As many of you know, my father has Alzheimer’s. He was diagnosed about two years ago and has since managed to remain at home with my mother, tending their home on five acres of land outside of a small town in Northern Ontario. In that time his memory and cognition have declined although, because he has also had mini-strokes that cause aphasia (inability to find a word) it’s sometime difficult to assess his level of understanding. He can be surprisingly lucid in moments.
In the last year, he has taken to wandering, sometimes on foot and sometimes on the riding mower, always with a vague story of needing to get someplace down the road. He’s also become preoccupied with returning to the community where he grew up several hundred miles to the south. This past weekend, for the first time, my mother could not convince him to return to the house and so had to call 911. In his distress what did come to light was that he was frantically trying to return to his childhood home so he could help his mother. She passed away some years ago, but both she and my father were physically abused during my father’s childhood by my grandfather. My father left that house and the abuse at seventeen but my grandmother remained.
My father is now in the hospital and decisions about his care have to be made. Unfortunately, about ten days ago my mother was also diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. She is finding this diagnosis very hard to accept and so is resistant to any level of assisted living for either herself or my father.
So, I am driving to my parents home (several hours north of Toronto) to meet with the social workers, doctors and nurses who have become part of the team assisting my parents. Decisions will have to be made- impossible decisions- and I am grateful for the expertise and compassion of the geriatric team that has been in touch with my parents over the last few years. I have delayed the journey until I felt I might be able to do something useful (as in helping them move and then later preparing their home for sale) because my own on-going health challenges with Myalgic Encephalomyletis (ME or Chronic Fatigue- CF- as it is more commonly known in North America) mean that I cannot stay too long or return frequently. I don’t know how long I will be away or if I will have internet access (or the presence of mind or heart to write a blog or post on Facebook) over the next while- so there will probably be a bit of silence from my end.
I have watched friends traverse this difficult time with parents, and when I was a social worker many years ago I often dealt with finding and providing support services for the aged. But. . . there really is no preparing for being in this position with your own parents. Each person`s right to self-determination is something I value deeply. I do not want to force decisions on either of my parents. . . .and yet, I am the only off-spring involved in making choices they may not be able to make, choices that will hopefully give them daily care and some modicum of safety.
So, I will do the best I can. I will listen to my mother, my father, those with far more experience in situations like this, and I will listen deep within in an effort to determine what is the most compassionate and caring way to proceed. I have no wisdom on how to do this except one step at a time, one breath at a time, with continual prayers for guidance and help.
I keep thinking of a Theodore Roosevelt quote: “Do the best you can with what you have where you are.” Which I suppose, is all we can ever hope to do.