A New Home
There’s one in every family. Usually female, usually the youngest. The one who will take care of the old folks. My youngest sister is that person in our family. In addition to being deeply concerned with my parents’ welfare, she is talented, organized, good with power tools and adept at navigating bureaucracy.
When my parents first moved back to Canada and settled in the Maritimes, my youngest sister inspected the house, fixed the deck, added hand rails and no-slip surfaces as they aged, enrolled them in disabled veterans’ benefits and arranged housekeeping. All this while running her own consulting business and co-raising a large family.
When my mother was diagnosed with cancer, youngest sister was there constantly, buying a new bed, arranging doctor visits, washing mum when she couldn’t. Now that my mother is dead, youngest sister has become my 87 year old father’s guardian and constant correspondent, and she will be his caregiver as he moves to a new life in Ontario. I’ll let her take over in her own words:
A little over a month has now passed since my mother’s celebration service in Niagara. My recently widowed father has returned to his home in the Maritimes. He went off with great plans, but as recounted in my last posting, plans change.
I have continued to phone my father every single day since his departure. Sometimes he is hard to reach because as a result of boredom he goes to bed very early, and in the mornings he does not put in his hearing aids right away and he can’t hear the phone. During the day he has little errands (post office, bank, lots of medical appointments, wine bottling over at the Liquor Commission self-serve depot, (a great invention if ever there was one) and he also takes a mammoth afternoon nap. Kathie Rose comes many days from 5 to 7 so I don’t want to disturb his time with her, which I feel is really important to his daily well-being. This leaves just tiny slivers of time to reach him on the phone, but I am managing. The daily conversation is probably more important to me than to him. I work hard to make this daily connection, because I fear that if I don’t, he will just quietly slip away….
The last month has been hard for him and for us. It would not be hard if he were nearby – I would have physical contact with him daily and could keep his spirits up. But he is down there in the Maritimes with no friends really – they were all my mother’s friends. A scant handful have invited him over for one or two social occasions and he always recounts these to me with great pleasure. The frequent visits of a VON nurse to attend to a wound he sustained in a fall nearly two months ago also perk up his day and he tells me how capable and friendly these nurses are. But mostly, he is lonely and he can’t seem to move forward.
This time has not been without some positive developments, however. When my dad told me that he wanted me to go looking for an apartment for him, I dutifully did. I knew he had a generous budget and really has few financial concerns, so I figured this might work out okay. But as I made calls and arranged viewings, it occurred to me he would be at the mercy of a landlord, maybe the neighbours would be louts and he wouldn’t be able to sit outside in the sunshine and read his newspaper when the summer came.
It happens that I own a little bungalow only a five-minute drive away, and my 8-year tenant had left in September. A friend named Donnie had moved in and our deal was that he could live there for free if he worked to improve the place for me. He needed a place to live and he has extraordinary home improvement skills. It seems he also has a heart of gold because it was he who suggested that we move my Dad into the main floor and make an upscale bachelor pad for him downstairs, thus turning my bungalow into a duplex. My father would live there, and Donnie would be there too to shovel the snow, maintain the yard and keep an eye on my dad when I couldn’t.
When I told my father about this idea, he was excited. Although he had nixed the plan for the retirement village, he remained committed to moving to Niagara to be near to me and older and youngest brother, who live in Toronto. He thought this was the perfect answer, and so did my brothers and sisters and I. Could I measure the place up for him? Send him photos or a sketch? He was fired up again – making lists of the furniture and things that he could keep, now that he was moving into a 1,000 square foot, 3-bedroom bungalow.
Despite all the space, admittedly there is a lot of stuff that my dad has to get rid of. And he is well aware that he has squandered a whole month. Right after my mother died, he was quick to ask Kathie Rose to pack up all my mother’s clothes and donate them to charity, but despite Kathie Rose’s willingness to help, and his gardener/handyman’s offer to drive a load to the dump, he has been unable to get started. In daily telephone conversations I urge him to try – just start with something small I say, like making a little pile of the books he wants to keep, or the photos. My sister-in-law suggested a sticker system, which worked with her father: one colour on stuff he wanted to keep, another colour on stuff he could not keep, and a third colour on those things he wasn’t sure about. 
So now, four weeks later he has managed to collect from around the house the little stones, pieces of driftwood and shells that my mother liked to pick up on her walks and put on windowsills. He has gathered all these up and put them in a box. And in a few days, I am flying down to the Maritimes for a week to do the rest! He knows why I am coming and welcomes it. Twice before I have helped my parents shed extraneous possessions before moving. He says he is bracing himself for the energy and resolve I will bring into his house. We may get him to Niagara yet.