Caregiver's Diary: Another Family, Another story

March 29th 2011

Youngest sister’s partner has aged parents, too. Here’s the start of her story:

My parents are cottagers. They bought their own island nearly 40 years ago after sharing a family cottage with parents and brothers. In fact, my mother has never missed a summer at the lake in her life, and she is now 80 years old. My father has always been less inclined towards cottaging – it might have had to do with living with his in-laws all those years – but he has always joined my mother there as much as he could.

My mother’s love for this place and her absolute need to be there for eight weeks every summer has always been a bit of a family giggle. My brothers and I certainly respect – and understand – why this place is so important to her – tradition, wonderful friends, deep roots and family being just some of the reasons. But for her, there is simply and profoundly no other place to be in the summer. She is still strong and healthy and capable of island life. The issue, for the past number of years however, is that my dad is not.

Dad is turning 83 this spring. He is no longer strong and healthy. His hip replacement is showing signs of wear. More seriously, dad suffers a lot of back pain from degrading discs in his spine and needs strong medication to keep the pain tolerable. He loses his balance regularly, has fallen many times, and mom no longer likes to leave him alone.

Being on an island, their cottage is only accessible by boat, and by that I mean a “tinny” – an aluminum runabout with an outboard on the back. It is a long step down from the dock at the marina, and a long step back up onto the old, sinking cottage dock. Also, my dad is not a small man and this little tin boat bounces around with his weight.

Their cottage is a one-room building with a couple of small bedrooms off one end. There is no fireplace or other source of heat. Attempts to improve my father’s level of comfort have taken place at his children’s insistence over recent years. The plywood bunk beds have been replaced with proper box springs and mattresses. We have installed an old reclining chair and – much to my mother’s horror – have set up a TV set on which he can watch his beloved Blue Jays.

But the improved comforts of cabin living do not help with the need for dad to have to navigate a rocky, sloping path to the outhouse and outdoor shower. The shower was installed only a few years ago when he could no longer pull himself out of the lake after a swim, or tolerate the cool lake water. The hot water became important for soothing his aches. We have installed railings along this path, but he still needs to get up and down this uneven ground in all sorts of weather.