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.

Which One are You?

it might be you... it's probably you
it might be you… it’s probably you

It has been my observation that often times in families, there is one parent with a significantly higher level of crazy/neuroticism/eccentricity than the other. In my case, it is most definitely my dad, who falls under the neurotic category with psychotic features and a side of narcissistic personality disorder. But that’s a therapy session for another day. My mother more than makes up for it by being so monumentally normal that I’m not convinced she’s human.

Alternately, my grandfather was a kind and quiet, hardworking gentleman. In contrast, his short-tempered wife was excruciatingly talkative and had very specific rules by which everyone should live or else they were stupid and useless. (This does not mean that I didn’t cherish every minute of being at their house — especially weeks I would spend there during school vacations being treated like royalty. I suspect I may have been obedient enough to avoid the ‘stupid and useless’ category.)

A friend of mine has a dad who was like the wise man on the mountain, speaking mostly in sage, thought-provoking sentences and phrases while his wife whirlwinded about the house waving her arms, pointing at things with a crumpled tissue in her hand and harshly commanding everyone to complete whatever trivial tasks she needed done immediately. She would enter a room full of people just to open or close windows and adjust the lighting before exiting to take a nap. We’d invariably readjust everything back to their original comfortable settings before the ‘attack,’ puzzled as to why she had gone through the trouble in the first place.

I had neighbors who were so strikingly different that I’m still stumped as to how they ever got past a first date. The wife was so lovely and polite and pleasant which was in stark contrast to her husband who was an obnoxiously rude, self-serving, raging drunk. Like, urinating in our front yard and passing out in a lawn chair in his driveway with vomit all over himself alcoholic (these were separate occasions, and the peeing thing happened more than once.) They did end up divorced, which is different than the other examples I’ve provided, but I can’t fathom how that lasted for any length of time. He has since cirrhosis-ed himself out of commission (shocker) and if I sound cold and unsympathetic it’s because he provided us with no end of grief as he was always a miserable bastard to my mother and we three kids.

In my house, I’m genuinely unsure whether my children would consider my husband or me the unstable one. I’m hoping we fall into the small percentage of balanced families with two emotionally anchored parents, but I’m more convinced that if I can’t tell which one of us is nuts, it has to be me. But I’ll try to put a positive spin on it by assuring myself that children having to deal with drastically contrasting parental personalities will be well adjusted to dealing with many different personality types in life. So, really, I’m doing them a favor. Long live the insanity…