This is a blogpost I’ve been considering, contemplating and even dreading for months now.
This is where I admit that taking care of an autistic child compares, in some ways, to taking care of an elderly relative with diagnosed mental problems.
This is where I admit that last year, my father was diagnosed with early-stage Alzheimer’s and dementia.
This is where I add that last weekend, a friend and I moved my Dad from his house in Benicia, where he’d lived for 18 years, into assisted living.
Between all the empty and filled spaces, there’s an emotional journey here, man. I ain’t gonna lie. I asked wifey: what if our younger son puts us in a home someday? Won’t he be able to say, “Well, didn’t you do this to Grandpa?”
Lately I’ve been thinking that “being put in a home” wouldn’t be all that bad. On the fifteen-mile drive from Dad’s longtime house to his new home, we saw no shortage of cows eating the verdant, rain-soaked grass.
I said, “I used to feel bad for cows, but now I look at them and think, everything before the death is actually pretty nice.”
“I mean, if we had left the cows in the wild, what would their lives be like? Right now, right up until the slaughter, they’re in cow paradise.”
Dad: “You’re saying that when you come back in your next life, you’d like to be a cow?”
Me: “Yeah, I guess. You could do a lot worse.”
Let’s face it, I may have been trying to convince myself more than Dad.
In 2015, my Dad drove his car onto Travis Air Force Base without authorization. He apparently led them on a wild goose chase around the base before finally being held up. I only learned about this circuitously. I was driving around with Dad looking for his Nissan 300ZX, following clues from bills/notices sent to the house, including something about a moving violation at Travis. I arrive at the tollbooth-like entrance greeted by, naturally, two pimpled 19-year-olds with machine guns. They tell me to wait in this side area; after five minutes one of them comes back with:
“Sir, your father here has to leave the base immediately. He signed an agreement that he would never come here again.”
Only then do I get the story about how Dad had raced past the tollbooth, led Air Force cadets in a car chase, and emerged very very lucky to be alive. By the time I heard this tale, Dad’s sporty Nissan had been across the street from the base, in an impound lot, for more than a month. To get it out would cost $5k. Never happened. It was looking safer to keep Dad from driving. He’d gotten himself home from Travis AFB, he could obviously get around Benicia.
That was the day I learned Dad had memory problems. But I didn’t realize the severity until about a year later, August 2016. He fell on a sidewalk without carrying ID or a phone. Random people found him, called the cops, and the ambulance took Dad to North Bay Medical Center. He could tell them his name and his social security number, but he offered them no way to contact anyone else. On Day 6 someone there googled me and I rushed over. (I wish someone had thought of googling me sooner; because Dad didn’t remember that he was already paying for Kaiser, we were stuck with a ginormous bill that could have been a lot lower.) Doctors in the hallway explained that he was physically healthy enough to leave, but based on his apparent lack of recall, they wanted a much more extensive exit strategy.
Dad had been a little forgetful in the past, but talking to him at that hospital scared me. He would forget things I had just told him. Then I’d ask him what he talked to his sister about, and he’d say “Mother and Daddy aren’t doing so well these days.” Dad’s parents have been dead for twenty years. So yeah, short-term and long-term problems. Scary. For Dad, and for me and whatever genetic inheritance I’m getting. Not to mention the ones my kids are getting.
We made the plan the hospital wanted to make. He went home, went to Kaiser neuropsychology’s next available appointment. Shortly afterward, the report came: dementia plus early-stage Alzheimer’s. The report also specified that Dad should never spend a single day alone.
I didn’t/don’t have time to drive to Benicia (from Berkeley) and see Dad every day. So we got help, in the form of Abba In-Home Care Services. Absolutely nice, professional people who reliably cooked, cleaned, and dispensed medication on Dad’s behalf. And not cheap, but they presented themselves as temporary, part of the transition of getting Dad from his house to assisted living.
Dad absolutely did not want to go to assisted living.
The in-home caregivers took him to a few places, and lo and behold, he did see one he liked that was within our budget. As some of you know, these places are not exactly cheap. Luckily, Dad has quite a bit saved, has been very frugal, has paid off his entire mortgage (!), and earns a fairly good income from his pension and Social Security. I did tell Dad that he wouldn’t be losing money to move to his new digs (assuming we rent his house at market value), but I’m not sure that that was the deciding factor. I like to think perhaps Dad was finally sick of doing nothing all day at his house.
The new place is truly a new place, built last year; Dad is the first to live in his studio. (He chose a studio over a one-bedroom.) They tried to give me a north-facing room but I insisted on, and received, a south-facing one. Dad sees an enormous green field with cars speeding up and down Highway 80 (not audibly) in the distance. In the even further distance he can see Mount Diablo, which Dad seems to like. The center’s “library” is right outside Dad’s door, so he can lend and borrow books quite easily, and the books don’t take up room in his place. The dining hall serves three meals a day, and they’re excellent! There’s unlimited soda, juice, coffee, and even ice cream. Large outdoor area. A posh screening room for DVDs and movie nights.
(On the other hand, if any retirement home could be so great, why has there never been a TV show set in one? Idea for show…)
I would be a happy cow there.
Not entirely sure how happy Dad is. He says he’s fine, but I’ve learned not to trust everything he says. By the way, he stopped using computers years ago, for his own reasons, so he won’t read this. If his friends read it, great. Feel free to DM me for more details. And those of you who have already been so supportive, thanks a lot.
I’ll be seeing Dad a lot more often. Randomly, this place happens to be less than a five minute drive from one of my employers, Solano Community College. So that worked out well. I’ll visit him more than when he was in Benicia.
Then again, the Benicia odyssey is only beginning for me. It’s emotional, just walking around the house where Dad lived since 1999. And it’s emotional making that house empty and getting renters. And soon it’ll be annoyingly transactional as I have to deal with them. Having hired property management before, I don’t want to do it again.
This is all postponing my search for a new dog for my family, which is a shame. But I love Dad, and he knows that. It’s a good thing he does, or this whole thing would be medium-crazy.
I guess one sign that you’re an adult is that you’re made to micro-manage the affairs of the generation above you and the one below you. Dad doesn’t have any other kids. His only other family is in Texas. I did ask Dad if he wanted to move back to Texas (where he grew up), but he didn’t. Long term, Texas doesn’t make sense, since his family there is older than he is.
What the heck, I have always been a dutiful son and family member. I hear about people that aren’t. Ever notice how those flakes are always men? The daughters almost always do the hard stuff, don’t they?
No daughters in sight here.
I suppose I could look at this selfishly, like I’m doing this for Dad’s money. But as part of this yearlong odyssey, I already have financial power of attorney. So, no. I spend as little of Dad’s savings as I can. I’m doing this for Dad to be as happy and comfortable as possible. Another possible selfish reason is that I want my second son to take note of all this, especially after me and wifey are gone. At a bare minimum, we need him to arrange Dar’s life in the presumed home.
Dad and Dar. When you lose your facilities, you go to facilities. I hope we’re doing the right thing for them. I hope there’s not some part of them that wants to turn around and say, like Blanche in Baby Jane, “You could never do this to me if I weren’t in this chair!!”
But-cha are in that chair, Blanche. Cha are.