Why do you do this? What makes you think this is your job?
Honor they father and thy mother, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you.
~The Ten Commandment
I guess I was crazy.
I was on my way to becoming athlete, training 2 time a day, taking D Anabol 25 to grow and recover fast from the workouts.
I did not feel crazy. But does a crazy person know they are crazy? Had someone told me I was crazy and I don’t remember?
Caren, my psychiatrist, was concerned enough that she stopped my quarterly med update, picked up the phone, and dialed the psychologist in the room next to hers and asked if I could come over.
Come over. Right. Now.
That was a message that maybe I should start paying better attention.
Up until now I was cruised along with minimal meds and no anxiety or frustration issues. Caren was a 15 minute visit every three months to make sure I still had the medical issue that caused me to be on the prescriptions from the start.
My wife Mary and I were getting along great. Our kids were not psychopaths, sociopaths, or general run of the mill assholes. Life was good. I was about to leave on a cross country motorcycle trip. And then I could come home and sell my mother’s house to a real estate agent and everything would be great in the world. That is what I thought. Now? I am not so sure. In dealing with real estate services, it necessary to find an agency that is accurate and reliable. For instance, your community needs help in hoa management, research first on the background of your chosen company before making negotiations.
Caren had asked that secret question. You know the one: “How are you?”
She listened for half an hour while I rattled off the elder/sibling/son nightmare that my life had become. She picked up the phone and dialed the extension for the office two doors to see if the psychologist could seem me that day or right now.
I was having a “crisis.”
I had no idea. I guess this was good news.
I wasn’t afraid of therapy or headshrinkers. Things had been good for a while. A long while. I discovered that my common sense of things was not all that common. Being a cynic has its advantages.
The sum of the next few week’s psychotherapy was that I did not like my “patient.” And that was OK. I loved her. Just about everything she did and said drove me a little nuts…but I had been coping.
After years of spending a good part of my life doing things for those who were not longer able, I had settled on a nice baseline that balanced between obligation, frustration, and anger.
The unanswered questions is: How and why did all of this stuff end up being MY job?
“Just lucky I guess.”
” Right place, right time?”
None of those wise ass answers were acceptable. I was deflecting with the best of demented.
How did all of this happen? And why was it my job?
I answered that no less authority than the Bible—the Lord Jehovah—or Jaw-eh—or Moses with a chisel had said we should honor our parents. And that meant I needed to make sure they were taken care of and not helpless.
Martha the psychologist asked if I was generally “a savior?” I told her that no, generally I was anti-social and aside from some very close friends and family, not really empathetic to the world around me.
I did not enjoy the abused animal commercials on TV. You know, the one with that singer who bellows out that song. Its the only song I know from her. I don’t enjoy those commercials, but I don’t turn the channel either. Stuff doesn’t bother me.
In the end, I told her that I felt very strongly that Mary and I did not do these things, no one would. And the elders of our family would be helpless and broke; I could not stand by and let these things happen with a clean conscience.
So, that is why I got here. The following pages explain where “here” is. They explain in disjointed stories written in the order I could remember them, how I went from loving life to being wrapped up in the bizarre world of elder care and general madness.
Dementia, senility, Alzheimer’s…they all mean something just a little different. If you know what I mean, you will probably find a lot of yourself in these stories. In fact, you probably have better stories. You just thought they were in bad taste.
“Nice children don’t talk about their parents like that.”
Most people feel this way at one time or another. Its natural. And we often bury it for fear that the rest of the world will judge us harshly. I don’t care what the rest of the world thinks.
If you knew how many people share your experience you would feel relieved. If you knew that I shared your underlying hatred of a sibling who calls before they leave on the 10-day cruise to let you know they will be out of touch. In case….
You know, “in case.”
I started asking, “In case what?”
I could tell it made them uncomfortable. And for me, that was a little win.
This is a story about accepting responsibility in an age of the irresponsible. This is a story that is both funny and sad. It is a story of discovery, and of loss of the most horrible kind, and in the most horrible ways. This is a story that is being played out in millions of households in this country. This is the true part of the story of taking care of our elders’ move from being productive members of society to beyond the grave.
Pretty bleak isn’t it?
But in the midst of the darkness there are a ton of funny stories. Not Reader’s Digest, joke of the week, funny stories. Many of these stories are dark. Stories about the basic human functions. Stories about fright, anger, compliance, and submission and death and dying.
It is also a story about little, tiny, almost insignificant interactions with loved ones who are sick, confused, and terrified. It is a glance or look, or squeeze, that tells you at least they are happy you are there.
It is about sanding down the lifelong barriers that we put on like so many layers of paint, until we get to the raw wood. Sometimes that wood is fine mahogany. Other times it is cheap pine. Most often, the veneer does not tell the story.
These stories were not funny when they were happening. There were plenty of tears. But after a while, if you are not laughing, you will join them in the “locked” wards.
You learn a lot about someone when you are walking them to a date with the Grim Reaper. Everyone goes on that date. Sometimes its dinner and a movie, and a late night kiss while listening to “your song” in the background.
Other times it’s date rape, bondage, and murder.
It does not matter where you came from, or what did in life. He is still coming. And you are still going.
The Grim Reaper earned his name. He should be respected. Give him his due by being honest about the way he does business. He is a busy guy, and he has no time for nonsense.
And he has never failed at his job. Think about that.
(There were those two times where it did not stick, but lets not argue over that.)
