Caregiver's Diary: Coming Home For Christmas

I have detailed in these pages how my widowed father, alone for a year in an empty house far away in the Maritimes, had balked at moving home to Ontario, where most of his children were, until he had sold his house, something he wasn’t very good at.

He had unrealistic expectations for the price, he wouldn’t negotiate, he’d pass judgment on the breeding of the people who came to view the house.

A sale had come and gone. The house didn’t pass inspection. He spent a significant sum bringing it up to code, and realized selling in a recession was going to be more complex than he had thought.

Youngest sister was there when the sale fell through, to help him get ready for a move that wouldn’t happen. He turned to his real estate agent and said “Do I have to be here for you to sell the house?”. She assured him not. The seed had been planted.

Two weeks later, an e-mail from youngest sister. Dad has decided he’s had enough of his own company (and that of his long suffering caretaker, Kathie Rose) and needs to be with people again. He wants to come back to Ontario, preferably before Christmas. Breakthrough!

Little sister gets on the phone to Serenity Towers, the rather grand retirement residence in Niagara where he has paid a deposit. They’d be delighted to see him anytime, a suite is waiting. If he arrives before his furniture, a furnished suite is available.

This doesn’t sound like much, but my whole family has been trying to get Dad out of his empty house and back to an assisted living facility where he’ll be safe since my mother died more than a year ago. He has teased, balked, thought about it, reneged and been a complete pain in the ass about it since then. Now, finally, it appears he has decided to come home (he was born and grew up in Ontario, married and had his first kids here) to die, like an elephant.

Dad would be in Ontario for Christmas! Would we get to see him in Toronto? It turns out we would, as youngest sister’s second family really had no room for an old duffer, having one of their own to deal with. So we would have Dad for Christmas Eve (traditionally, the real holiday in our family), Christmas Day and Boxing Day (when my mother used to hold a levee when we were kids). Maybe we’d resurrect the Boxing Day fete – fish soup and hot crunchy bread – and have the neighbours in.

This was all fun to contemplate, but there was the reality. My wife had just lost her father, the centre of all her Christmas joy, and it was going to be a bleak holiday for her and her sister, whose family we were hosting Christmas Day. Dad will drink at lunch. Hopefully he will nap, because if he doesn’t, things can get outspoken, and the other side of my family doesn’t need that.

Then there was the travel. He would be in Niagara, we were in Toronto. Youngest sister said she’d put him on the train Christmas Eve, he’d be quite safe, but I was worried; he was quite frail. We could drive down and get him Christmas Eve, turning right around, and youngest sister would come into the city to pick him up on Boxing Day. Then, our house. Narrow stairs, bathrooms up and down, but not on the main floor. We had a nice granny flat, but, oh, the stairs.

Youngest sister, once again, is brilliant. She finds out Serenity Towers has a sister retirement residence in Toronto, Majestic Manor, the toniest and most luxurious old trout pond in the city, in the best neighbourhood and with a car and driver to boot. As a resident of Serenity Towers, he gets to stay at Majestic Manor for free, in a suite all his own, amply arrayed with grab bars and panic buttons. Our worries are almost over.

I talk to Dad. He’s so excited about Majestic Manor, he’s totally forgotten the trauma of moving (which he’ll do in mid-December). He says “I’ll drive in from Niagara, I’ll have my car there”. “But Dad, the QEW, all that traffic, are you sure you want to drive through downtown Toronto?”. “Well I sure as hell drive better than I walk”. He was definite about this, and youngest sister, who had driven with him recently said he was a very safe and alert driver. All potential problems solved, it appears.

Now we just see if we can actually get him here come mid-December and get him to behave himself. If so, this Christmas might be fun.