When Life gets Hard

b&m
the stunning couple 55+ years ago

The past few months have been incredibly mentally draining. My sister, brother and I have been focusing on my father, his declining physical health, and the effects of the vascular dementia that was recently diagnosed. Additionally (and maybe more importantly) we’ve been concerned about our mother who acts selflessly as his caretaker, and the effect all of this must be having on her.

My parents have been married for over 55 years. My father has a fun, loving, generous, and silly side to him that is wonderful to be around but has been unfortunately overshadowed by his angry, explosive, irrationally short-tempered nature. With my mother’s calm and selfless personality they are a textbook example of ‘opposites attract.’ Whether due to the dementia, the natural progression of aging, what we believe to be an undiagnosed mental disorder, or some combination of the three, my father has become increasingly more unreasonably angry. Additionally, a series of hip surgeries starting in his thirties have left him more and more uncomfortable and physically limited.

My mother did get some help by hiring home health care aides to come in six mornings a week. The catalyst for what happened next was when one of the aides quit, claiming she couldn’t work with my father any longer because of the abusive language he used when speaking about my mother. While there has never been one instance of him being physically abusive to any of us, he finds an outlet in outbursts of swearing and screaming terribly hurtful things, defending his actions by claiming he’s ‘expressing himself.’ Knowing this woman could no longer work with my father one day a week due to the abusive way he spoke about my mother was my mother’s breaking point. The result was my father being admitted for an evaluation at the geriatric psych ward at a nearby hospital.

At first, they wanted to send him home that same night. Then, they ended up keeping him for two and a half excruciating weeks. During this time, they experimented with a number of different medications to calm his angry outbursts, one that left him so lethargic he was unable to feed himself, another that confused him so much that he didn’t know who I was. After a week we had to prompt the staff to shower and shave him, and they had stopped attempting to help him walk, opting to leave him stagnant in a wheelchair. It was heartbreaking to witness the horrible surroundings and the lack of empathy by the burned out staff.

Meanwhile, immediately after his admission to the hospital, my sister and I started researching assisted living homes, visiting seven in a three day period. We found a beautiful, new facility with amazingly supportive staff in a convenient location to all of us. My mom loved it, signed the paperwork, and we had his room set up and move-in ready within a week. The staff visited the hospital to assess my father and were ready to have him move in whenever the hospital was ready to transfer him. That process took an additional week. After a ‘discussion’ with the condescending psychiatrist who wanted to keep my father yet another day, I think my claim that they seemed to be holding my father hostage prompted him to sign the paperwork to move him that afternoon.

He has been at his new home for a week. Although the staff initially suggested we hold off visiting in order for him to adjust, we were able to see him after three days. He’s showered, shaved, and dressed every day. The wheelchair is long gone and he’s using a walker to get around. He’s definitely confused and the cognitive difference in his thinking has changed drastically since before his hospital admission. According to professionals (and endless google searches) this could be due to any number of things – a change in his environment and daily routine, new medications, a stroke, a sudden natural result of the vascular dementia, etc. But the anger and outbursts have also waned. We’re all finally feeling like we’ve stepped into the light at the end of a very long, very dark tunnel. My mother is at peace knowing that her husband is so close by, content in a beautiful facility with supportive and caring staff providing him with the 24-hour care he could no longer receive at home. And the rest of us are finally letting out a collective sigh of relief that both parents are getting the care they need.