When Life gets Hard

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.

Demented or Private Joke?

trampoline boobs
trampoline boobs

I have a theory about aging, and I’m not convinced that the people in nursing homes who appear to say random, nonsensical things are actually suffering from dementia or some sort of age-related brain dysfunction. What if all the private jokes/comments/sayings you have with your close friends and family are still appropriate, but everyone who understood these seemingly random comments isn’t around to appreciate it because you’ve outlived them all?

For example, if I’m physically wasting away in a nursing home at age 97 and my husband is long gone, who will understand when I say “Are suntanned boobs better than trampoline boobs?” My husband would understand and actually take the time to answer me. (He would have said no.) However, the nurse who is changing my colostomy bag while having a discussion with another nurse about her daughter who got a bad burn on her previously untanned breasts while at a nude beach on her honeymoon in France didn’t think I had the capacity to understand and thinks that my brain is all but porridge, so she rolls her eyes at the other nurse as they walk out of the room and continue talking about France. (The other nurse has never been but her husband has promised to take her to Paris for their 25th wedding anniversary which is in three and a half years.) The reason my husband understands is because he was there when we were watching The Big Lebowski and, as our daughter walked in to ask a question, he paused the movie so as not to subject her precious, 11-year-old mind to the horrors of R rated filth. In his attempt at viewer discretion, he stopped exactly on a frame of a naked woman on a trampoline. While he fumbled with the remote to remove the image the likes of which we were attempting to shield her from, she espied the boobs and stopped mid-sentence, looked at us, and slowly backed out of the room. Of course, we laughed and he commented about how fantastic trampoline boobs actually are. In fact, he stayed on that image for a while, then played the scene, then backed it up, and then watched a few more times. So the bar has been set at trampoline boobs. The only thing better than trampoline boobs is whatever is being compared paired with said trampoline boobs (e.g. In this case: “Are suntanned boobs better than trampoline boobs?” “No, but suntanned trampoline boobs are better than trampoline boobs.”)

When I’m old and drooling (the drool isn’t because my mind is gone, it’s because I’m physical mess and have lost the capacity to keep saliva in my old mouth,) I’ll say things like “Denise, Deniiiiiiiiiiiise, it says you’ll be showered with good luck!” and no one will understand that it’s my attempt to contribute to a conversation people in the room are having about playing the lottery. Or I’ll mumble “Bill Cosby sweater” in response to the family members who are discussing sleep talking while visiting my roommate in the nursing home (she’s legitimately crazy and they’re not having a conversation with her as much as they are having a conversation amongst themselves while standing near her.) Or I’ll randomly mutter “Say thank you to Jimmy” in a sarcastic voice with a bitter look on my face because I was thinking about unbearably irritating things (so really I’m just talking out loud to myself which pretty much indicates I am losing it, but I’m almost 100 so I’ve earned a little insanity.) No one will be left to understand that the phrase “Thank you. Here’s your change. Have a good one.” is the reason my brother named his mouse Jerome when we were kids. Plus, there are countless movie lines, tv references, and altered song lyrics that will be long lost on the generation that is burdened with witnessing my slow death. Currently, there are people who would understand and appreciate all of these things, but in fifty years they’ll be gone and I’ll be a mumbling, drooly mess with a colostomy bag. But I’ll still have the wherewithal to say “What’s time to a pig?” as I’m wetting my pants.

(By the way, the aforementioned trampoline boobs are apparently pretty popular because Google offered up some thorough suggestions in my attempt to remember what movie they were featured in.)