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Boomers share their caregiving struggles

Mon., March 31, 2014

Caring for elderly parents is never easy, as illustrated by the following essays written by local readers.

The writers submitted the essays in answer to our occasional Write It Out prompt. Baby boomers were asked to share their care-giving struggles.

Jack Rountree, 66, Spokane

At least once a week there is an article that relates perfectly to me. The Boomer. Age 66, still working and until two months ago, my wife and I were primary care providers for my mom and dad, ages 89 and 91.

We had lived adjacent to each other in a duplex we purchased jointly six years ago. I have spent nearly $300,000 in order to provide in-home care during the past five years. Despite every reason I came up with to move them, where mom in particular could receive the care she needed, both refused to leave their home. Nobody – from health care providers, professionals and the state – could reason with them.

My last attempt was based on me. I, like so many boomers, face greater risk of a heart attack than the ones being cared for. That bit of information resulted in my father asking, “What exactly do you do for us that is so time consuming?”

Blindsiding your parents with the news they will be moving regardless of their stance, is not something I wish on any son or daughter.

I told them on a Friday night and we moved them Saturday morning to an adult family home just a few blocks from our home. A husband and wife own the home. She is a registered nurse and he is a certified nursing assistant. My parents went peacefully, finally resolved to what they had little choice over, although I was concerned that if they refused, I had no idea where to go next.

I engaged a transition team to provide assistance in every step of the way. They were very knowledgeable, professional and compassionate. I would recommend that service regardless of your specific situation. Honestly, I do not believe I could have done this without the transition team which recommended the adult family home rather than assisted living because mom would receive 24-hour care in a home environment rather than sporadic care in assisted living.

How are they doing? Very well. Better than I ever thought. At this point in their lives, sadly all they require is a TV, a bed and meals, which are provided for them and so much more from the loving homeowners. I am at peace with myself. I cared for them way beyond what I ever thought would be required of my wife and me. I commend each of you who have provided care for your parent(s). Some of you won’t give up. Today, I can focus on my life, my marriage and our grandbabies. Today, I can once again be a son to my parents. I can enjoy my time with them and know how very safe they now are.

Gloria Henning, 65, Otis Orchards

In April 2004 my husband’s mom had colon cancer. My mom has vascular dementia. We retired in July 2004 and since then we became caretakers for both mothers. His mom passed on Valentine’s Day 2010. In 2006 I was told that I had two days to maybe two weeks with mom and she is still going! We have put our lives on hold for 10 years.

These are our truths:

1. Don’t rock the boat: Their house and furniture are their security. You move any or all and they get stressed. Moving them to a nursing home completely upends all that they know and they do not adjust easily and constantly misbehave and they don’t know why. It’s the constant turmoil that goes on. We had to put my husband’s father in a nursing home and vowed never to do it again. Both moms wanted to stay where they are and we make it happen.

2. They are content in their world, you aren’t: We thought their quality of life was missing but when we stood back we realized they didn’t realize the difference and they were content. It’s you who is not. Realize that no amount of wishing will bring them back. I am taking care of a 2-year-old that looks like my mom. It is what it is! There are no winners in this.

3. We are lucky that we can get away four times a year thanks to my sister who comes and cares for Mom. Even then, Mom will sometimes “misbehave” because her routine changed.

4. Both parents had enough income to care for their needs but putting them in a nursing home would have required welfare and losing everything to the state for their care.

Terry Robinson, 59, Coeur d’Alene

At this point I can think of not much worse than going through middle age, and into old age, alone.  I have spent enough time in nursing homes and assisted living homes to recognize they are places we are sent – mostly alone – to die.  To die alone.  My 94-year-old father-in-law, Richard, likes to brag that in his assisting living home there are 49 women and only one man.  As he told me this with a sly grin, I politely smiled, all the while thinking, “that would be great if you were 40.”  Richard lost his wife of 60 years eight years ago. The doctors said he would last less than a year. Everyone expected him to die of a broken heart. But he’s going strong. He is surprised. We are surprised.

Richard has a girlfriend. The day he arrived in assisted living an Alzheimer’s patient named Maxine believed he was her long lost husband. They have been inseparable since that day. They even nap together. You see, Richard needed someone to care for the way he cared for his wife.  Maxine needed to cling to the memory of her husband. They fill each other’s needs and give some sort of confused meaning to each other’s lives. Because of this, according to his physicians, Richard has survived. Last year’s Easter dinner for our family took place in the dining room with Richard, Maxine, my wife and me. We were joined by a couple dozen other residents whose family members rarely visit, even though many have extended families in the area. We have always visited. My wife has flown to Ohio more than 40 times during the past nine years. We have offered to have Richard live where we live, first in Colorado and now in Idaho. He will not leave Ashland, Ohio. He has not a single friend or relative in the town or surrounding area. He will not leave because his wife is buried there.  So he will stay.

The house had to be sold. The preppy-looking realtor said a 30- plus-year-old house that had never been remodeled or upgraded, not once, would not sell. It was time to re-carpet, re-tile, replace lights, replace plumbing fixtures, repaint, de-clutter, repair windows, repair the deck and clean up the yard. Really, we could have dumped the house to a flipper but Richard wanted top dollar. Always the expert, Richard didn’t believe any of this was necessary to sell his house. Those were code words; we got to pay to remodel his house. And we did pay. And the house did sell. Now he will be granted his final wish and will die in Ashland.


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