Caregiver's Diary: Clean Sweep

My recently widowed 87 year old father has five children; oldest brother, who lives out west; older brother, me, living in Toronto; younger sister, also living out west; youngest sister in Niagara and youngest brother, also here in Toronto.

He is leaving his home in the Maritimes to come and live near youngest sister in Niagara, in a bungalow she owns, and which she is renovating for him. She has arranged a friend, Donnie, to live in the basement apartment and keep an eye on dad. He is excited about it, and all of us are immensely relieved, and deeply indebted to youngest sister. Here’s her latest update:

I have just returned from a week in the Maritimes visiting my father. The purpose of this visit – to make some progress towards his move. To start something, in the hope that its momentum would accelerate his own glacial pace. It is now the eve of Christmas and I am hastening back to Ontario to attend to my own neglected family and business.

After this week I now understand that every step of my father’s move will have to be orchestrated by someone else. I am not sure if it is his bottled-up grief or his physical infirmity that prevents him from getting anything done. In any event, anything more complex than the simplest of tasks, such as addressing and stamping an envelope, overwhelms him.

For example, I did not expect on this trip that I would be explaining to him the basics of banking, bills and budgeting. I learned that he had tens of thousands of dollars sitting in various non-interest bearing chequing accounts, and suggested that we should put this money into better investments. I pointed out to him that living in his mortgage-free home was actually costing him about $1,000 per month in expenses, a fact that astounded him. He subscribes to a deluxe cable TV package even though his deafness prevents him from ever watching TV. On this visit I also learned that for seven years my parents have paid a monthly fee for a cellular telephone that they never once used.

My father was a man of international business. He travelled the globe, charmed his clients and managed multimillion-dollar installations of his company’s products. When I occasionally met him in an airport he was easy to spot in a crowd because he was the tallest and most distinguished looking man there, and often the best dressed. In restaurants, waiters were sharply attuned to his subtle cues and he always left generous tips. He was gracious at cocktail parties and helped everyone present to feel at ease. The world was his oyster. What happened?

I have long thought that young adults should take a compulsory course to learn the rudimentary skills of parenting. Likewise I think people my age should take a compulsory course to help us learn about our aging parents. My father’s decline, now in full evidence because my mother is gone and the business of her death is done, is shocking. Although he reads the entire Globe and Mail every day, and a New Yorker Magazine each week, I don’t think he retains any of what he reads nor does he grasp that the world has changed since he was a businessman. And when I try to help him better understand the ways of the modern world, he becomes belligerent.