Archive for October, 2006

To the Rescue

October 29, 2006

I put my dad on a decent diet, proper supplements, and one by one, we overcame every confusion he was encountering. We waded through his finances, his investments, and his mail.I began poring over his investment newsletters and learned how he liked to invest. I did thorough searches and found the coins he had misplaced. I cleaned his house. My new life schedule at first became, two weeks in California, two weeks in Alabama. As my Dad’s needs grew, it became, one week to 10 days in California, three weeks in Alabama.

At first I called him from L.A. once a day. Then I increased it to twice a day. I got my son Brad to visit once per week while I was gone. Then we upped Brad’s visits to twice a week. The last time I was gone, the neighbors also had him over for dinner several times. Everyone was feeling his need.

It took me a year to get rid of his animosity towards Brad. I countered his accusations, supplied him with facts and gradually he quit complaining about Brad. One day he told me Brad had changed. He realized Brad was a good guy after all. By this time Dad’s irrational outbursts had subsided. He was calm and much more himself again. I knew it wasn’t Brad who had changed.

During another one of life’s boring moments, Dad had become suspicious about a marker on the lake. In an attempt to dispel his worries, I got out a map that showed property lines. I pointed out to him how the marker, according to the map, appeared to be on his neighbor’s property. He finally relented and agreed the marker wasn’t a problem after all. But in looking over the map, he wanted to see the part of his property that was pastureland. I told him I would prefer to take that walk with him. If he were to get lost, I wouldn’t know how to find him. I had made plans to go out for a few hours with our neighbor Brenda.He insisted on walking over there and assured me he knew his way around, had walked there many times, and wouldn’t get lost.

Three hours later when I returned, dad wasn’t at home. I didn’t know if he had gone on a second walk, or never returned from the first. As I was changing my clothes, and putting on my walking shoes to go look for him, an unfamiliar car pulled into our driveway. A man and woman I’d never seen before got out. Then out of the back door climbed my Dad and Chip, the neighbor’s Labrador retriever. The couple told me Dad had fallen in the creek, knocked himself unconscious, and didn’t know where he was. At least, that was his story. He had wandered up to their property, and they found him and brought him home. They introduced themselves as the Sparks who lived up the road in the rock house.

I thanked them several times and told them I didn’t know how I could ever repay them. Southern neighbors in general were the some of the most kind and caring people I’d ever known.

I brought Dad into the house and helped him get out of his wet clothes. He didn’t seem to have any injuries other than scratches from bramble bushes. I could find no bumps on his head—no evidence to support a fall that would have rendered him unconscious. He recounted his story about following the creek to the pasture area. The bushes were so thick you could barely walk. After stumbling and falling in the creek, he became very disoriented. He decided if he followed the sun, he would go west and avoid going in circles. Finally, he came upon a fence that he followed to the Sparks’ house.

At one point he became so tired he had to lie down. He considered just going to sleep and giving up—ending it right there. It would’ve been easier. But then he got angry for thinking that and told himself, “You’re not a quitter!” Chip, the neighbor’s Labrador retriever, now referred to as ”Old Faithful”, stayed by his side the whole time. Millie, however, the capricious female lab, ran off into the woods and abandoned him. For the next week, Dad petted and praised Chip, who became the special dog, the hero. Millie got ignored. Receiving no special treatment or recognition, she was lucky if he even noticed her.

Awhile back, Brad and I, at different times helped Dad buy a cell phone for the sole purpose of security–should he accidentally fall or get lost while walking. But my dad’s cell phone, which should have saved the day, remained hidden in his pocket, beyond his realm of reality. In his panic, never for one second did he remember the cell phone. Had he remembered it, it’s doubtful he would have recalled how to use it. All the high tech communication in the world couldn’t stop “trouble from coming right to him.”

As another year went by, it became more and more difficult to leave my dad. His cars would break down as I was about to leave. The transmission went out in one. A tire would go flat unexpectedly. Things around the house would break. It was as if his protest about being left alone manifested in material belongings around us. A few days after he got lost in the woods, while walking with him and the dogs, I sprained my ankle. It was the very day before I was scheduled to fly back to LA. A close friend joked that soon a poltergeist would seal the doors shut.

Slipping into Deeper Waters

October 29, 2006

Photo after heavy rains flooded the lake taken by our neighbor Brenda

It wasn’t until after the year 2000 that Dad’s little world showed more severe signs of breaking down. After the excitement of Y2K wore off, lack of new excitement took its toll. Once again I got the call that Brad had stolen coins and Dad was going to call the police to report it. I listened, acknowledging his claims and booked a weekend flight to leave within two days. Meanwhile Dad would hold off on going to the police.

My flight landed in Birmingham, Alabama. I rented a car and drove up the freeway, finally arriving at the country road that led to the private lane winding its way to Dad’s lake house. When Mom and Dad bought the property, you had to hike through acres of woods to reach the lake. Blazing their own trail, my mom and dad, a couple in their sixties, cleared the trees and carved their road in the wilderness. The road and house nestled in the trees was a reflection of their strong wills and their new beginning–the sunset years.

With each arrival, I relive their story and memories rush to mind of their new life on the lake. In my mind I see the sun hitting their metal Airstream trailer, which was their home for several years while the house went up beam by beam.

