When Father No Longer Knows Best

Even though I don't have kids, I enjoy reading the "Father Knows Best" posts that people have written.  Today, though, I'd like to address the other end of the age spectrum:  dealing with elderly parents.

I struggle with either writing or talking about this, because it always seems to come off as whiny.  Yes, I understand that many people, including some of you, have lost either one or both parents.  Yes, I understand that I am fortunate to still have them in my life.  Believe me, doing twenty or more funerals every years leaves an impression on a person about how short life is and about how important it is to treasure the people in our lives whom we love.

Having said all that...

Dad is 91.  Mom is 88.  They still live in their own home.  I live four hours away from them, but live in an area where being four hours away is not considered to be any big deal.  My wife and I are, both by proximity and temperament, the people who are in the primary caregiving role for my parents as they age.

Mom is doing well for being 88, but you don't get to that age without having some problems.  Her main one is osteoporosis, which gives her constant back pain.  Also, her use of her right arm is somewhat limited because she broke a bone up near the shoulder a few years ago.  She does the cooking and cleaning, and also takes care of paying the bills.  She manages pretty well, but is at an age and physical condition where she could use some help.  She's not about to accept any, though.  Instead, she's actually taking on more responsibility than ever, because Dad.

Dad is in good physical health in some ways, but again, you don't get to that age without problems.  His leg strength is going, to the point where he can just barely get out of his chair.  He has a variety of cushions piled on his chair to help him, which only works to a limited extent.  Sometimes Mom has to help him out of it, which is bad for her back, of course.   But he refuses to even discuss getting a lift chair, and nearly threw a fit when we suggested looking into the matter.  "I don't need any d----d invalid chair" is the way I believe he put it.  So he stays in his chair as much as possible, which is not good for him and also means that Mom has to do nearly everything for him.

His driving is another issue.  He does not drive out of town any more, although he still maintains that he could and one of these days just might try it.  He continues to drive in town, going down the street at about seven miles an hour.  He probably shouldn't, but we've chosen not to make an issue of it because a) it would lead to a huge fight, b) it's a town of about 800 people, so people watch out for him and he's not in anyone's way for very long, and c) since Mom doesn't drive, they'd be totally housebound if he didn't, since there's no public transportation.  He sees well enough to stay on his side of the street, so we keep our fingers crossed and hope for the best.

Because Dad doesn't drive out of town, though, Mrs. A and I have to take them to out-of-town doctor appointments (there is a small clinic in town, but anything serious requires at least a forty-five minute drive).  We don't mind doing that, but given the distance, it's at best a full day's round trip for us and, depending on the time of their appointment, sometimes two days.  Again, we don't mind doing it, and we make they clear to them, but they still feel it's an imposition on us to ask and so don't make out-of-town doctor appointments unless absolutely necessary.  This is in keeping with Dad's general theory of wellness, which is "If I don't admit that something's going wrong, then it isn't."

They are getting by, for now, thanks to some good neighbors and the grace of God.  It's not hard to see troubles coming, though.  One of these days Dad's not going to be able to get out of the chair at all, and there's no way Mom can lift him.  They are both dead set against ever going into a nursing home or even an assisted living place.  I don't want them to go to one, either, but if Dad can't get out of his chair I'm not sure what their options are going to be.

They both refuse to discuss that eventuality, so I guess we have no choice but to wait until the time comes and deal with it then.  They also refuse to discuss what's going to happen after one of them is gone.  Mom could live by herself (at this point, at least), but because she doesn't drive and there's no public transportation, she'd either be dependent on neighbors to take her places or be housebound.  Dad could not live by himself, but I'm not sure he'll be willing to admit that.  So, again, I guess we have no choice but to wait until the time comes and deal with it then.

Meanwhile, Mrs. A's parents are warming up in the bullpen.  Again, by proximity (about an hour away) and temperament, we are likely to be their primary caregivers as well.  Mrs. A's Dad is 83 and her Mom is 78.  Her Dad is in good health for that age, but again, problems are looming.  Her Mom is having a problem with the feeling in one of her legs, and one gave way on her last week and caused her to fall and break her arm.  So, with a broken arm and a leg she's not supposed to use, she's not able to do much, which means Mrs. A has been spending a lot of time in their town for the past week and may be doing so for a while.

