In August of 2009, we received a call that my 89-year-old father had been transported from the nursing home he lived in to a nearby hospital. The rotating nursing home doctor on duty prescribed a medicine that conflicted with some of the other medications he was already taking. He was rushed to the hospital in a drug induced coma, non-responsive and dehydrated.
The hospital doctor was worried my father wouldn’t regain consciousness for at least ten days – that’s how bad off he was. But Grandpa came around the next day (we all say he has nine lives, and it’s true, he does). It was then my younger brother and I began to explore options with the geriatric social worker for moving him to a facility nearer to our homes.
For the last four years, Grandpa had been living in a nursing home an hour away from my house. He was driven there by my sister at his request. After he complained to a hospital social worker that she wasn’t feeding him, she became fearful the nursing staff would report her for elder abuse. But, it wasn’t true. Grandpa had a habit of complaining to anyone who would lend a sympathetic ear. No matter that he was getting one on one care, he loved to focus on the negatives and complain to anyone who would listen about the few things that were frustrating him. Sometimes he embellished the story for affect. Just where he thought he was going to be treated any better, I don’t know, but it was this incident that landed him in the nursing home in the first place.
I never wanted him to have to go there. In fact, I did all I could do to keep him out of the nursing home, but the house we rented on a farm was too small, even for my family. I couldn’t fault my sister either. She tried so hard to please Dad, but his complaining and criticism were hurtful, and he had begun to pick on her children, too. It was not a good situation.
As he will admit, Grandpa hadn’t served “his prison sentence in the nursing home yet.” No, he hadn’t been through the valley of testing. He had no point of reference to remind him of how blessed he was to be taken care of by family. Well, he does now, and he truly is a changed man.
I have to admit, I didn’t think about the long term ramifications of bringing Grandpa home permanently. The opportunity suddenly presented itself last fall when my brother’s renters came to him and asked him to lower the rent. He said, “You know what, guys? I need the house back, I’m bringing my dad home.” My brother started the process, and my family picked up the pieces.
Because of the age of my children, everything just fell into place. It was the miracle my Dad had been praying for. All he wanted was a room where he could have some privacy, be cared for, and write. The Lord not only gave him a room, he gave him his old house back, too.
As my family quickly learned, it was one thing to bring Grandpa home, and quite another to care for him on a daily basis. Grandpa’s care fell to my family because we’re home and operate a home business. We were working hard and had a lot of great plans for this year, when suddenly we got a call that Grandpa was in the hospital.
As in years past, my heart went out to him, and I wanted, no needed to find a way to make sure he would be taken care of. I couldn’t bare the thought of anyone neglecting him, anymore. And while he is taken care of and at peace, our family is being stretched like it never has been before.
Ah, the dichotomy of being a full-time caregiver who doesn’t live in the same house.* Many, I know, have walked this path before me. That alone brings me great comfort.
*We have since moved with Grandpa and take care of him full time.
Everyone laughs when they hear Grandpa’s stories. I’m not sure why because, generally, the stories we tell are not meant to be funny. Mostly, they’re about the struggles we’ve encountered since taking my 89-year-old father out of a nursing home in October of 2009 to care for him ourselves.
After talking about our new responsibilities (actually, to anyone who will listen), most people agree that if you’re able to take care of your elderly parents, it’s the right thing to do. After all, many adult children over the age of fifty will have to care for an elderly parent now or sometime in the near future.That’s why Grandpa’s stories strike a cord. They give hope to others who are going through similar situations or become poignant reminders for those who have already done their duty.
And even if someone hasn’t been there, they’re rootin’ for us all the same. If one family can keep their elderly father from wasting his golden years drooling all over his wheelchair in a drugged induced stupor, some how, some way, they might be able to keep it from happening to them, too.
Let’s face it, growing old isn’t fun. The “golden” years eventually give way to the “not so golden” years, when we become totally dependent upon others to meet our most basic needs. Seniors who have lived independently, not wanting to burden their families, suddenly find themselves at the mercy of institutions to keep them happy and healthy. However, after just a few days in the nursing home, mom, dad, grandma or grandpa, come to realize that nobody can care for them like their own family.
Daily, a steady stream of overworked and underpaid staff can be seen filing through the nursing home doors. These are the ones to whom we entrust the care of the least among us – our precious parents and grandparents. Sadly for many families, the realization that they could be or should be part of the solution for this great social injustice never dawns on them.
I am thankful for the dedicated CNA’s and nursing home staff who, above insurmountable odds, keep giving from their hearts. They have one of the hardest jobs in society. However, they can never truly replace a family who takes responsibility for the care and well being of their own.
Some like ourselves, have been given the opportunity to follow a different path, and although it seems filled with overwhelming obstacles at times, it is also a path to tremendous blessing. The sooner individual families realize what a privilege it is to be involved in the aging process, the sooner they will find grace for the journey.
This is the story of one family’s triumph over the “me” generation. Grandpa’s stories give voice to all the families who live selflessly day in and day out, those silent heroes who care for their elderly parents without notoriety or payment. Why do they do it? For love.
Over the months, we have acquired many new skills we never possessed before mostly through trial and error. The routines we have adopted as a family have made the difference between our household being chaotic or running smoothly. Our daily schedule not only revolves around Grandpa’s needs and energy level, but my older son and daughter’s as well. They are the ones who usually get Dad up in the morning and put him to bed at night, so everyone has to be in agreement and try to keep to the schedule as much as possible. Seniors thrive on routine and so do caregivers.
Even though schedules are important, it is also important to be flexible and enjoy one another, too. If everyone is running late, try to not rush your parent just to stay on schedule. Grandpa loves social interaction more toward evening, and he gets just as excited about eating dessert or watching a movie as a child would. He doesn’t want to miss out on anything, and it’s important for him to know that we enjoy having him around and are willing to bend the rules once in awhile just to have some family fun.
Grandpa loves when I stop in his room to say goodnight. Sometimes we pray together or sing a hymn. He often tells me what he wants to accomplish on his book the next day. Bringing closure to the day, and saying I love you, makes him feel safe and secure, and that’s what it’s all about.
When we first started taking care of Grandpa, my older daughter was a little more exacting about bed time. We all were all pretty much in shell shock and became fatigued easily at that time. Imagine going from your flexible routine as a family with older children (11 and up), to having a newborn 160 pound baby in the house. We were pretty exhausted and just needed Grandpa to stick to the schedule.
If there is one thing I’ve learned over the last three years, we don’t have to do it like the nursing home does it. We can be flexible – within reason. You just have to be careful. If you give Grandpa and inch, he’ll take a mile – and then some!