Probably For The Best
Youngest sister reports her latest thoughts on our recently widowed 87 year old father:
Six weeks have now passed since my last visit to see my father. This was the fifth trip I had made down to the Maritimes since my mother became ill and the third visit to assist my father in preparing for his imminent move to Ontario. We had plans that he would relocate this spring, and I was getting a bungalow ready for him in the city where I live.
On previous trips I had accomplished quite a lot in terms of getting rid of household junk that had accumulated over the decades. But on this last trip the sum total of my achievements was moving my mother’s books from her bedroom to the living room, shovelling snow from my father’s driveway, and giving his caregiver Kathie Rose a few days off. My father resisted any other efforts to take even tiny steps towards his leaving, and I left the Maritimes finally understanding that my father really did not want to move, although he wouldn’t say so in so many words.
Since my visit, I have had a lot of time to rethink my father’s situation, and my own. I quickly changed gears on the bungalow renovation because it was clear that my father would not be relocating soon, if at all. I have arranged for another perfect tenant, a single woman in her early 60s with impeccable references who is looking for a long-term living situation. On the phone with my father, I agreed that I had been rushing him and that he needed to make decisions at his own pace. His relief at this acknowledgement was palpable through the telephone line.
In subsequent phone calls, I have suggested that he has a pretty good situation there – a daily caregiver with whom he has a friendly rapport, young VON nurses who visit frequently and dote on him, a handyman who does all his snow removal and lawn care, and a different handyman who does odd jobs ranging from minor plumbing repairs to fixing the computer. His house is safe and secure, he is surrounded by his books and music, and he has a heated garage for getting in and out of his car. He even has a stair lift to get down and back from the laundry room. Soon, it will be summer and he will be able to sit in his lush back garden with his glass of wine and newspaper.
So these are my thoughts, and I believe my siblings share them. Frankly, I think a move will be a huge setback for him now. Back in the fall, in the early days of being a widower after 62 years of marriage, he did not know how things would unfold. But as the months have gone by, he has discovered that he is coping quite well. And I agree – he has the care he requires and the comfort of many small, idiosyncratic routines.
Over the last several months, I have talked with friends about my father and about my worries and concerns. If there is one constant across my demographic, it is a preoccupation with our parents’ wellbeing. I have found it really helpful to share stories and to gain the insight of others. Two friends have pointed out the obvious to me, which somehow I had missed in all of my worries. One friend, who has never met my father, observed that the longer my dad is able to manage (and perhaps even thrive) in his present situation, the less he will want to disturb it. Another friend, who knows my family quite well, observed that for the last 25 years my parents have been trying to distance themselves from their five children – first by relocating to the UK for four years, then by moving to the US for almost ten years, and then by moving to the Maritimes as octogenarians. To her, it was totally understandable that my father would want to continue to stay away.
In my busy and somewhat ordered world, I like to decide things. I like to have a plan. My own family works this way – we like to get up in the morning and make a plan for the day – it doesn’t have to be complicated, just a few broad themes are sufficient. I foolishly believed that this approach could work with my father. But I have learned that planning and decisions will elude us. This may be common for all elderly people. My father doesn’t want to decide anything because the status quo is tolerable. He has said he would be happy to die in his house, and by not making any decisions he might get his wish. If he stays there, he will manage until he cannot manage anymore, and then his circumstances will make his decisions for him. Perhaps this is best.
When my mother was sick, she was stoic but I would not say that she was gracious. She was angry, and at the time I really did not understand why. Anger was not part of my mother’s personality. I believed that she would approach her terminal illness with the accepting and laid-back attitude that she displayed with everything else. But after these last months with my father, I may now understand the source of her anger. Although she was easygoing, I know she liked a plan too – and her plan was that my father would die first, giving her the freedom to do what she had wanted to do for some years, which was move into a seniors’ place. She looked forward to a time where she wouldn’t have to cook any more meals and she could enjoy the company of others at the dinner table. I think she wanted to be relieved of the burden of my father, even for just a little while. She did not get her wish, and she also knew that her children were going to inherit that burden.
But is he really a burden? Luckily, my father has no financial worries. I have come to accept that he should just stay put where he is and cope as best he can with the excellent physical care he is receiving. Make no plans and no decisions; just carry on until something else happens. This is contrary to my normal approach to life, but it will probably work fine for my father. I don’t think we have any other choice.