So there you have it.  I'm not sure why I bothered you guys with all this, other than there's really no one else I can tell it to.  I hope it didn't come across as whiny, because that's not how I mean it.  Again, we are grateful that we still have both sets of parents in our lives.  But it comes with its own set of circumstances, which are not always easy to deal with.

Anyway, if you're still reading, thanks.  I don't really expect anyone to have any solutions or anything.  I guess I just needed to get it out of my system.  We'll do our best, and we'll carry on.  That's about all any of us can do.

31 thoughts on “When Father No Longer Knows Best”

  1. These are tough things. Your parents should be in an assisted living place. It sounds like they aren't in such bad shape that they need to be in a nursing home, but assisted living would make their lives so much easier. But, as you say, your dad refuses even a lift chair.

    My dad (71) refused hearing aids for years. He worked in a factory and didn't wear ear plugs and he was just as deaf as a board. But, no, he wasn't going to get those hearing aids, until he did. Now, he can't live without them. He had one break earlier this month and he described living without it as being awful. Also, he has done beet campaigns for 40 years or some sort. He wants to keep doing it, but it's 14 hours of work -- he can't handle it anymore. We've told him that this last one was his last one.

    It might be time to just get your dad a lift chair and take his other chair out. If he doesn't like it, tough. He might find after having it for a day or two that it's not so bad after all.

    You know him better than me (I don't know him at all). I'll bet when you were a little guy he didn't leave you many options in certain situations (i.e. JeffA, it is time for bed, now!). He needs to have some of his options eliminated. Your mother can't drag him out of that chair anymore. Time for a lift chair. (Now!).

    It's not that easy, I know. Part of parenting, though, is being firm with your children. If you don't stand up to them, they will just run you over. It can be very hard sometimes to see your kids cry about things. After a while, though, that crying act gets pretty old. I've found that my daughter will cry and wail and throw a tantrum. I won't give in. I finally ask her if she's willing to listen yet. Yes, Dad, she says. Then we get through the issue. It's the same dynamic, I think, but tougher, because the object is the guy who brought you into this world.

    1. I've thought about that, but I honestly don't think it would work. After saying he didn't need any "invalid chair", he got out of his chair (slowly, of course) and went and sat on the couch for an hour. He was clearly uncomfortable, he had to turn his head at a 90 degree angle to see the television, and it took him several minutes to work his way out of it again, but he was going to "prove" he didn't need that invalid chair.

      I have little doubt that if we took out his chair, he'd go sit in mom's chair, or on the couch, or on a dining room chair. I frequently tell Mrs. A she should be grateful that I didn't inherit any of his stubbornness 🙂

      1. There's another aspect to it, too, which I should've addressed above, although it's probably implied. As you may have guessed, my dad is an extremely proud man. Even if we could force a lift chair on him, doing that would be a severe blow to his pride and could very well break his spirit. That would make it very much a Pyrrhic victory.

        1. Time to get some "professional" help. If you put the bug in his doctor's ear, his doctor can also be in your court and recommend a lift chair. Or, maybe better, your mom's doctor can recommend one, as his problem is just as much a problem for your mom. He might get the picture then, although like you say, it could be a spirit breaker. My dad got a lift chair when he had hip replacement, and he's in his glory in it.

          My parents are around Mrs. A's parents' ages, and I am SO thankful that, 1) my youngest brother lives a block from them, 2) they surprisingly have all their mental faculties, given my mom's family history especially, and 3) they fully expect to go to assisted living when they need to.

          I just received a phone call an hour ago that my oldest brother's father-in-law passed away last night, so this is very timely post. Best of luck with both your and Mrs. A's parents care.

          1. Dido to all of this. We just lost the older of my dad's remaining brothers a couple of weeks ago. Every day seems to make the inevitable more clear to my parents, even though (actuarially) they've got close to a decade still coming to them. That's got to be an incredibly frightening experience, no matter how strong your faith.

