Half Full (Part 1)
Although I am in the midst of the intense experience called “caring for one’s parent”, I am also aware that in many ways, I am lucky to be in this situation at all. C-Diff is not a disease that everyone survives, and certainly not everyone who is 89 years old and has 5 recurrences. But then my father has been giving death the slip for a long time now.
And, whether by good fortune, planning, or both, I also can look at the situation of taking care of my father and feel like the glass is not just half full. It might be closer to 2/3. Here’s why I say this (and have been encouraged to say it):
- My father’s mind isn’t just sharp. It’s activated. He reads newspapers online in multiple languages (Hungarian, German, English). He leads a bi-weekly classical music seminar in his community where he streams YouTube videos over AppleTV to an ever-growing crowd. He Skypes with my brother regularly. He remembers nearly everything from his photo albums from 60 years ago. This is big. And he nearly always wants to learn.
- My brother and I are a great partnership. Yes, I am local and he is out in California, and yet I could not ask for a better partner. Our relationship works now at a level that I could not have conceived of only a few years ago. We work at this and communicate frequently, so this is not entirely luck. Many siblings actually disagree about what to do and how to do it, which leads to paralysis, which then leads to bad situations persisting. I learned a lot about partnerships in one of my businesses and have applied some of those lessons to being in this one. But having a brother? I can’t take credit for that.
- Ditto for the support I get from my family. It is easy to mess this up. I have to balance things carefully (hence the title of this blog) to keep it that way, of course.
- Jewish Family and Children’s Services have great support and programming for this exact situation. We got connected with their Elder Experts service, a pricey (more on this later) but invaluable service that helped me find him a place to live, a local doctor, and connected me with Schecter Holocaust Services, which pays for some of his additional home care because he is a Holocaust survivor. WIthout them, I probably would have moved him into an apartment, which likely would have been an unmitigated disaster.
- We have sufficient financial means to pay for housing in a nice community near me, which is not easy since I live in Wellesley, MA, also known by its slightly derogatory nickname “Swellesley”. He actually lives in Framingham, which is a lot cheaper than being here and still feels really swank for someone who grew up in Depression-era semi-rural Hungary. He is in independent living, which is a lot cheaper than assisted living, which itself is cheaper than skilled nursing. JF&CS pays for his weekly HomeInstead visits, which when they finally began liberated me from being his housekeeper. And we have insurance which paid for his post-hospitalization stint in the rehab center (Medicare would have mostly dropped him after 20 days), so that didn’t wipe him out. Some of these stemmed from good choices he or we made a long time ago, which I guess has some degree of foresight to it. And a lot of it was luck. My mother was a bit of a day-trader in her day, so not all of their financial decisions were good ones. The decision to take out Medicare supplemental insurance definitely was.
- We were selling his house in 2013, not 2010. Total dumb luck. People forget sometimes how the difference between financial success and failure is timing. Never has this been more true than in the housing market in the past 5 years. We hired a really good broker who specializes in this kind of transaction (vacant house from a senior owner who lived there for many years and then moved on), and she did a terrific job. For our part, my brother and I were hyper-responsive to anything she asked us to do and let her drive the bus, so to speak. Could she have sold the place so quickly and for such a good price in 2010? Doubtful.
I could go on, but you get the idea. Here is one last story to illustrate it.
When he was in the rehab center and I was shuttling back and forth to NJ from MA, my visits ranged from a few days to a few hours. During my shortest visit, my father was in the physical therapy room and I was about to leave. He had been there for over 2 weeks and physical recovery was coming slowly; he still had C-Diff, the power of which neither of us fully understood, so we didn’t know why he was so drained and tired all the time. As I started to leave, he started to cry, which is very unusual for him. He was convinced he was going to die in rehab as my mother had 2 years earlier.
I told him that we were destined to have 1 more bowl of clam chowder together at Legal Seafoods and that all he had to do was hang on long enough to make that happen, and the rest would take of itself. When I said it to him, I believed it. I don’t know why; I just did. I told him it was written in the stars.
Several weeks later, after he left the rehab center, had survived 2 weeks on his own mostly alone in the house, moved to MA and gotten over the latest bout of C-Diff, we finally had that meal at Legal’s. We were very fortunate to be there. I am fortunate to be in this situation. I know.