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Tough decisions when it comes to caring for our parents

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My grandfather died a month shy of his 101st birthday. He just got tired of waking up. My grandmother had died 11 years before, and though he and she made their life’s work picking at each other, when she was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease, he came through like a trooper. He took care of her until the day she died. We all assumed that Grandpa would follow her a short time later, but we were wrong.


He just kept going on, hale and hearty at 90, and 91, and 92. When he turned 93, he said he wanted to live to be 100. When he was 95, he said he wanted to live until the year 2000 so he could say he had lived in three centuries. A couple of years after that, though, he wasn’t so excited about continuing to live. He stopped talking about reaching 100, and after he had that birthday, he stopped talking about the year 2000.


I think his children expected that his last year would be his last. He ate breakfast daily with “the boys,” his two sons who were then 70-some-odd years old, returning to his cold, dark house, where he turned the television to blaring and sat in the rocking chair for the rest of the day. As winter approached, though, he left breakfast to go home to sit in silence. He didn’t even turn on the television.


My father became increasingly agitated throughout the fall. “Dad doesn’t want to spend the winter in that house,” he said over and over. “He should go to the nursing home, but he doesn’t want to. He’s not safe at home, though, and he won’t let anybody in to clean up or fix dinner.”


I began pondering the choices we make for our parents when they get really old. The choice for Grandpa was clear to me. He should go to the nursing home. Anything was better than sitting alone in a dark house. He needed stimulation, and most nursing homes have Bingo, crafts and group activities. Of course, the idea of my grandpa sitting down and actually doing crafts made me laugh out loud. But he didn’t want to go.


My dad’s concern was for Grandpa’s safety. In the nursing home, someone would fix his food and make sure his room was warm, and keep him and his room clean. If he fell, someone would be there to help him. It was the safe choice. But he didn’t want to go.


He didn’t want to go because he knew he would go there to die. I think he never forgave himself for putting my grandmother in the nursing home, where she died. She had fallen and hit her head, and the hospital would not release her to home care, so she went to the nursing home. She lasted less than a week.


So, on one particular day that winter, Daddy and my uncle decided to use subterfuge to get Grandpa to the nursing home. He had fallen and hurt himself, though not badly. They called the ambulance and then, while it was on the way, told him they thought he would be better off staying somewhere else, with other people near.


I guess he gave them what for. The thought of that little bitty 100-year-old man chewing out two 70-year-old men still makes me laugh. What makes me laugh harder is knowing they sent the ambulance away once it got there.


What is better? Is it better to make someone live where he will be safe, even if he doesn’t want to go, or is it better to let him live at home — in an unsafe environment, where he could fall, or burn down the house, or eat tainted food? Regardless, as usual, Grandpa had his way. He got to die at home, in his own bed, either waking up or going to sleep. My dad, my uncle and my aunt got into a big argument over whether he was going to sleep or waking up, and I just thought about that little bitty man, if he were there, giving his three grown children what for about such a silly argument.

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