            Thanks for sharing, Padre.

        2. I'll say first off that I certainly didn't take anything you wrote as whiny. My parents are all still in their 50's (with the exception of my step-dad, but he's mid-60's and in good health) so I really have no frame of reference for the amount of effort required for this sort of care.

          Stories like this do make me fear for how my parents will be when they get older because they are quite stubborn as well. My dad had to have his hips re-replaced last year and one knee replaced and the doctor was pretty shocked by how long he was able to go on them before getting it done (the hips were in about twice as long as they probably should have been) without complaining about the pain. And my mom is like me and won't ask for help unless its completely and absolutely necessary. Thinking about this, I may have to make sure I'm living a lot closer to them than I am now in 20-30 years.

  2. I have no solutions to offer, but you have my prayers, sympathies, and gratitude - I appreciate that you shared this, because, well, because it's hard, and important, and real, and life-affirming in that "you know you're alive on a cold day" way. Thanks.

    1. I'll echo this with little to offer in way of solutions also. We appear to have some difficulties of our own over the horizon, and I'm certainly not looking forward to navigating them.

  3. I took my parents to see Nebraska over the weekend. It was an emotional experience for them, seeing so many echoes from their own lives on the big screen.

    Afterwards, my dad (79) relayed an anecdote from almost 40 years ago. He recalled taking his own father out for a drive in the country. It was a bright, sunny day. The stopped near a field to look around, and my grandfather said to my dad, "Is it cloudy?"

    I thought my dad was going to start bawling right there. He's clearly struggling with his own mortality. Selfishly, I'm not ready for that.

    1. Getting old is a tough thing. You and I have, in all probability, passed the half-way point, and maybe quite a while ago! Acceptance builds slowly, I think.

      I was just thinking yesterday that my Dad just passed the point where his life is now longer than his mother's was. She had false teeth and hip replacement surgery in her 60s. My Dad was in a lot better shape when he turned 70 than she was. I look at him and I see someone who is still pretty vibrant, but he's also got a "7" at the front of his age. Lots of people don't get the "8". He doesn't let on that he's contemplating his own end, but I'll bet he is. My brother moves the snow now. Cataract surgery next month! Doctor's visits are a regular thing. Pills to take. I remember when he turned 30. It goes by fast.

    2. Dealing with my parents' mortality is another big subject, worthy of its own post. Maybe I'll do that in a week or two.

  4. It seems to me that stubbornness is a significant trait of The Greatest Generation, especially the men (my female clients seem to adjust way easier to losses of independence), though it may be consistent throughout all generations. My great grandfather died of a heart attack in his 70s partly because he refused to take any medications; he died in his bathtub while cleaning it, despite being in terrible shape to do so. And I'm sure that's exactly the way he wanted to go, still in control and still working. My dad had the same view until he had a heart attack a year and a half ago, and then he felt terribly selfish for not putting himself in a situation where he could be there for his grandchildren.

    My parents also feel that they don't want to be a burden on their children. My mom would go to a nursing home before moving in with me for that reason. I don't think either of them want to stubbornly die uncomfortable in their homes. One thing I know is very different from 100 years ago is that the concept of home to people is so much different than it used to be. I had so many clients that wanted desperately to die in their homes, because they built it with their bare hands and lived in it for 50+ years. Many people, especially in the city and suburbs, live in so many different locations throughout their lives now that the idea of moving to an assisted living feels more like just a painful transition rather than a complete and crushing change in one's identity.

    Thanks for sharing Jeff.

  5. This is in keeping with Dad's general theory of wellness, which is "If I don't admit that something's going wrong, then it isn't."

    And he's 91, so I think his theory has worked out pretty well for him 😉

    My wife's grandparents are in their mid and late 80's and are currently going through something very similar, but they have four seven sets of grown children/grandchildren (had to recalculate) within a half-hour drive. A lot of the extra workload falls on my wife and her father, but at least there's a lot of other options around for cab service and plenty of people visiting to help keep them active. We're still hoping that they will eventually decide to move to assisted living, but we're not holding our breath.

