Caregiver’s Diary: Home At Last

retirement home

I just got an e-mail from youngest sister, with a one-word subject line – “settled”. It was the best news I had received in years, and a huge weight slid off my back like a glacier. Youngest sister and my recently widowed 88-year old father had just arrived at his final home, a very spiffy retirement residence in Niagara, after a four day road trip across wintry Eastern Canada from his home in the Maritimes.

My mother died more than a year ago, and it has taken his children this long to get Dad back to Ontario, where most of us live, and where he still has friends and relatives. He was happy in the Maritimes, didn’t need to see anyone, had his daily housekeepr, Kathie Rose, he’d say. He had to sell the house, he couldn’t leave that behind, he’d say. Ontario’s too hot, too crowded he’d say. Later on that year, he’d say things like “why am I still alive?”, and “what use am I here, I have no friends and no one to talk to except Kathie Rose”. But still, he wouldn’t leave.

Youngest sister finally made the breakthrough when she visited him in October. An offer for the house had fallen through and he was despondent, realizing he might be sitting in the half empty dwelling trying to sell it until he died. The realtor and youngest sister convinced him he didn’t have to be in the Maritimes to sell the house, and that it might actually go faster if he weren’t there. He agreed to leave

The next two months were a whirlwind. After stalling and delaying doing anything with his furniture for months, Dad got busy. Furniture was carted away. The piano and the sheet music were donated to the University for a dandy tax receipt. The clothes were all bundled off to Frenchy’s, the iconic local second-hand store.

Youngest sister arrived at his house in mid-December. They spent three days packing his final clothes and the furniture that would accompany him, eating TV dinners and drinking wine on the floor. Youngest sister slept on a bedroll on the floor because the beds were all gone. Dad slept soundly his final night in the house.

The next morning, here come the movers! Return the modem! Pay off Kathie Rose and say goodbye! Supervise the final load of junk to the dump! Give the realtor the keys! It’s all done and they were on the road by 2 PM, with not a single regret or backward glance.

The first night they stayed in Moncton, after a clear drive out of Nova Scotia. They had dinner at a St Hubert BBQ. And went to bed early, sharing a room so youngest sister could keep an eye on Dad in these strange surroundings. He woke up several times in the night with a start, unsure of where he was, and youngest sister comforted him.

The next day, crossing New Brunswick, which is a very big province really. The weather was bad, blowing snow and ice. It was quite a haul to Riviére du Loup, where they stayed the night and had dinner at another BBQ joint. Youngest sister says the strain and worry were visibly disappearing from Dad’s face the further they got from the Maritimes and the closer they got to Ontario.

The next day got them to Port Hope, and the next morning, they were in Niagara at 9:30 AM, just after the movers. Furniture was unpacked, shelves assembled, books arranged, clothes unpacked, booze bought (the local liquor store is in a strip mall just down the street, which is a blessing). I called about 3 PM and got Dad. “It’s just wonderful here! I love it, and the view is marvelous. This is a beautiful apartment”. I hadn’t heard him that genuinely (as opposed to defensively) happy in years. His voice boomed over the phone “You’ll come and see me Tuesday? Good, you can take me out to lunch. There’s a flu outbreak here and they’ve got us all under lockdown”

I’ll see him tomorrow in his new home, with his books and his music, and his electronic keyboard and his computer and his little truckle bed, all the things that make up the fabric of his life now. He’s an hour away, safe, cared for, in a safe environment, with panic buttons and grab bars and attendants who check on you if you don’t show up for meals.

Youngest sister called me after she left Serenity Towers that first day. “Dad was kind of tired after all the moving in, so he said he wouldn’t go down to the dining room, just have a TV dinner in his room. When I got to the desk, they said they would be taking him up his dinner in 10 minutes – butternut squash soup, veal scaloppini, potatoes au gratin and a lovely dessert”.

I haven’t felt this relieved in years.