My fear was that my father would die first and my mother would be left alone, needing to adjust to her loss, and having no one consistently around her to provide support, distraction and help. That’s exactly what happened.
My Personal Path-Dad
My father, then 96, entered the hospital in early 2006 for a relatively brief stay. When his doctor determined there was no need to keep him in the hospital, he directed my dad to move to a rehabilitation facility to gain weight and regain his strength before returning home.
My first surprise was how the transition from one facility to the other was handled. After receiving a phone call informing me that my father would be discharged that afternoon, I left my job in the trauma center and ran down the hill to talk with my father’s providers.
Accustomed to working in a county hospital where social workers are “at the ready” to support every patient in need, I was shocked at being given no time and no help to make an important decision. I pleaded for more time and more information. I got the time but instead of any guidance on rehab facilities, I was given a one page list of potential placements within a five mile radius of our home.
I truly had no clue what I should be looking for, what questions I should ask, how to identify red flags and oh dear – how to deal with my mother who, without my father by her side, was exhibiting more dementia than I’d ever acknowledged existed.
The next six weeks were tremendously challenging. We chose a facility which we quickly learned could only boast about its location. The food was so bad, my father refused to eat. So I started cooking at home and bringing food I knew he liked. The staff was well-meaning but over-worked, under-paid and struggled with English. My father grew angrier and more resistant each day.
I bribed him with the lure of moving home. “Just get a little bit stronger so you’ll be safe and then we can go home. I’ll get a live-in nurse; you’ll be more comfortable and happier in your own space.” He was having none of it. With each passing day, the message was clearer. “I’m tired. I’m done.”
My father died at the end of February 2006. He remained lucid until the last two days.
Months before his decline, I had begged my father to allow us to move him and my mom into a retirement facility where together they could make some friends, cook on their own or not, be involved in activities or not and most importantly, be safe. My father refused. He was quite comfortable in his own surroundings, watching television, reading books, sleeping and playing tennis (yes, until age 96) once a week. He did not care about any social stimulation. He didn’t need it. My mother, on the other hand, was just the opposite.
My fear was that my father would die first and my mother would be left alone – needing to adjust to her loss and having no one consistently around her to provide support, distraction and help. That’s exactly what happened.