  6. Padre, I'll write more later but wanted to say thanks for sharing - and also say that you don't ever need to apologize for sharing with us. I really appreciate your presence here and I (we) would love nothing more than to be able to offer insights - hopefully useful - on things that are difficult in your world like you're always doing for us.

  7. JeffA,
    Thanks for writing and sharing. I've got little to add other than I'm seeing my grandparents pass through some similar stages.
    "here's really no one else I can tell it to"
    I'm glad we could serve as your friendly ear, given how much you serve that role for us.

  8. My grandpa is roughly the same age as your father, with many of the same character attributes. He had a minor stroke about this time last year. It's slowed him slightly, but damned if he'll admit it. I can sense the upcoming decisions to be made, hopefully not for a few years more.

    If anything I'm glad I'm old enough to understand this time around so that I can learn from Dad and I can be the best son I can for him someday.

  9. Thanks for all the prayers, good wishes, and kind words. We'll get through it somehow--everyone else does. The hardest part right now is being able to see the problem coming and being powerless to do anything about it. We'll just have to wait until something happens and deal with it then.

  10. Thank you for sharing, Jeff.

    Sheenie's grandparents spent the last ten years refusing to move. They were given numerous options, but vehemently resisted. Finally, her grandfather spent two years in a rehab center before passing away. During that time, her grandmother would visit every day but would not move out of their place to join him.

    Now, my grandparents are starting the process. They need to move. Now. If something happened to my grandmother, I don't see any possible way my grandfather could live on his own for more than a week. Deep down, he knows it, too. Frequently when my grandmother has a medical issue (and there's been quite a few the last couple of years), my grandfather will do something incredibly stupid (like go out and do 6 hours of yardwork that doesn't need to be done) just to give himself a medical issue as well. Ugh.

    My parents had a humorous mini-spat the other day when I was visiting. The second floor of their home has three bedrooms (each with its own strange issue regarding spacing, or nooks, or slanted ceilings, etc.) and one bathroom. My father wants to hire a contractor to redo the whole floor and create a master bedroom up there. My mother says, "We've had our bedroom on the first floor for 20 years, there's no need to move upstairs. It'll lower the resale value when we move out." My father says, "I'm planning on living in this house for another 20 years, we've finally gotten all the kids out of here, and I want it the way I want it." Heh. On the bright side, since both Sheenie's parents and mine have had to watch their parents stubbornly refuse to grow old, we're already locking down ironclad promises that we can move them whenever it needs to be done.

    1. That reminds me of another of the things that concerns me: that if and when I get to be that age, I'll be just like my dad. There are some ways in which I'm like my dad that I'm very happy about. There are other ways that I hope very much that I'm not like him. I suppose all of us could say that. That could be a separate post as well, some day.

  11. I'm late to the conversation, but I want to echo what others have said--thank you for sharing. I have watched my parents deal with the deaths of my two remaining grandparents (one on each side) in recent years, and the experience was eye-opening to say the least. My mother's father got into a situation with a "helpful" neighbor becoming helpful to the point that the family became very concerned he was being taken advantage of financially. But at the same time, this neighbor was doing things that no one else in the family was able to do--shoveling snow, checking in on him during the day, etc. When my grandfather needed to move to assisted living, we were all very glad that his contact with this neighbor was also severed.

    1. My parents, fortunately, have very good neighbors. That's one of the things enabling them to stay in their home for the moment.

  12. Late to the post, but I can sympathize with your predicament, Jeff. Watching a parent age (and die) is no bed of roses. The last year of my dad's life was difficult for everyone, especially him. (He knew his memory--and physical strength--was slipping and it bothered him immensely.)

    As for assisted living, we tried and tried to get my mother into a place for a couple years after my dad died, but she wanted no part of it. Fortunately, for all of us, she relented last year. It has been a godsend. She's found friendship and activities to fill her days. In fact she's doing so well, we moved her out of the assisted living part of the complex and into an apartment there. She just turned 88 and, aside for some short-term memory loss, is doing very well for a person of her advanced age.

Comments are closed.