Parenting the Parents, Part III. The Move. And the Aftermath.

Actually, we were beyond relieved that they’d decided so easily to move – it would be so much better to have them closer, to get them set up with doctors who would be more aligned with what they needed, to actually get my dad diagnosed (we still had nothing that was in any way definitive), and to be able to keep a closer eye on them. Within 6 weeks (by Mother’s Day) the condo was theirs, and we’d begun the emotionally draining process of getting them ready to move, which we targeted for late June. Dad was easy – he just rolled along with everything – but it was bumpier with mom, who’d never been very easygoing to begin with. It all finally came together though, and in the meantime, we were able to start lining up doctors for dad here (to give credit where it’s due, “we” was mostly my sister, who has a background in the medical field, and blessedly, offered to take all of that on).

Within a couple of weeks of moving in, Dad had seen a new PCP, had several tests performed, and finally had a clear diagnosis: vascular dementia. He was scheduled to meet with a neurologist who specialized in dementia and Alzheimers and also with a Geriatric Psychiatrist, though the appointment with the neurologist wasn’t until early October, and the appointment with the Geriatric Psych was 3 long months away.

I had been genuinely surprised at how much mom seemed to like the condo while we were getting ready to move them in. The layout, I will acknowledge, was perfect, and the woman who’d owned it previously (or her spouse, or both?) had clearly had some mobility issues, as evidenced by the well-placed grab-bars and the stair-glide chairs leading up BOTH the main staircase and down to the (finished, 1000 square foot) basement. However, mom had a pretty good eye for interior decorating, and there were a LOT of things that I figured she’d hate, and want to change: paint colors, the horrible pinkish Corian kitchen countertops and stock white cabinets, the contractor’s grade faucets and mostly heinous, cheap light fixtures.

At first, these things didn’t seem to bother her, but it didn’t take long before her inability to handle the stress of all the change started leaking out in her annoyance over any number of little issues: how the refrigerator doors would sometimes pop open when you closed one side or the other (it’s one of those “French door” models with the freezer at the bottom. Ironically, it was the exact same kind as she had in her previous kitchen but that was the stainless steel version, and this was the white one). How the freezer drawer sometimes didn’t close all the way. Something with the dishwasher. The oven controls glitching out. How you had to move the handle on the kitchen faucet *just* right to get it to totally turn off. They’d bought a home warranty when they got the place, and we used it. The appliance guy came out. Fixed whatever was wrong with the dishwasher. Turned around the basket in the freezer, which was in backwards and preventing the drawer from closing properly. But man, with every new issue, I’d get an angry phone call, and serious attitude. Everything was shit. She hated this place. She wished she were just dead.

It didn’t help that she was having to pretty much act as full-time caretaker for my dad. He’d been having issues with incontinence for quite some time (not unusual with certain types of dementia), so Depends were a routine item on the shopping list, but there were accidents sometimes, and she’d act as if he were doing it on purpose. Same with the issues with the mail. Why she persisted in handing it to him, despite the results, and me reminding her, every time something would go missing, to Stop. Handing. Him. The. Mail, I don’t know. I had set up a folder for her to put bills and statements when they came in, and I’d come over a few times a week to sort through them. Yet still, she’d hand him stuff sometimes. Part of me thinks she did it knowing there would be issues, but that it would give her another place to channel her anger and frustration.

The visit to the Geriatric Psychiatrist couldn’t get here soon enough.

Parenting the Parents, Part II. Getting the Ball Rolling.

Ah, the family meeting. We had to get this started somehow. We broached the subject of my parents moving someplace closer to either my sister (up in VT) or me. I acknowledged that they probably weren’t feeling ready yet, but what was “ready” going to look like? When one of them took a header down the stairs? (Those are the exact words I used, by the way.) They didn’t argue about it (though ultimately, my dad dug in his heels about moving out of state – he’d spent his whole life in CT, dammit, and he wasn’t going to leave now. I think he was mostly worried about being able to watch the UConn Huskies Women’s Basketball games, to which they were – still are – seriously committed. . .). They didn’t quite jump right on the bandwagon, either.

Where they were living wasn’t exactly a place known for having a high concentration of quality healthcare. As fall became winter and winter became spring, I encouraged them to call me if they needed help with anything. This was a difficult thing for them – they’d always been self-sufficient. They never wanted to be the dreaded “burden.” But as the weeks wore on and the phone calls came more frequently, it was becoming increasingly apparent that we needed to accelerate the thinking about moving them because the burden of them not becoming a burden was getting, well, burdensome.

