|Dad meeting his youngest granddaughter|
Caregiving is a topic that concerns most of us. We usually don't look forward to the obligations and responsibilities of taking care of someone else, but we know that is likely to happen. Either a parent, spouse, partner, relative, or friend is going to need our help at some point. Just as possible, we are going to be the recipient of caregiving from someone else.
This topic was raised several times in the recent post, Where does this retirement blog go from here? As one in a series of responses to your interest, today I will focus on what the caregiving experience was like for me and my wife, Betty, after my mom died and we were responsible for my dad's situation.
Up front comes an important disclaimer. My parents lived in a CCRC, or Continuing Care Retirement Community. That meant they had a full range of services, from prepared meals, to home nursing care, and full nursing center services if needed. Betty and I were not tasked with the daily feeding, cleaning, and monitoring of dad's condition. I am quite aware that our experience in caregiving was much less stressful than it might have been if dad couldn't afford such a level of care.
Mom died in December, 2010. At that point my parents had been married for 63 years. The only time they weren't together was when dad went on business trips. He was completely devoted to mom, so much so, that sometimes it was hard to tell where her personality stopped and his began. We fully expected dad to die not long after mom. He was so connected to her that life as a single was almost impossible to imagine.
Well, surprise, surprise. Dad spent over four years on his own, seemingly happy and not outwardly depressed over mom's death. While he was one of the least social people you might ever meet, he had an acquaintance or two, dined with those people every day and read at least a book a week. Because mom loved to watch the Phoenix Suns, he continued to do so for a few years, finally giving that habit up two years before his death. He did watch the evening news on a TV that had more more green than other colors, but refused the offer of an upgrade to a newer set several times. He wasn't a music listener or movie watcher, so how he filled his days is still a bit of a mystery.
Betty and I had a few duties as his caregiver that became increasingly important each year after mom's death. He really looked forward to our weekly lunches together. Though he rarely talked, he was genuinely pleased we were sitting at the table with him. Every once in a while he'd agree to leave the property for lunch at a restaurant, but he didn't like leaving his comfort zone very often, so we stopped suggesting it.
As his memory declined, I took over his financial and tax matters. For a time he wanted to know what I was doing. Eventually, he stopped asking, trusting me to protect his interests. That was an important part of our taking care of him. Mom had been the bill payer, dad wasn't comfortable with all of that.
Three years before his death we convinced him to give up the car. He had no need for one. He was starting to get lost driving to and from our house and his. I convinced him that he was putting his financial future at risk if he caused an accident. Plus, his granddaughter needed a car. By giving it to her he felt good that he could help her out.
Of course, that meant Betty or I would have to take him to all doctor appointments and to the grocery and drug stores for his pills and food supplies. That wasn't a major inconvenience, though it did require some serious planning when we had a month or two RV vacation scheduled. But, the tradeoff of him not driving was worth it.
Dad was seemingly healthy on the morning of March 7,2015. He had breakfast and lunch at his usual table. By dinner time he was gone, found on the floor of his room. Medical folks assured me his passing was quick and probably painless.
Caregiving shifted to funeral arrangements and cleaning out his apartment. It was hard to walk into his place and look at the chair where he spent most days, reading. But, Betty and I consoled ourselves with the conviction that he led a good life, was loved by many, had excellent care, and did not have to deal with a lingering decline before joining his forever wife.
What about you? What caregiving story can you share to help us all deal with what is likely to be part of our future?