Through the Windowpane
“For now we see in a mirror, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part;
but then shall I know fully even as also I was fully known.”
1 Corinthians 13:12
Grandpa complained first thing this morning about the view out the kitchen window. He wasn’t happy that the neighbor threw his garbage pails and recycle bin haphazardly between his fence and garage. I guess it’s my fault he’s been subjected to such an eyesore.
About a month ago, I moved the kitchen table over by the window so Grandpa could look outdoors instead of just staring at his food or the four walls of the kitchen. But unfortunately, the view out the window is limited to the neighbor’s garage.
Years ago, the backyard used to be a lovely place – a respite in the midst of identical suburban tract homes that my Uncle Meyer built in the 1950’s. It was a small yard, but like everything else in my mother’s life, she packed as much variety as she possibly could into that tight space. As a child I loved that yard. It was an ever-colorful landscape that changed with the seasons.
There used to be a tall maple tree in the middle and a huge weeping willow next to it. We had a swimming pool and playhouse fort in the corner. There were bushes growing down each side of the fence and in the back there was a vegetable garden, assorted fruit trees and a pussy willow bush, my mother’s favorite. Beyond the yard is the grade school I attended and it’s much the same as it was when I was a child. There’s a big, open playground area, surrounded by fields and houses.
Looking out the back window used to be a delight, but not anymore.
As mom and dad aged, they decided they needed a garage more than the view, so dad took a carpentry class at the local junior college, and with my brothers help, they built a one-and-half car garage that practically took up the whole back yard. Grandpa’s very proud of his garage, but it is the only thing you see if you look straight out the kitchen window.
If you sit parallel to the window, you sort of get a better view depending on how diligent the neighbor is about keeping his property tidy. Unfortunately, from the chair he was sitting in, Grandpa’s view is limited to the neighbor’s garage and whatever he wants to throw out on garbage day.
“It’s a real mess,” Grandpa grumbled to Eric.
The neighbor (who shall remain anonymous), was in his garage putzing about.
Grandpa didn’t want to be seen, especially since he had been complaining, so he asked Eric to move him away from the window.
“You’re a snoop,” Eric scolded.
But Grandpa couldn’t hear him.
“You’re a S-N-O-O-P!’ Eric spelled loudly.
Then I arrived and saw Grandpa eating breakfast at the kitchen table, so I joined him.
It wasn’t long before I heard about his complaint, too.
I stood up and looked out the window at the fence line and agreed, it was an unsightly mess. Then I looked out the window in the other direction. I chuckled because I saw what Grandpa couldn’t see. Our own garbage pails and recycle bin looked just like the neighbor’s.
“You’ve got a log in your own eye,” I teased Grandpa. “Our yard looks just as unsightly as the neighbor’s.”
Grandpa looked surprised, and then he smiled.
There’s nothing like eating humble pie for breakfast.
An eyesore, that’s what it is – the screen door flapping in the breeze is a real eyesore. To Grandpa, that is. This morning, I got a call from my brother (aka Uncle Jay) about that door, and sure enough, the squeaky Grandpa gets the door fixed.
Jay asked if all the parts were there. I thought they were, but I really wasn’t sure. I’ve been too preoccupied with other aspects of Grandpa’s care to even remember that the front door is broken until I slam it shut into place when I leave for the night.
That door has been broken since the springtime when the wind caught it and nearly pulled it off the frame. It’s still hanging on, but only by the outside hinges. I think it might have busted when Eric was heaving Grandpa up or down the front stairs or when we were carrying groceries in from the van.
You see, we don’t have a handicap ramp, but we do have Eric who is strong enough to lift Grandpa up and down the stairs in his wheelchair. However, he would have only been able to hold onto one thing at a time – either the screen door or Grandpa’s wheelchair. Can you imagine? There goes Grandpa. Wheeeeee! Bye, bye Grandpa. Don’t let the screen door hit you – or your wheelchair – in the rear!
Well, last night Grandpa called Uncle Jay to complain about the broken screen door. Claire was Grandpa-sitting, and I can just see the scene unfolding. They were probably watching some deep sea diving program on the Discovery channel, when suddenly, out of nowhere, Grandpa became disgruntled again about the broken door.
He has a phobia about that door. He’s worried that mosquitoes or flies will get in. He’s more worried about neighborhood gangs noticing a property “in disrepair.” He has told me on no uncertain terms that the broken door is an open invitation for gang activity – that we are just asking for trouble. He’s convinced that the neighborhood hoodlums will see it hanging askew and plot to break into the house in the middle of the night.
Yep, that unsightly door will encourage them to walk right in the house and take all his valuables. Next thing you know, we’ll see black-hooded thugs running around the block with a walker or drag racing up and down the street in a hospital bed.
I wouldn’t have let Grandpa talk to Uncle Jay about it, but poor Claire fell for the bait. Grandpa figured he’d complain again because it has done no good to complain to me. It’s true. He knows I’ll say what I’ve been saying for months, “Jay’s in charge of the door, dad. He knows all about it.”
So this morning Uncle Jay and I had a lively discussion over the whereabouts of screen door parts, broken dishwashers, and furnace filters that need changing every month. Things I’m sure I would have eventually thought about if I wasn’t so busy thinking about medicine, meals, and monthly budgets.
Screen doors, ha! The least of my concerns – but definitely first on Grandpa’s “most urgent” list.
