Youngest sister just got back from a week with my recently widowed 87 year old father in the Maritimes. The point of the trip (much planning had gone into it, it was the fifth since my mother’s illness) was to finalize arrangements for the sale of dad’s house, dispose of everything that wasn’t going into the moving van and get dad to clean up and pack for an April 1 move. He was going to live in a bungalow my sister owns and is renovating for him, minutes from her house in Niagara. It was the ideal situation, his children were all relieved and it meant I’d be able to see him regularly.
Every time she goes to see him, he gets fired up to go, then the enthusiasm wanes in the days after she leaves. New reasons to delay occur to him. He has to dispose of his piano, that might take time. Perhaps he should ask more for his house anyway, even if it means a slower sale. He’ll need months to arrange his music for shipping. The list goes on.
The problem is that he has it pretty good where he is right now. His poor circulation, and a slow-healing leg wound require him to wear compression stockings which he can’t take off and put on himself. So he gets a visit once a day from a cheerful and energetic VON nurse who changes his socks and his dressing. He has Kathie Rose, his housekeeper and cook and caregiver. She comes once a day, cleans up and leaves him a nice dinner.
My mother used to say years ago “all your father ever needed was a hot meal in front of him at night, and that’s all I’m good for to him”. Well Kathie Rose had taken mother’s place, and he was still getting his hot meal.
His life is full of tiny but ironclad routines. He boils an egg for breakfast. He looks at the Anglican Church blog to follow the latest controversies. He plays solitaire on his computer. He goes down town for the mail, and to fill up his wine bottles. He comes home and has a bowl of soup from the microwave. He naps. He plays solitaire. He eats Kathie Rose’s excellent dinner. He plays solitaire. He goes to bed. Interrupting any of these vital activities makes him fussy.
My father has never been easy to get along with, and he has alienated more than one of his children. I have spent years being his enabler and covering up for his gaffes just because not to do so was so embarrassing. However, this time he went too far. He called youngest sister a busy body, and told her to leave him alone.
Youngest sister is passionate, energetic, accomplished and ambitious. She usually gets her way. She also genuinely still loves her father and wants to take care of him. It is true she has become more urgent about his need to let go and leave each time she has visited, but dad never balked before now. It appears youngest sister has broken through the cloud of vague promises and encountered the brick wall of my father’s stubbornness.
She let us know by e-mail this morning. She’s done. She will sell the bungalow. She won’t be returning to the Maritimes except as an executor. She’s washed her hands of her father, after countless months of planning and countless dollars in construction, all for his care.
I’m not sure dad understands the mistake he’s made. Yes, he has a comfortable little life in the Maritimes with Kathie Rose, he doesn’t have any financial problems, thanks to his disabled veteran’s benefit. But he has very few friends in his town. We don’t much like it where he lives and the brother and sister out west are too far away to visit regularly. He will be unable to travel much. I suppose I won’t see him a lot.
My father underwent a character change after my mother’s death. Usually aloof, and bitingly sardonic, he became almost sweet, grateful for small kindnesses and interested in others. We wondered how long this would last. Not that long, it turns out. He has reverted to his usual self-contained oblivious demeanour. As I had noted while my mother was dying, her children weren’t the most important thing to her, and I think that’s the case with my father. He has solitaire to play, naps to take. He doesn’t need us.