Caregiver's Diary: Plans Change

The conventional wisdom for recent widows and widowers of any age is to make no hasty decisions. It is advised that one should maintain normal routines and continue living where and how one lived before. It is recommended that this be done for a year, or at least six months. I can see the wisdom in this non-hurried approach, but I don’t think it is wise advice in my father’s case.

He has no normal routine because his companion of 62 years, upon whom he was utterly dependent for almost all aspects of his physical, emotional and social well-being, is gone. And coping in his home, which is full of his treasured things, is a complex undertaking that eludes him. He is an octogenarian who knows how to boil a single egg, play solitaire on his computer and drive to the post office at noon to collect his mail.

About one week after his return to Nova Scotia, my father phoned me in the late afternoon to tell me how lonely he was. His voice cracked with emotion. It was a beautiful fall day (my mother’s favourite kind of day) and he had driven home to an empty house. He said that before, he and my mother would have taken a drive with the little dog to a walking place to enjoy the fall afternoon. We talked at length about mum and the ways we miss her and I listened as he told me about the little things each day that make him think about her.

His spirits went downhill after that. While Kathie Rose still comes five days a week, it does not make up for the long hours of every day. While he has lots of work to do preparing for his move, he seems unable to gather momentum to get started on it. One evening at 7 o’clock he told me he was going to bed, because he felt so empty. After this, I resolved to make plans for him to come back for a visit, soon. I made plans for me to go down there for a visit right after that. Milestones! Things on the calendar! This is what he needed! This is what I am good at! I told him I would talk to him every day, and this pleased him so much. This, from my father who never talked to anybody on the phone when my mother was alive.

When my mother was sick, there was a degree of certainty about where it would all end up. Now, with my father the surviving spouse, there is little certainty. Brochures, handbooks, cancer guides and the Internet told us what was going to happen to mum. There is no similar user’s manual for caring for my father and seeing him comfortably to his final stage of life. No pat formulas, rules of thumb or pearls of wisdom seem to apply in his case. At this point, I don’t know what the coming weeks and months may bring.