My parents never thought about their inevitable aging. Mom always called others in her same age group, “Little Old Ladies, saying she still felt as though she were much younger.
Dad continued working long after retirement, by choice, and last worked in his eighties. His last contract to install electrical wiring in the attic of an old building refurbished for a small church community which he did voluntarily without pay except for reimbursement for necessities.
Mom’s first stay at a nursing home ended when she called 911 because she was constipated and in pain, and the nursing home “would do nothing to help her”. EMT's arrived and took her to the Emergency Room. She received treatment and was returned.
The following Monday, Dad was asked to take her back home. He took care of her himself from that time forward while denying his own frailness another couple of years. Mom was legally blind, having lost 85% of her sight due to Macular Degeneration, getting hard of hearing, incontinent and could no longer walk without assistance. Several times they fell down together as Dad tried to help her get into bed. Due to the fact that their income slightly exceeded the poverty level, they did not qualify for any of the services that would otherwise assist them. They ended up without house or car.
Once the car was gone and Dad’s independence stripped from him, it was painful to know the situation they were in. Because they lived far from other family members, we arranged for them to move to assisted living a few blocks away from their granddaughter. Since she was a nurse she was able to at least keep an eye on them. Dad’s COPD was getting worse and he needed oxygen, but he felt it was important to save money, so he used it as little as possible. At the same time, not using the air conditioning that would have helped protect him from the Southern California smog.
With my older brother in NY, younger one in AZ, my baby sister in TX, and I in northern CA, was heart rending for all of us to watch this demise. Previously, younger brother lived near them and was Dad’s shoulder to lean on. My sister, also living in Southern California at the time, drove up to four hours in order to be there in person to help them out as often as she could tolerate it after putting in a full day’s work. Then cutting her work hours so she could spend more time with them. It seemed miraculous how she did it in her mid-fifties like that. She sacrificed so much in order to care for them.
I felt helpless, but because of my own chronic medical issues, I could do nothing tangible to help out. So the telephone became our bridge. Daily calls for the reports of the day, mostly complaints of the new disappointments that life was bringing them. But, the joint pleasure that sustained them both were their pet Abyssinian cats. I could always depend on being able to bring a chuckle out of Dad, or a giggle out of Mom and help soothe away the troubles they were challenged with daily, simply by asking, “How are the Beau and Boo doing?” Suddenly cute stories of their observations and interpretations of the cat’s behaviors came pouring out. So, being telephone support person, became my way of being there.
To keep them from having broken hearts, I promised to take in their precious cats. The day they moved into the nursing home, my niece put them in her car and drove 400 miles to bring them to me.