Earlier this year I managed to place both of my parents into an assisted living home, using subterfuge, sleight of hand and outright lies. It was a scene from Mission Impossible. It took a very persuasive social worker to convince me it was time for my parents to receive professional help. One person alone can manage an Alzheimer patient over an extended period of time, but with two patients it eventually became overwhelming. Mom was talking about suicide all the time, walking outside in the middle of the night and arguing about dead relatives still living in the house. Dad was convinced he was one hundred percent normal and argued loudly if his lifestyle was not maintained to perfection. I was doomed to fail, losing sleep, living on junk food and having stomach aches from the stress.
In January, 2012, after a call to my parent’s doctor, he allowed nurses and a social worker to come out to the house to check on my parent’s health and living conditions. Would my dad, with his ability to control situations and conversations, convince the nurses and social worker that he was in perfect health, had no memory problems and didn’t need their services, I wondered? Thankfully for me they saw through his defenses. The one sentence that drove dad over the edge, when he dropped his façade, was, “You need to give control of your life over to your daughter”. That was the absolute wrong thing to say to him. Mr. Control didn’t like being told he shouldn’t be the director of his world and everyone in it. He yelled at the social worker to get the hell out of his house if that was where the conversation was going. Over time I argued with the social worker when she said just put them in a home. No, I thought. Dad will fight me all the way and I’ll be out in the street. In frustration I called an Abuse/Neglect hotline and asked what would happen if I just drove away from the situation. Would I be arrested for abandonment? No, not if I called them first. Then the state would come in and assess the situation and determine if my parents should be institutionalized. Later I was to find out that was the worst option. Once the state took over I would not be able to be involved in their future estate or their lives.
I believe that when things are supposed to happen then they will happen smoothly. When I made the decision to put my parents into an assisted living home (ALH) the pieces fell into place. I found a perfect ALH nearby, with an apartment that remained available for several weeks. I gave Mom a tour of the ALH. She liked it but immediately forgot she had been there. I asked her, “What do you think about being waited on hand and foot? No more housework, bills or cooking?” She would smile blissfully. She is 86 years old with a demanding husband. That prospect sounded like a dream to her. One day, I put her in the car and took her to the Home. We sat down in their office and I told her she was now going to be living there. She would now have a staff. She smiled but I cried, feeling like I had let her down by not caring for her myself to the bitter end. Mom comforted me and said it was okay. She immediately relaxed. Later in the day I saw her at the Home laughing and talking to other women while working on an arts and crafts project. My mother the social butterfly now had company.
But there still remained the question of how to get dad into the home. Florida has something called the Baker Act, where a person can be removed from their house if they are considered a danger to themselves or others. When I contacted the police they evaluated dad and said he didn’t appear to fit into that criteria. Dad had charmed the police into thinking he was perfectly normal.
But that day when I returned back to the house without mom, I had a female police officer do a “stand by”, just in case dad went crazy on me. I told him she was now living in an ALH. While the officer was standing there Dad accepted my statement with no problem. But the next 24 hours were pure hell for me. He forgot where mom was, cried that I had taken her away from him forever, and then demanded to be taken to her right away. This conversation went on continuously except for a few hours that night.
Dad had to have a chest x-ray to rule out Tuberculosis before he could be admitted into the Home. Mom went into the home on a Wednesday. On Friday my plan was to have professional movers take their furniture and clothes to the Home; I would take dad to the hospital and then admit him to the Home. Talk about things falling into place. Things were happening so fast that I didn’t even have a moving company lined up. I picked someone from the phone book on Friday morning. Surprisingly, they were available and would be right out. Dad was agitated before the movers arrived but became an actor again, in control of himself in their presence. No threats were made to me while the men were in the house. But I called my neighbors for moral support and to keep him company while the movers brought the furniture to the Home. In the end it all went smoothly.
But. There is always a “but”. Now the problem of dad’s control issues and anger was going to be handled by a staff, including a nurse. They had their hands full. In the end I had to stay away from the ALH for almost three weeks while dad adjusted. To this day he still thinks he is there only to support my mother, his wife of sixty eight years. He tells me that when she is better again they are going to return to a normal life. Unfortunately the chest x-ray mom had to gain admittance to the Home found congestive heart failure, for which there is no cure. Now that dad is living a more active life his blood pressure is high again and he is back on medication. He continues to try to gain control of me, telling me I have to drive him places if I were to be, “A good daughter”. I simply walk away. One night I received a phone call from mom saying it was time for me to pick them up. Why am I not there? Get here now. Then dad got on the phone and demanded to know why I wouldn’t drive them home. He threatened me that he was going to call the authorities and have me arrested. I hung up and the next day told the Home’s director to please not let my parents manipulate the staff into using their phone to harass me. She was embarrassed and agreed.
Living in their home alone was very strange at first. I cleaned up piles of old newspapers and magazines, took the silverware and cooking pans out of mom’s clothes closet, washed their dirty clothes and rearranged closets and cupboards. Weeks later I have found dishes and newspapers hidden in strange places, mail and important items tucked away for safe keeping and then forgotten. Friends have offered to help me clean out the house, remove all my parent’s clothes and useless junk. But I refuse to accept their offers. My parents are still alive and I will honor their wish for their house and possessions to be maintained. But I have thrown out and donated appliances that no longer work, hundreds of wire coat hangers that mom kept for decades as well as plastic containers that were stashed all over the garage. The possessions that hold their memories alive are still here. They survived the Great Depression. The thinking of people who lived through that era seems to be that you never know when you’ll need something and won’t have the money to buy a replacement. Now those items are outdated and useless. Our generation thinks nothing of recycling or replacing worn out boxes, toasters, pots and pans, etc.
As I look through mom and dad’s treasures it gives me an insight into their lives. In quieter moments at night I wonder what people will think in the future when they go through my own possessions. What will my stuff say about me?