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Beyond the Lone Islands

Thursday, 4 February 2010

Are You At Home?

My grandparents around 1930, taking possession of the
piece of land
where they were to build their house.

In 1930, my paternal grandparents got married and built a house.
A year later, my father was born.

Back in those days, so I'm told, the little house was divided into two small flats. 1 room and kitchen downstairs, 1 room and kitchen upstairs. In Dad's early childhood, they shared the house with his grandmother and an aunt and her husband living upstairs.

When my Dad got married to my Mum, the two of them moved away to another town.

My Grandpa died in the mid 1960s of Parkinson's disease (at the age of 65). My Grandma stayed on for a number of years alone in the house. Her brother-in-law, widower before her, lived a couple of houses down the road. Grandma cooked dinner for the both of them, every day, until towards the end of his days, he had to move to an old people's home for a short while. (His house, as I recall, still in the mid/late 70s had no modern facilities like indoors toilet or central heating.)

The last few years of her own life, Grandma by her own choice moved to the old people's home. Today she would not have been considered in enough need of help to be allowed that. There are no old people's homes of quite that kind any more; only nursing homes for people who really need around-the-clock care.

We kept the house as summer cottage. For many years, both before and after Grandma passed out of time, Mum and Dad drove back and forth every other weekend and tended two houses and two large gardens.

When Dad retired from work, they decided to sell their own house and have a modern extension built onto Dad's childhood home and move back to that neigbourhood; which I have always considered a good move on their part, from all points of view. They had around 16 good years there together.

A couple of years ago, Dad's health deteriorated rather quickly from "growing old" to more obvious problems. Much the same thing happened to Mum; and then in May 2009, she died rather suddenly of a major stroke. Dad, already having a mix of physical problems (difficulties walking) and cognitive ones, also had the shock of losing his wife added to that.

As I said, the "standard solution" to old people's problems in our society is no longer to move them away from their own home. Dad also always said, and still says, that he wants to stay on there. So home care support was organized, and on the whole I think they are doing a good job. He gets help several times a day and they also look in during the night. Of course it gets lonely in between, but we all doubt he would really be better off living among even more confused strangers in a nursing home.

For one problem, however, there seems to be no solution. After Mum died, Dad got it into his head that he was, at least for a period of time, staying in some kind of nursing home. The idea comes and goes, and the geographical spot for this place has also moved around a bit (in his mind). In the summer, it was quite far off - 200 km or so. More recently, the distance has shrunk. Lately he has instead named a place only about 20 km away from the Real House (which he has in fact never left except for a few hours now and then, since mum's death). My guess is that the closer location has been "invented" by his brain to allow him to simultaneously more-or-less grasp the fact that he is still seeing people from the village where the Real House is situated.

For a while back in the autumn, Dad even said he had moved back Home; and we kind of drew a sigh of relief. Lately however, it seems he has "moved out" again. It breaks my heart and makes me dizzy at the same time, talking to him on the phone. At worst, back in the summer, he tried to call taxi service to go from his own address to his own address. He also puts real effort into explaining: Yes, it is the same house, but it is not "geographically" the same. (It beats me why he thinks that. I haven't got a clue why he thinks of any of those two places he has been naming. He never lived in either of them.) Or he names them House 1 and House 2, or North and South, or whatever. He also often says (with some wonder in his voice) that they look exactly identical; he is just not in the right one.

The simple truth is, of course, that the house is just not the same without Mum. And there is really nothing we can do to change that...

Now it has really been too long since either my brother or I visited. It is hard for me to get there on my own; this time of year especially. My brother was supposed to come this weekend, but called yesterday to say that unfortunately he has to postpone the trip again, because he has not been well either. (He lives 300 km away.)

Talking to Dad on the phone, first yesterday and then again today, trying to explain this extra complication, meant another very confusing discussion of who is (or was, or won't be) going to visit whom and when. Dad suggested, among other things, that he wanted my brother to "pick him up" and "bring him along" - that is, to the house where he in fact already is, and has been all the time (while he rather seemed to think this time that it was where I was). And then there is of course "the kitchen staff" who need to be notified...

(In Reality, "the kitchen staff" - Dad's words! - don't really need a whole lot of notification in advance; because when we do come to visit, we bring our own food, and the home carers have to come on their regular visits anyway, to help  with his medication and such.)

