Wednesday, August 31, 2011

How Do You Know?

How do you know when your aging parents need help? You can't look to them - Wally's parents refused help until Wally's dad broke his back falling off a ladder (I know, I know, he had no business being on a ladder), and that was several years after they should have had help. The torturing question: If we had insisted on help would he have not broken his back? Would he still be here?

Preserving the remnants of their independence, they refused help at night or on Sunday when their caretaker was off. It used to be an all-day project for the two of them to get Wally's mom into her pantyhose - imagine one person with Parkinson's and a broken back, and one with Alzheimer's. It would be funny if it weren't so sad.

The crowning moment came when Irene (Alzheimer's) awoke in the middle of the night convinced that company was coming and they needed to move into the guest room. The first couple of times she woke him Wally's dad kept his cool, but about the twelfth time he barked at her "For God's sake, Irene, go back to sleep! No one's coming!"

Not happening. Hurt, she took his walker away and went to sleep in the guest room. Alone. He was stranded until the help came at 9 the next morning. He was not amused. We are. You have to see the humor in these things or you will lose your mind. But they got to stay in their home, it was a promise made and kept by their sons. I have made the same promise to my mother. 

I asked my sisters when mommy was in the hospital how you know when someone needs help. If there was ever a clear-eyed view from the inside, it's mommy. Carol said, "Well, her house is spotless, her clothes are clean, and she cooks interesting food."

Not the standards I would have applied but so sensible. Crisp and clear. And as I get older I see we all have good days and bad days. When I was younger the bad days were someone else's fault. Now I see - not so much.

I have a favorite saying: "If I die in a rest home every nickel goes to the SPCA." And I mean it.

We should all be allowed the dignity of passing our declining years in our favorite familiar place, our home. Four tiny letters, such a lot of emotion. 


  1. Oh my. Deep. I do like Carol's response. Fortunately my brother and I get together for breakfast once a month or so to do a sanity check on our parents. And dis without our spouses around.

  2. A serious subject. My parents had a spotless house, clean clothes and good food while the curtain was falling. Best answer: Go with your parent when they visit their doctor. Be sure to get your parent's consent for the doctor to be candid. Wally