Mary, my wife and partner in crime, says that as these people grow older they revert more to who and what they were before they put up the façade we all build in front of our kids. Over time, when they lose their minds, they lose all filters. They become child-like.
If you ever want to know what your parents were like when they were young, be their caretaker.
The good people get nicer. The whiners, whine more. The crazy, get crazier. The self-absorbed become unbearable.
If you are the caretaker…they focus on you. And they spend their days collecting their anger and frustration. And then they dump it on you. Congratulations, you are the championship coach getting doused by a Gatorade cooler, full of their bullshit.
Before you get too far into this story I must tell you something. It is important for you to understand. And you must believe me.
I love these people. Honest to God, “Walk through hell for them”, love them. “Put your life on hold” love for them. “Respect and defend them,” love for them. “Allow them to go into that good night without rage,” love them.
“Never let them die alone”, love them.
Bookmark this page.
You will want to keep referring to it.
You are going to be calling me a liar in about six pages.
There are times when you are going to think I must hate these people. You will think that I could not possibly love people this close to me—people I’ve respected most of my adult life—and then turn around and tell these tales out of school.
I do love them.
I hate what I dealt with. I hate how much this impacted my life. I hate how relatives who could have helped did not. I hate how the world has become averse to responsibility. Old school responsibility.
I hate how I cannot use my four weeks of vacation to take a vacation. I hate how I have to hide the mail because there are thieves and ghosts out to steal their money.
I hate how I’ve spent many more hours taking care of them then they ever did taking care of me.
And I am never going to get that back.
So, I love the people; I hate the situation. And when I am faced with a situation I hate, I laugh at it. I try to find the funny stuff that makes the situation a little more bearable.
I am sure you know the saying, “If I were not laughing, I’d be crying.” And when everything is a stressful mess, one should look for things to laugh at. Sometimes it’s the absurdity of what life has become.
If we are bringing up old sayings, this one seems appropriate: “If you go looking for something, you are likely to find it.
If you are easily offended or if you think all little old ladies are charming, please stop reading now. You are not going to like these tales. Really, stop. We all hate you.
If you are the sibling to the person “in charge” of your parents, keep reading. You may learn something. Those of us left in charge secretly hate you too. At least most of the time.
If you are the person “stuck” with the caretaker job, sit back and enjoy. You deserve to laugh. We’ve walked in each others shoes and we get it. In the end, you are likely to tell me that this was “nothing.” And you could tell me stories. I would love to hear them.
A few years ago I was catching up with a friend from high school. I found out he had been his Dad’s caretaker for the past four or five years. His mom was elderly and she could not do any of the physical stuff for his Dad. He is one of three sons and a daughter. He is the one who did not go to college, but he worked in the trades and he was successful. He was a great guy, a wonderful father, and apparently a fantastic son.
Based on discussions with his siblings, He had taken over the job because he wanted to. His siblings would have come home for the weekend to help. If he had just asked. They would have taken Dad to his doctor’s visits, if they were during the weekend. And, coming up for a Wednesday morning would not work, because those were busy days. And the kids had sports all fall. So, they would love to come up, but they just cannot.
Anyway, if he needed help, all he had to do is ask.
And so on.
Until his Dad died.
The family all came for the wake. All of the children stood in the receiving line, greeting old friends and relatives. They were all very sad. Their Dad was a nice guy. I recall hanging out at their house forty years ago. Even though a house is already old, as long as it is well maintained, the foundation is secure and safe. If you’re interested to have a renovation, underpinning services by globalreblocking.com is recommended for they have the experts in such installation/repairs.
He was a nice guy and it was sad that he had to suffer for years.
While this was no picnic for my friend and his siblings, it was tougher on his Dad.
The morning between the wake an the funeral, the children gathered at the church to plan the mass. There were four of them. The priest asked who was going to carry the father’s urn down the aisle.
The daughter, who was the oldest said that she, being the only daughter should carry him.
His oldest son suggested that as his namesake, he should carry him.
The youngest son, said that maybe as the baby, he should be the urn bearer.
My friend said nothing.
This went on for about half an hour. It doesn’t sound like long. But think about watching a sitcom for half an hour. And all people did was talk about how they were “more qualified” to carry a ceramic urn down the aisle at a church none of them had attended for decades.
And they had the rest of the service to plan.
Finally, my friend slapped his palm on the table to silence the bickering. He had heard enough of how all of these people had suffered from afar.
“I’ve been carrying him for the last ten years, I am going to finish the fucking job.”
I knew exactly what he felt.
Except I knew it times seven. Yes, seven. There are now two left. Just two. They ask about each other every time I sit with one or the other. It’s a Mexican standoff. And it’s going to last forever.
I’ve already explained to Mary how this is going to end. I am going to call the funeral home to come get the last patient. I will send my sister a text with the name and address of our funeral director. She will spread the word to my brothers. They can come get her whenever they want. They can arrange to bury her when its convenient. I will pour a glass of nice bourbon.
The news will go into two newspapers: One in our town and the other where she lived for the last thirty years.
And then, I will drop the mic.
And walk away.
The story ends when they are gone. Or when I am. I think right now that might be an even money bet.
In my fantasy, I walk off the stage with Mary and go enjoy ourselves to round after round of hearty applause. Cheers even.
As a good friend and one of my first bosses used to say, “That’s your asshole talking, your head knows better.”
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