasional therapist or doctor.  Really easy to keep track of.

Then Tara his nurse decided that he needed to be with someone all day, or go to assited living.  My brother and I looked into assisted living a few years back when Mom was alive and Dad might have been too sick to care for her.   They didn’t need it, but I found out enough about it to know the dark side,  (Assited Living, An Option) and I know Dad wouldn’t like it for many reasons.   It was the first time Tara and I came to ‘blows’.  I found Barbara, who was nice, worked hard (great at kitchen cleaning!) but was inexperienced and didn’t want to give him a bath.  Besides Dad wasn’t comfortable having someone here all day and when I had time at home, I didn’t really like it either.

Queen had recently been sent over two days a week to bath him, because being in the shower wasn’t safe.  Dad really liked her, so we arranged to have her come three times a day to check in on him, and cook meals.  Well, that works well, except that she isn’t a very good cook and doesn’t clean much.

I got home today with a note fom Tara.  She is having someone come to interview with Dad on Friday.  It seems that she and the therapist were both here in the am, Dad was alone and they though he was shaking on his feet.  If Dad is interviewing why did she write me.  Well, I know why.  But did she mean to make me out to be a bad daughter like I feel I am when I get such notes.

When I got the first woman so quickly I marveled at my good luck.  Then when Queen came on I was still very happy.  However, I guess it just isn’t going to be all that easy.

July 8, 2009 Posted by | The Cast of Characters | , , , | 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

When Dad Gets Depressed

Dad was really depressed yesterday.  One of the things that helps me get through this is that Dad seems to want to be alive and there are things that he looks forward to, from his date nights with Rose, to ‘I hope I live long enough to see if this Obama stuff works’, even though he doesn’t think it will.

But when he is so depressed it makes it harder to hold on.

He had had a bad night, not much sleep.  That his meds are making a lot of drool is embarrassing to him, and I have to admit, unpleasant for me.  His new assistant  thinks its the meds.  I have no doubt about it.

“I am going to tell the nurse that I am going off all my meds, except for 3, the heart, blood pressure and ..”  I don’t remember what else.But he didn’t say it with strength, but anger and depression.

I am actually with him on this.  I am suspicious of too many meds.  The doc says he must have each and every one.  In which case Dad is saying, ‘I won’t live this way’.  I am not going to fight him on it.  I am staying out of it. Its his choice.

He was better by evening.  Queen had given him one of the baths that he loves so.  Rose came over and talked about her problems with her girlfriend.  Dad loves to help her with he love life.

But, damn its hard when Dad is depressed.  Its harder to keep my spirits up and that scares me.

June 30, 2009 Posted by | Joys and Frustrations, Uncategorized | , , , | Leave a comment

Dad Learns New Skills at 92.

Dad is frustrated that he isn’t learning his new Hoveround instantly.  Never mind that the guy who delivered it, a young, perfectly sighted man with no shaking hands, took two full days to master it.  Dad is frustrated.

Me?  I am proud of him.  In three days, but with a hour or so of practice, he can get it through narrow doorways, from his living room to his bedroom.  He says that walker is faster.  “Dad, this isn’t about speed”  And I smile.  He does laugh at it though and is begging to feel better.

We got him this, because the nurse doesn’t want him walking or standing when he is alone in the house.  We are supposed to even get urinals for him to use from the chair, but I will be surprised if that happens.

There was work for me to do, though.  The tech who delivered it left heavy, metal foot rests laying in the middle of the floor.  Bad enough at all, but since the macular degeneration has Dad nearly blind and his balance is off, well, its worse.

I put them to the side and called to complain.  I was told that he would call us back.  Two days later I called back, not as nice as the first time.  I was transferred around, got really mad at the 3 person and called back.  The fourth lady was worth it, she put in a complaint, gave some suggestions that would make it easier for him and set it up for someone to come back.  Dad would have given up long before I did.  Me?  I just got angrier and angrier…

Until the fourth lady, who helped us.  I felt taken care of and I need that sometimes.

June 28, 2009 Posted by | Joys and Frustrations | , , , , | Leave a comment