If you've been reading my blog this past week, you know that I've been (re)reading Winnie-the-Pooh. The tiddely-pom song, as well as the pictures of Eeyore under a cover of snow, are both from the chapter about The House at Pooh's Corner; in which Pooh and Piglet want to build a house for Eeyore. It is just that for building material, they happen to use a house that Eeyore already built for himself (Pooh and Piglet not recognizing it as such, but taking it to be just a pile of sticks). When the truth dawns upon them, there is some awkward explaining to do...

'It is like this,' said Piglet quickly... 'Only warmer,' he added after deep thought.
'What's warmer?'
'The other side of the wood, where Eeyore's house is.'
'My house?' said Eeyore. 'My house was here.'
'No,' said Piglet firmly. 'The other side of the wood.'
'Because of being warmer,' said Pooh.
'But I ought to know - '
'Come and look,' said Piglet simply, and he led the way.
'There wouldn't be two houses,' said Pooh. 'Not so close together.'
They came round the corner, and there was Eeyore's house, looking as comfy as anything.
'There you are,' said Piglet.
'Inside as well as outside,' said Pooh proudly.
Eeyore went inside... and came out again.
'It's a remarkable thing,' he said. 'It is my house, and I built it where I said I did, so the wind must have blown it here. And the wind blew it right over the wood, and blew it down here, and here it is as good as ever. In fact, better in places.'
I wish Dad would be as easily convinced...


California Girl said...

Hello there: wish I had words of wisdom. I don't. You put your father's confusion so beautifully when you say the house just isn't the same w/o your mother. Yet, it sounds like Alzheimers. You are fortunate there is enough money to provide caregiving. My father had enough money for that. I was 3000 miles from him; my brother about 300. My mother in law has no money and we'll be the caregivers if it comes to that. Otherwise, into a nursing home I suppose.

I visited my father once a year, usually for a week. I wish now I had gone more often. Some years I did but my work didn't give more than the standard 2 wks vaca and so forth.

I wish you the best with your Dad. It is a painful painful process to see them age and begin to fail. Daddy died in 07. He would have been 100 years old this February 2010. Amazing to me.

DawnTreader said...

C.Girl - Thanks. My dad has not been diagnosed with Alzheimers, nor with Parkinson. They doctors think his problems have to do with brain surgery many years ago + diabetes.
We have a municipal home care system with a maximum fee. My dad because of his medical problems is getting "more help than he is paying for", so to speak. But then again that's what he's been paying taxes for all his life...

Sandra said...

I can relate to your story. at age 88 my dad was still living alone after losing my mother 12 years before, he was living in Savannah, they had torn down his home and built a highway through it and he had moved to a retirement moblie home park. He started with hallucinations and became very paranoid. he was in the beginning stages of parkinsons and then went into Altzheimer disease. in 2005 we had to move him here to FL and put him in a memory unit because we were unable to care for him. I would take him outside the home and sit under the oaktree and enjoy the sunlight. Accross the street was a large water tower that said Bradenton FL on it. each day he would look at it and say, How did they move that big tower here to Savannah. he never knew he was not in Savannah Ga. I lived 6 hour drive from him when he was there and each time i came to visit, he would say How long did it take for you to get here? in fact it took me 3 minutes so my answer was about the usual.

DawnTreader said...

Sandra, I can imagine that must have been quite upsetting for your dad, his home being torn down.

Scriptor Senex said...

I think mental confusion is one of the worst fears we all face - both for ourselves and for our loved ones. Despite Mum and Dad both living into their 90s GB and I were extremely fortunate that they were both as sharp as razors right up to their deaths.
It must also be dificult for your Dad when he himself is aware that he is confused but cannot sort out the details.
It's not the sort of posting on which one can offer much consolation or wise words other than to say your are both in my thoughts.

DawnTreader said...

Thank you John. I appreciate that.

GB said...

What more can I add to what CJ has said? Nothing. I find the idea of a stroke or mental incapacity infinitely more scary than the cancer. It was likely to result in death - albeit possibly unpleasant. A living confusion is so much worse - possibly not for your Dad but for you and your Brother. I feel for you.

DawnTreader said...

Graham, thanks for "catching up" and commenting. Yes, it always seemed to me too that damage to the brain must probably be among the very worst to cope with.

I suppose in a way dad and we have still been lucky though, considering that he had a (benign) brain tumour removed back in the early 70s and it's not until 35 years later that the scarring is really causing problems of this kind.


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