Guest Author - Kathie LoMonaco
The topic I want to talk about today is the decision we must make in Midlife as to the point in time when we either get 'The Call' - or just realize - that our elderly parent or parents can no longer live by themselves and the options or choices we must make concerning their care.
While women struggle with menopause at Midlife - gracefully - and try to emerge from it trying to look and feel like a semblance of their former self - a lot of us also have the added worry and angst of what to do about our aging and ailing parents. At a time when husbands and wives thought the newly empty nest would be their time to enjoy Midlife, having raised their children and seen them off to college - enjoying some new-found freedom - they find instead that their world is suddenly turned upside down as they now have to be parents and caregivers to their own (elderly) parents. Instead of them having less responsibility - they now take on the added responsibility of the care of their own parent or parents.
It's not an easy thing when you have worked most of your life - raised your children and have seen them off into adulthood - only then to find yourself tied down once again - unless, of course, you decide to put your parent or parent(s) in a nursing facility. That is a personal choice. In my case, although my Father has passed on - sixteen years ago, I got this same call - from my Father - asking me if he could come and live with me. I said yes without hesitation. His biggest fear was being placed in a nursing home, and I knew that. I had promised him I would never let that happen - that he always had a home with me when he wanted it.
Of course, I hung up and I tried to recover from the shock and realization that my life, as I knew it, would be no more. I had been a single Mother for a lot of years - and my daughter was grown and out on her own - I was actually working two jobs at the time, and, more importantly, I had been dating a new man in my life for about three months, and things had started to get a little serious at that point. It was bad timing - but there it was - The Decision. I knew for years that the worst thing that could have befallen my Father was for him to go into a nursing home. He had made that statement to me more than once in the past. He had been a good Father - I knew I had to do the right thing. My sister had already voiced her stand - which was that she would opt to place my Father in a nursing home - although fate took a twist and the situation played out quite differently in the end.
The next time I was with my (new) guy, I broke the news to him, following it up by saying words to the effect that ....'it's been nice - but my life as I knew it would be coming to an end - and things will not be the same....' ; in other words, between two jobs and my Father moving in, I didn't see anything moving forward for us - 'it's been nice, and sorry to see it end, but .....', words to that effect. I didn't see how the relationship could withstand my Father coming into the house, and into my life again on a full time basis. He was so 'old school', 'old world'; OH boy, me, my Father, and my 'boyfriend' - I couldn't see that working out. My Father was old-fashioned, - he definitely had his own issues. He was domineering and very controlling - and in his eyes I would always be a little girl. And, that's the way he treated me. It was to become a big problem. Little did I know at the time that, having my boyfriend (stay) in my life - would be my saving grace.
What I hadn't planned on was that as people get older - or maybe I should say 'elderly', their character traits, or issues, become magnified. What might have been a slight annoyance to me about my Father years earlier, was now a blatant, screaming issue. For instance, when I would do my regular grocery shopping, my Father would start unpacking the groceries, critiquing each and every thing I bought - and questioning me; i.e., ...'you bought another butter? - you already have a butter!'.....exasperating - and it might not sound like a problem, but trust me, it was. After living alone for half a lifetime, I was now answering again to my Father.
And, even though I ran home from my day job and cooked my Father a big meal before going to my night job, he would get annoyed if I started dinner a little later than I normally did. One night I stopped at a department store to pay my credit card bill and buy some makeup. Big mistake. My Father was spoiled - between my Mother when she was alive - and me - he was accustomed to getting his meals around 6 p.m. every night. It wasn't enough I cooked five nights a week. There were many other incidences - once when my Father called me at my job and told me he was going to look all around my bedroom for his car keys - I hung the phone up at work, told my boss I had to run home, that a problem had come up with my Father - then called my boyfriend and told him to put locks on my bedroom door. My Father was invading my privacy - totally - and I think he was even starting to confuse me with my Mother. As I look back at the situation, I feel he might have had the beginnings of dementia, and I just didn't recognize the red flag(s) at the time.
I started looking into building an apartment over my house for my Father to live in so we could both have our privacy. When I told my Father, he was livid with me. He told me he would have no part of it. He threatened to move away (though neither my sister or my brother had offered him a place in their home at the time and I knew his threat was a bluff).
One year to the month of my Father moving in with me - he woke up one morning with a pain in his side - in time it would reveal itself to be Leukemia. We did not know that at the time - and he went as scheduled for a visit to my brother in Texas. It's too long of a story to go into - but after he arrived in Texas, and saw a doctor there, he was told he would have to stay in Texas for treatment and was too sick to fly back to my house.
From that point on, my Father started chemotherapy and lived with my brother in Texas. He asked me to pack his things and send some of them to him. There were heartwrenching moments - such as, when my Father would call me at work from Texas extremely upset and pleading that he wanted to come back to live with me - that he missed his life with me and my partner and the good times the three of us had. He was in such angst - telling me how he was being neglected by my brother and sister-in-law. He said he was alone most of the time - and no one was cooking meals. At the most crucial time of his life, there was no one there for him. Besides being under doctor's orders that he was not to travel back to New York - even if he was allowed - there would be no one home all day to be with him. It was a very hard situation. Thankfully, my sister, who lives in another state altogether, had him eventually go there after his treatments were finished. Six months later, he was gone.
He had been so lonely in Texas and did not get along with my brother's wife. She resented having him there. My brother was always working late. It was not a good situation. My Father acknowledged to me in his last months that he didn't realize how good he had it while he was living with me - until he went to Texas and found out the hard way that the grass was not greener. It was a bittersweet moment that I'll never forget.
I don't envy anyone who has to make decisions such as this with regard to their own parents. It is not an easy thing. Looking back on it, I still don't know what I could have or would have done differently, for things to work out better. That's because it is not an easy thing - and there is no easy solution.
My Father came to visit me once while he was in remission - which lasted approximately one year. Shortly before his death, my sister who lived in N. Carolina had my Father move in with her as she was not working at the time and could take better care of him - I am so glad my Father went to live with her and her family as they were all around him in his last days. I visited my Dad there several days before he died. His last words to me were "thank you for being a good daughter"...
I did the absolute best that I could, especially under the circumstances -- and that is all anyone can ask of themself. I live secure in that knowledge.