A New Year
My recently widowed 87 year old father has five children; oldest brother, who lives out west; older brother, me, living in Toronto; younger sister, also living out west; youngest sister in Niagara and youngest brother, also here in Toronto.
He is leaving his home in the Maritimes to come and live near youngest sister in Niagara, in a bungalow she owns, and which she is renovating for him. She has arranged a friend, Donnie, to live in the basement apartment and keep an eye on dad. He is excited about it, and all of us are immensely relieved, and deeply indebted to youngest sister. Here’s her latest update:
Well, all seemed pretty gloomy on the eve of Christmas, as I flew home from spending a week with my father. There was an enormous amount of work to do, he appeared unable to move forward on any task, he had dug in his heels on the business of selling his house, and he was going to be all alone for the first Christmas without his companion of sixty plus years. Plus, he had a leg wound sustained in a fall and it was getting worse, not better, as time went by. I live three provinces away and I was very worried about him.
So I continued to call him daily to keep him updated on the busy comings and goings of Christmas in my house. For three nights running my family packed into the car to go off to my parents-in-law for family dinners. My partner’s siblings and their kids cycled in and out and it was a weeklong orgy of visiting, gift-exchanging, eating, drinking and watching new box-sets and rented movies.  My Dad meanwhile passed his days alone. A friend invited him to a quiet Christmas Day dinner and he turned down another invite for a New Year’s Eve. Some days, when I didn’t reach him until 5 PM, his voice would crack as he uttered his first words of the day. 
Throughout this busy social time I kept reminding myself that next year would be very different as he would be with us. I wanted to reinstate my parents’ long-standing and popular tradition of a Boxing Day party, which we could host at his new house and invite all manner of family and friends. He could choose the wine and the menu, and put on his tweed jacket and tie. It would be so much fun!
Now that normal life has returned, there have been some surprisingly positive developments. It is funny how this experience of caring for the elderly goes up and down. It reminds me of what it was like helping our children get through their difficult teenage years. There are moments of desperation and moments of elation and breakthrough – it’s like a big roller coaster. It cannot be controlled or contrived, you just have to hang on and do your best to stick with it.
I think an important moment for my father was when he allowed himself to share some of his grief. When I was visiting him before Christmas I showed him my Facebook posting the morning after Mum died, and it featured a very lovely, outdoorsy picture taken of her when she was about my age. He was not familiar with the photo and he started to cry when he saw it. Later the same day I was downloading pictures from his camera (he doesn’t know how to do this) and I chanced upon a beautiful photo of the rocky California coast, taken from a scenic lookout on the coastal highway. My parents had done an Elderhostel there last year. I made the photo the screensaver on his computer and when he saw it, he shed tears again because Mum had enjoyed that rugged scenery with him. He let me give him a big weepy hug, and then I poured us both a stiff drink.
Now, it is a new year and things are looking up. We can all put 2010 behind us. Kathie Rose is back on her regular schedule of five visits per week – I believe that her company is just as important to my father as her cooking and light household chores. The festering wound has meant steady visits from cheerful VON nurses, and a referral to a wound specialist and the use of compression bandages has really helped. He had a lunch invite this week. He has made some decisions about his grand piano and his vast music collection, and while they are not the decisions I would make if I were in his place, at least they are decisions.
Best of all, we have placed his house in a listing with a no-commission real estate company. How we got to that is instructive for me and I can see how this technique might prove strategically useful in the future. My father uses the occasional services of a no-nonsense, small-town lawyer who he likes and respects and I encouraged him to make an appointment to talk about his affairs and his house. The lawyer recommended the man who owns the local franchise of the real estate company, and my dad likes and respects him too. This man recommended that Dad retain an appraiser to appraise the house, and Dad likes and respects this man also! Each one of these professionals has been caring, courteous and straight-up with my father and the end result has taken him to a place I could not get him to myself. His home is now listed at a realistic price on a popular website and the yard sign is about to go up. For an extra $348, we can place the listing on the MLS if we feel it is necessary, and he has agreed to evaluate this in about a month.
My father has also asked me to start getting quotes from moving companies for his move date of April 1. He has not rejected outright my idea of moving his car so that we may make the journey on VIA Rail and see the country between the Atlantic ocean and southern Ontario. This was a journey that I wanted to take with my mother but we ran out of time. He inquires regularly about the progress that Donnie and I are making on the duplex, and is delighted to learn that we are putting in an accessible shower, a higher toilet, and grab bars in strategic places. I have put on an order of white wine at my local home brew joint so that it will be ready for his arrival, which pleases him.
I am now planning my next foray to the Maritimes – to watch the Superbowl with him, liven up his world a bit and start the task of parsing through a lifetime of collected books, papers and music. The next ten weeks are going to fly by.