Growing Old is not for the Faint of Heart

“When we’re old, we’ll be new friends again.” There are lots of cartoons and greeting cards that offer good-natured joking about getting old. Sudden realization: I joke about what I’m afraid of.

Bob and I were recently reminiscing with some friends of ours. Many of us are in the position of caring for elderly parents or simply having elderly parents who are still on their own but benefit from living close-by us. One particular friend (we’ll call him Danny, because that’s his name) was reminded of a memorable 40th birthday party that is now a little too close to reality for him (and us) now that he’s in his sixties.

We weren’t there, but the descriptions were quite vivid – nursing home theme, doctors in white coats, people with memory problems, a dirty-old-man in the group, food that you didn’t need to chew, wheel chairs, etc., etc. They had a great time welcoming Danny into his forties, you know, the decade right before it all goes downhill and life is over. Seriously, it was all in good fun (at least that’s what they told me, but I don’t know if I trust their memories).

photo credit: Wikipedia

Fast forward over twenty years. Now we are watching some of our parents in that same scenario only it isn’t quite so humorous. It’s reality. I have blogged about this in the past and told you how caring for Bob’s dad has challenged my sense of humor. There have been times when I have been like Darth Vader. I’ve gone over to the dark side. Those were the times that made it difficult for me to blog about Life on the Lighter Side. I thought about starting a separate blog and calling it Life on the Darker Side, but that was a little depressing. And, I didn’t want to be responsible for drawing people to the Dark Side.

Through the ups and downs I have been acutely aware that there is within me the lighter side. Yes, Young (comparatively speaking) Anderson, there is some good in you yet. I can feel it. But the good in me is not of myself. I am thankful to Jesus that he is in me. He is the light of the world and that light abides in me. That is great news. His light dispels the darkness. I know he prepares my way before me so that helps me not to be afraid of the future (or the present for that matter).

So here’s what prompted me to share this with you. This year has been one of great difficulty for Bob’s dad, who turned 91 in January. He spent a week in the hospital in January and then five weeks in a nursing care facility for rehab. He has come through this with, in our opinion, flying colors. That is why the news we received from his assisted living facility, in which he has resided for the past 2 ½ years, was so difficult. By law he had to be reassessed before going back to his home. The assessment was not positive. They denied him. The doctor over his ALF was the same doctor over his nursing home. This left us in the lurch.

He took the news with a mixture of courage and disappointment. I believe his words were, “That stinks.” It does.

That threw Bob and me into a search for a new home for him. Because his mind is pretty sharp, we didn’t want to put him in a nursing home. But, because his body and eyesight are showing the wear of his 91 years, finding an assisted living facility was going to be challenging.

The main reason for his denial at his former home was he falls a lot. We do mean a lot – he fell 22 times in the four months that ended in December. To his credit, he is an excellent faller. I guess because of all that practice. He never once hurt himself more than just a bruise or scrape. But, the main thing about ALFs is that the resident needs to be safe behind his own closed doors. We made changes for him to make him safer. We presented these to the powers-that-be. Ultimately, we cannot argue with them. We can only disagree with their decision.

Thankfully, we found a new ALF that agreed to take him in on a 30-day respite, but only for him to stay in the memory care wing. It has double the staff and would give them a chance to evaluate him before considering moving him to the other wing.

Before the big move, Bob and I took his dad back to his old ALF to say his goodbyes to his friends there. We wheeled him in to the sound of cheers from the staff. “Dale’s back!”

They were shocked to find out that he was not coming home. One by one nurses, techs, and kitchen staff came by to hug him, give him a quick back rub and say how sorry they were. They hugged us, too. I cried. We have come to love those people. They had become his family and they loved him.

Dale had a best friend there, Peter who lived across the hall. Peter’s wife died in December. Dale was encouraging him to write his memoirs. We gave Dale and Peter some time to talk. Both men were vets from WWII. Peter was in the RAF. I loved hearing his British accent and his stories were fascinating. I could see why Dale wanted him to write them down. It was a privilege to witness their friendship in action and oh so difficult to see them say goodbye.

Dale and Peter

Dale and Peter

By March 31 we will know if Dale has found a new home or if our search will continue. Meanwhile, we visit a lot and we hope. He knows what’s on the line here, and he is toeing that line with all the might that one would expect from a WWII vet.

Fighting the Dark Side

What do you do when you write a blog that is supposed to be funny, light and encouraging and your life becomes serious, heavy and discouraging?  Well, you don’t work on your blog.  And when I say “you,” I mean me.  It’s been nearly a month since I’ve posted.  To get this post done I had to drag myself to my computer and handcuff myself to it, which isn’t a good idea because it’s really hard to type like this.  And, during the struggle I think I broke a nail, which means I had to go out and have a complete manicure, which of course pushed my work time back once again.

Let me begin, my husband Bob I spent our summer with trips to the emergency room, hospital visits, doctor appointments and securing a nursing facility for his dad’s rehab.  It all began on June 8 when his ALF (assisted living facility) sent him to the ER.  The next five weeks it was touch and go with his dad in a delusional state and unknown infections plaguing his ninety-year-old body.  The fact that he is legally blind complicated things.  We constantly had to reassure him that he was safe and in the hospital.

I’ll spare you the details, but currently he is recovering and regaining strength in preparation for returning to his ALF.  Meanwhile, Bob and I have been carrying a heavy load and it has taken its toll on my sense of humor.  I have gone over to the dark side.  After much consideration, I vetoed changing the name of my blog to “Life on the Darker Side.”  I was afraid to open that can of worms.  I was afraid of the comments.  I was afraid I’d constantly be quoting Star Wars.

Now that life is quieting down, I have enough perspective to share some things from these past two months with you.

It has been reinforced in my mind, my husband’s mind, and everyone I’ve come into contact with at the hospital that my plan to not pursue nursing was a good one.  My gag reflex is alive and well and has to be suppressed while discussing medical procedures, smells or bodily functions.  We all agreed that I should leave the room if his body were to start producing errant functions as one person to clean up after is sufficient.

I can get hospital support faster by screaming at the top of my lungs than by pushing the “call” button, which I had to do in the early days when Dad had physical strength to get out of bed but not strength enough to stand up.

Hospitals, even Christian-owned ones, have some hang-ups.  For instance, there is no 13th floor where my father-in-law was being cared for.  I’m not sure if this is for the peace of mind of the patients or the staff.  Either way it was challenging to explain to my grandchildren.

We started this journey at a hospital that we didn’t like.  Their procedure for patient care involved drugging the patient.  I spent days there as Dad’s advocate and protector.  Though amusing to think about now, it was disturbing when I witnessed a nurse come in and say, “Good morning, Mr. Anderson.  How are you today?”  No response.  Then she waved three fingers in front of him and asked, “How many fingers do you see?”  I looked at her and said, “He’s blind.  He can’t see any.”  We discharged him against doctor’s orders and transferred him to the superstitious hospital, thinking our luck would be better there.

On a serious note, we met some amazing doctors, nurses and support staff.  We are grateful for their care and concern for Dad and us.  It was wonderful to see Dad regaining his mental footing after such a rough road.  When he became lucid again, he asked for a Bible to be read to him.  It was gratifying to read the Word of God to him and see him respond in a way I hadn’t witnessed before.  We had talks about Jesus and prayed together.  This is what pulled me out of the dark side – Jesus is the way, the truth and the life.  How blessed I am to have shared that news with my father-in-law.