Many of the health issues we have battled against when we first started taking care of Grandpa have fallen by the wayside. It’s been almost a year and we (including Grandpa) have forgotten at times just how much progress he’s made. I want to write about each of these medical problems at a different time, but for now, his morning dementia issues have cleared up since he was taken off Benzatrophine* which the doctor said he should have only been on for six months (he was on it for seven years). He doesn’t choke anymore when he takes a sip of water (dysphagia), his voice has pretty much returned to normal (Parkinson’s affects the vocal chords), and he doesn’t needs a bib anymore. A “bib” you say? Yes, a bib.
When Grandpa first came home, he had a hard time sitting up in his wheelchair and eating without getting a good portion of his food in his lap. Well, that’s all over now. He is in much better control of his hand-to-mouth coordination. The other night when we were watching TV, I served him his dinner in the living room and handed him a napkin. It was then that I realized we hadn’t used a bib for a long time. In fact, the last time I saw it, the over-sized terrycloth towel had been used to wipe some green paint off of a paint stick.
It doesn’t take long to forget just how far he/we have come. Yep, bibs, I hope, are a thing of the past. To quote an old ad campaign from the 1980’s, “You’ve come a long way baby!”
*Benzatrophine Cogentin® Neurology An anticholinergic used to manage parkinsonism Adverse effects Usually dose related–nervousness, impaired memory, numbness, listlessness, depression, confusion, excitement, hallucinations with high doses; GI–dry mouth, constipation, N&V, blurred vision, mydriasis, hyperthermia, anidrosis, urinary retention, dysuria, weakness, rash, tachycardia.
Spinning off the famous ideology of a former first lady, “It takes a village to raise a child,” in my opinion, “It takes a family to raise a Grandpa!”
Yes, taking care of Grandpa hasn’t been easy, but with God’s help, and in the context of family, we’re making it. Grandpa’s level of care is way beyond assisted living, more at the high end of skilled nursing. That’s why between all of us, we’re able to take care of him without totally burning out or paying for 24/7 caregivers, he can’t afford. We are the caregivers, specifically my son, 19(the first two years-now married and 22, living in Seattle), and my three daughters, 24 (now 28), 15 (now 18) and 11 (now 15), my husband and myself.
When my brother first decided to bring our father home, I knew we would need help, so I put the word out right away to friends. Dad was pretty weak and we were busy with our home business that gets very busy around Christmastime. It was October and we were already preparing for the rush, so I wasn’t able to devote all my time to Grandpa. At the time, I didn’t realize what these new circumstances would require of me, which was probably just as well. I wouldn’t have had the strength or fortitude to go the distance (insert picture here of deer in headlights).
I could only handle one day at a time, and each time I was with Dad, he made it very clear that no one could take care of him quite like we could. I tried not to let him play on my emotions, but I knew in my heart it was true. Hadn’t he been in the nursing home for four years? Finally, after all had been through, he grew to appreciate and trust his family. We can unequivocally thank the nursing home for that.
We only had a certain amount of money to work with, so we figured for the hours we were offering, we could pay a decent hourly rate, including room and board. I put the word out among friends and was given the name of a young man who felt he had a call on his life to take care of the elderly. He sent a glowing email about himself (I think he should have been a marketing director), his many accomplishments, his passion for the elderly, and how he was comfortable grooming and bathing Grandpa, and doing light housework and laundry.
He had worked a year for an agency taking care of an elderly woman and he came with great references. I soon realized, however, that he hadn’t actually worked for most of the people who were on his list. They obviously wanted him to get a job because he had been unemployed for over a year.
In the long run, caregiver one was more trouble than Grandpa was. From week to week, I felt like I was training someone else’s kid. Even though he was 26, he often had the reasoning of a 12-year-old. He made some very poor judgment calls, but the worst was when the furnace went out on New Year’s Eve. It was a really frigid night, one of the coldest of the year, and caregiver one elected not tell us there was no heat in the house. He had had a couple of beers and wasn’t feeling the cold himself, but in the next room, Grandpa was lying there feeling the chill right down to his bones. He certainly complained the next day, and rightly so. I guess it’s not bad enough that Parkinson’s patients feel stiff as a board, let’s just freeze them to death, too. After three months of needless pain and mental anguish, we let caregiver one go. Everyone in the household breathed a collective sigh of relief.
Next we tried the lady next door (caregiver two) who had sort of been spying on caregiver one and reporting his indiscretions to my brother. We were told that he daily sat on the stoop, smoking cigarettes and talking to his girlfriend on his cell phone. We knew he spent a lot of time – killing time, and we expected some down time. Grandpa doesn’t need help every minute of the day, he just needs someone to be available all the time. The problem is, we couldn’t get caregiver one to do the work he was responsible for like throwing Grandpa’s diaper in the outside garbage instead of leaving it laying around his bedroom.
After working for just a week-and-a-half, caregiver two became ill and wouldn’t report for work or return our phone calls. My brother asked her to come over and clean the house, but she never showed up. She was angry we hadn’t given her all the hours we gave to caregiver one, but over the months, Grandpa made it clear he preferred our family over strangers, so in January, we took the plunge and became his full-time caregivers. At least we knew we could rely on ourselves.
Yes, it will take the help of your whole family if you want to take care of an elderly parent who needs a high level of care. As the saying goes, “many hands make light the work, ” but experience has taught us, the only hands you can really rely on are your family’s. Hindsight is always 20/20, isn’t it?