Dealing with Dad
My father is a musician. He has been the organist and choirmaster at the Anglican church in every one of the half a dozen small towns my parents have lived in since he retired. He’s also imperious, arrogant, a heavy drinker, and completely helpless around the house.
Since my mother’s cancer had been diagnosed in June, e-mails had flown back and forth between my brothers and sisters and me. While they focused on my mother, a concern kept cropping up: “What are we going to do with Dad?”
Mother’s fate was sealed. There was nothing we could do but make her as comfortable as possible. Dad would be with us though, possibly for years, and completely unable to care for himself. Like most families, we had anticipated this happening the other way around, with my difficult father dying first, leaving my social and capable mother to start a new life at the end of her life. This was not to be.
My parents live in the Maritimes, half my brothers and sisters and I live in the Golden Horseshoe, and the other half of my brothers and sisters live in the west. None of us are set up to take in an aging parent, and none of us wants to.
My parents had investigated assisted living facilities in their small town. for when the house got too much for them to keep up. There were several being built, and all had vacancies. Some accepted pets, which was important, as my parents love their dog. We had visions of dad and mum, safely ensconced, far away, with someone to take care of them. We would have preferred something closer to Toronto, but my parents don’t like Ontario and don’t want to live here. At least, though, they’d be cared for.
The subject was broached awkwardly over dinner when my wife and I visited. “What do you want to do with yourself after, dad? Move into assisted living?” He’d had a few martinis. “No, hell, I’m staying here with the dog, and Kathie Rose will take care of me”. Kathie Rose was a local caregiver mother had hired to help during the day. This was plainly not going to work, as he was creaky, not very well able to get around, and the house was large. He’d waste away in months with no company.
My wife’s father, also a disabled veteran, had lived for years in a nice assisted care facility outside Toronto. It was part of a national chain, it provided meals and laundry and an on-site nurse, as well as a visiting doctor attached to the facility.
“Would you like to go to a place like my father-in-law lives?. “That’s in Ontario. I’m not going to Ontario. I’m going to stay here in the east”. I had a vision of buying airline tickets in bulk.
Part of the problem was that my father was feeling left out. Mother was getting all the attention, and this bothered him, and made him argumentative. He has an elevated prostate level, and this led him to claim he was dying of cancer too. We assured him he would die with his condition, not of it.
One night after my wife and I had left, we achieved a breakthrough. Dad was talking about his grand piano. “I guess I don’t need to have a grand piano. I could always use my electronic keyboard. Hell, I could give it to the University and get a $15,000 tax receipt”.
Then he asked about my father-in-law’s assisted care facility. “Where is that? It’s not in downtown Toronto, is it? I can’t drive in Toronto”. I assured him it was out in the outer suburbs, with wide streets and little traffic. But I warned him he wouldn’t like living in suburbia, my parents never had. They had always lived in small towns.
The same national chain my father-in-law’s assisted care facility belonged to had a branch in an attractive small town near Hamilton, midway between my sister and me. It had a grand piano in the lobby that no one played, the director assured me. It was a quiet little town where seniors could drive safely.
My father is a very careful, very slow driver, but a very safe one. Driving is very important to him, and he goes out at least twice a day. My father-in-law also drives, and in these assisted care facilities, the man with a car is king. The ladies all want to be his friend, and the men all want favours. It occurred to me my father might have some fun in his declining years.
I called the facility and discussed availability and cost. My father would need somewhere to live in a few months, possibly before Christmas, would they have an apartment? The assistant manager urged me to pay a visit, and said the best way to guarantee my father an apartment was to pay a deposit and get him on the list.
I called my father again that night. They had availability. The prices fit within his budget, and would be supplemented by VA anyway. Once again, he said “Ontario? I hate Ontario! It’s too damn hot!”. I told him he could drive, it was a small town, they had a grand piano. He was unconvinced.
Several days later, brochures arrived from the facility. They contained all the usual bumpf, as well as detailed floor plans of their suites. Aha! There was nothing my father liked better than a diagram to scale. A floor plan was such a diagram. He could plan furniture arrangements and placements to his heart’s content. I called that night. “It’s going to be such a bother getting rid of all this stuff” he said. I said that’s what kids are for, then told him about the floor plans. He was immediately excited. “Send them to me, I’ll measure all the furniture and make some scale cut-outs, and arrange the layout”.
With something to focus on, and the promise of keeping his car (and maybe even getting a new one), my father seemed to accept that he would no longer be living on his own, and would be coming back to Ontario for the first time in 60 years.