Confusion over bills was becoming routine, as was the need for me to often drop everything to run over there to unravel errors or play forensic accountant. (Despite the fact that dad had been saying, quite plainly, for a few months that he couldn’t really handle the finances anymore, mom continued to hand him the mail whenever it contained a bill or a statement. I still don’t know whether this was just 55+ years of married habit, denial, or a little of both. In any case, habit compelled him to think he had to do something with it when she handed it to him, which often ended with things being misplaced, split apart, or otherwise generally mishandled in some way.)

And. They did everything manually – they wrote checks for every bill, pretty much as soon as it arrived. At some point, however, they had completely stopped keeping a running total in, and balancing, the checkbook. They also had a habit of writing out the checks for their quarterly estimated income tax payments as soon as they came back from their annual tax preparation visit with their accountant (dad had given up doing their taxes probably a decade before). They would then stage the pre-written checks in their desktop organizer and make notes in the calendar for when they should send the payments. They’d log them into the checkbook register, but because they had stopped keeping a running total, no one was keeping track of how much was really available in the checking account. I quickly took that on as a part of my routine duties.

I’ve jumped a little ahead though. It was around then (mid-March) that I had a brainstorm: there was a very nice condo complex just 3 minutes down the hill from me. What if. . .? I bounced the idea off my sister, and in short order, I’d reached out to a realtor I knew who had lived there and whose name was often on For Sale signs in the complex. We wanted a unit where single-floor living was an option. Lo and behold, the (almost) perfect unit was available.

I mentioned the idea casually to my mother, to plant the seed. She said nothing, but didn’t put up an argument. A week later, on Easter, I brought it up as we were driving them to my house for dinner. I had teed up a virtual tour of the place on my laptop, which we showed them after dinner. They seemed more interested than I’d thought they would be. When I brought them home later that afternoon, I reinforced, again, that I knew the idea of moving probably seemed daunting, but if they liked the place (or any place there), they could buy it and we could take our sweet time moving – even if it took 2 years – at least they’d have it. (Of course, in my head, I was screaming, “Move! Now!! Please!!!”). I also reminded them that I knew their long-term objective, when they needed more care, was to have someone living with them, and that was great, but I wasn’t going to let that happen without the ability to check in every day, so to be only 3 minutes away would be awesome. I left them with that thought. Much to my shock and delight, they called me back that same night to tell me they wanted to buy it. I burst into tears of relief.

Parenting the Parents, Part I. Acknowledgment.

We started noticing that something was going on with dad several years ago – he wasn’t really getting around the way he used to – this was a guy who took care of all the routine maintenance on their house, plus 3+ acres of property. In the woods. There was no end to the work of clearing dead and fallen branches and trees, and over the years he’d amassed a truly inspiring collection of tools and devices to keep it all under control, from pole pruners to wood chippers, a few different chainsaws, and every kind of shovel, sledgehammer, and post-hole digger known to mankind. He and mom also grew a huge garden every year, conveniently enclosed as it was by the fence that used to surround our in-ground pool, until they filled that thing in about 20 years ago because taking care of it just wasn’t worth it anymore for the relatively short swimming season we get here in CT.

Even though they lived only 45 minutes away, we didn’t get over there very often. Life, you know. They came here a little more frequently, but still only 4 or 5 times a year at most. When my younger son joined freshman crew in high school, we had them come over so we could go together to the riverfront in Hartford to watch him row in his first local regatta. We parked in the parking garage that I parked in every day for work – it was probably 1/3 of a mile (maybe ½) from there to the riverfront, and fairly flat terrain. We set out as we always did, strolling at a decent pace. It didn’t take long to notice that dad was struggling – not in the way you see it with many older people – out of breath and panting – but with his gait: it was as if he couldn’t get his legs going properly – lifting them up and putting them down in a normal walking pattern was a challenge and he lagged behind. The walk back later was the same.

That was 4 years ago. My sister said something to my mom (as did my husband) about having him checked out by a neurologist. Eventually they did, but all the guy apparently checked for was Parkinsons, which it wasn’t. Time went by, and things got to the point where “walking” for him was essentially shuffling. But it got worse than the physical symptoms.

I hadn’t realized what was really happening until my sister called me at some point in the fall of 2017. In addition to his property-care prowess, dad had a sharp financial mind. He was a CPA. He handled all the major finances of the household. And for the first time ever, he’d bounced a check. Thankfully it was one he’d written to my sister, but she told me he confessed that he was finding himself confused and he was afraid he couldn’t handle these things anymore. My sister came down from Vermont. We met with their estate attorney to update their wills and make some other changes to a few things. We executed powers of attorney. And we had a family meeting.

It was just the very beginning of a world of change.