How Do You Take Care of an Ailing Parent Who Lives 1200 Miles Away?
In 1997, both my brother and I got married. In December of '97, our parents moved to Florida to get away from the cold winters of their house in South Jersey. I guess they thought they could wipe their hands clean of their two children, feeling like they had done their job.
Fast forward to 2014 and three grandchildren later. My dad, age 77, did some very poor decision-making and became quite ill. No need to tell anyone that blood comes out every time I poop. Surely that cannot be a problem! We had to put him in a nursing home near their house in Florida. He hated the nursing home, but it was our best option for both parents -- him to have the 24/7 care he needed, and for my mom to not go down with the ship, so to speak.
It was frustrating to speak with my mom, age 75, on the phone and have her regurgitate my dad's diluted version of what a doctor said. "Mom, you have to be there with him for all of his doctor appointments!" I thought I could count on my mom to ask the right questions about his numerous medical conditions and his care. "Write down questions, take them with you when you see the doctor, then take notes," I instructed her. Um, yeah, somehow that didn't work. I'm pretty sure I actually felt some of my hair turn gray.
Between children and work, it was basically impossible for my brother or me to fly down there for stretches of time to micromanage our dad's health care. So my brother, myself and our spouses decided that it would be best to move our parents up to Pennsylvania near where I live. My brother lives in New Jersey, only a 45-minute car ride away from us.
We almost had to knock our parents unconscious to make this move back north happen. Understandably, they did not want to leave the area they'd lived in the past 17 years and come back up to the cold winters. We had to convince them it would be best for them to be closer to us for their health: his quickly deteriorating, and for her -- who would be there if something happened to her? We had to point out to them that they had pretty much missed their three grandchildren grow up. My mom finally relented with the grandchildren guilt trip.
My dad fought us tooth and nail. It would be putting it mildly to say my dad disliked the cold. We had to repeatedly convince him that a heating system is actually a wonderful invention and it would be in the nursing home, as well as in every transportation device. There are also things called sweaters and blankets that he could have if he had a chill indoors. We told him he would not have to walk outside, or even stick his nose outside, ever again, if he chose not to.
After months of legwork, I found a small, local apartment for my mom and their cat, and a nursing home for my dad. My mom prepared for her move. My brother and sister-in-law flew down to help her pack.
Did I mention my dad was completely incontinent and too weak to even walk with a walker? My husband, who is 6'3", 200 pounds, got the much sought after job of flying down to Florida to move my dad back up to PA. He had to learn from the nurses how to give my father insulin shots and change his diaper. Yes, my husband had to do both. Yes, the diapers had poop in them. My husband should be sainted. Seriously.
Though we were close by and way more involved in his care than my mom alone had the capacity to do, it turned out my father's body had checked out. Dementia had taken over. On a regular basis he pulled out his IVs, refused blood draws and refused meds. We used to think he was being his stubborn self and tried to convince him to let the nurses do their jobs. But the truth was, he wasn't knowingly being stubborn at this point.
He passed away within a year of us moving him up here. Did his stress of us forcing him to move up here contribute to his death? It's possible, which breaks my heart. But thank goodness my mom is healthy and nearby, and gets to see her grandchildren regularly. I'd like to think her quality of life is better now. I think she would agree.
About The Author:
I'm the graying, barely-holding-together, lunchmeat sandwiched between two teenagers and two elderly mothers. I'm a 3-time full Ironman finisher, and find triathlon to be less exhausting than dealing with my kids, mom and mother-in-law. I get my AARP card in 2018. I'm happily married for 20 years.
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