During this stay, my son Brad came over and my Dad’s worries and confusions were put to rest. I had a nice weekend visit, and for the time being his cry for companionship seemed satisfied.

September 11th 2001, struck deeply. I was in Italy at the time, and the devastation from that atrocity pulled our family together. The tragedy of 9/11 instilled a fear of flying in everyone. However, in order to return to the US, I was forced to overcome that fear.

I crossed the Atlantic on a British Airways plane and landed safely at LAX. Having bested my fear, a month later in October, I convinced my husband Ken to fly with me to visit my dad. Incidents like 9/11 remind us of how precious life is. You take stock and make time for important endeavors. We spent time with Dad and Brad.

In June 2002 I planned a trip to visit Dad with my daughter Ericka, my grandson Trenton, and my newborn granddaughter Alyssa. Our timing worked out perfectly because during our stay my father had scheduled surgery to remove a skin cancer on his head. It was an out-patient procedure, and he needed someone to drive him to the hospital and back.

We arrived late at night, drove up from Birmingham to my dad’s house, let ourselves in and went to sleep. The next morning as I was waking up I had a horrible nightmare. I dreamed my dad was twisted up, hanging horizontally between clotheslines and choking to death.

In the dream, I held him up so he wouldn’t choke and called for Brad to help. For me, dreams have often been a bizarre window to reality.

When I walked into Dad’s bedroom to greet him “good morning” I noticed a mess of papers scattered all over his floor. There was barely anywhere to walk. With a look of overwhelming despair, he said to me, “See this confused mess? Now I know why people commit suicide–to escape the confusion.”

At that moment I realized, a weekend visit or a week of vacation wasn’t going to adequately solve what was plaguing my father.

His surgery on the skin cancer went fine, but his mind wasn’t right. I had never seen him so irrational and forgetful. When I returned to California I discussed my dad’s situation with Ken and my business partner Vicki. We all agreed that Dad needed me. I started making arrangements to return.

While getting my plans in order, Dad called saying Brad had stolen coins again, and this time he feared Brad was trying to kill him. I asked why he thought that. He explained that Brad had invited him to go on vacation with his family to the Florida Gulf Coast. Routinely, every year Brad and his family took a vacation there. This was the first year that they had invited my dad to go too. Filled with suspicion over the unexpected invitation, my dad decided they were plotting to poison him while on vacation. I rushed to book my flight and left.

Dad was clearly slipping into deeper and deeper waters, well over his head.

Loneliness Takes Its Toll

October 22, 2006

Ken and I visited several times. Dad was hanging in there. He enjoyed his independence and privacy. He studied investing, and lined his book shelves with numerous books on healthcare, money management, and other practical skills. For years Dad collected coins. Coins were real, tangible and a good investment. He appeared to have an endless appetite for learning that filled his life and days.

Unfortunately, even in Eden, paradise becomes fleeting, and trouble lurks on the horizon. Dad always said, “I never have to look for trouble, it comes right to me.” And invariably trouble would find him, when he was bored. Boredom remained Dad’s worst enemy. I chalked it up to boredom when out of the blue he phoned me to say he was calling the police to report that my son Brad had stolen some coins.

After reasoning with him, Dad agreed to confront Brad before taking action. Upon hanging up, I immediately phoned Brad to find out what I could. Brad was shocked. He swore that he did not steal Dad’s coins, nor had he ever considered doing so.

We surmised that underlying dad’s accusation, were the facts he was bored and that Brad hadn’t been spending much time with him. Left alone with too much time to think, and not enough interesting events to spark up his life, Dad probably felt abandoned, and that meant betrayal.

Brad went to visit Dad and convinced him of his innocence. When I called Dad the next day he no longer believed Brad had stolen from him. Then as Brad began spending more time with Dad again, the matter was put to rest.

Y2K proved a wonderful adventure. My dad began preparing for the end of life as we knew it. He bought dried foods and built a shelter in the woods. He purchased several first aid kits, guns, bullets, and loaded up on survival information. He even flew to San Diego and took a wilderness survival class. We talked a lot on the phone, and he urged me to get ready. Then Jan 1st, 2000 arrived and virtually nothing happened. Yes, Y2K was a dud, but at least it provided further entertainment, for now we joked and laughed about it.

Haven in the Woods

October 22, 2006

Dad and Mom retired in 1978 and began the search for their “Golden Pond”. They found a number of acres in Northern Alabama–a beautiful tract of land with a 25-acre lake set back from the main road in isolated woods. They fulfilled their dream by building what their neighbor Brenda calls their “Frank Lloyd Wright house”. My mom drew up the blueprints, falling back on her architecture classes from college years ago. My dad sawed down trees and built the road with his newly purchased tractor. It was truly a creative project that provided them with fulfilling tasks and happy moments that lasted years. They hauled rocks and built an enormous fireplace, stone walls, all to their very own original design.

When the architect told them they couldn’t build the vaulted ceiling the way they wanted, my dad asked why not. The architect told them because he’d never done it before. My dad would hear none of that and said, “Just because you haven’t done it, doesn’t mean it can’t be done.” Mom and Dad got their vaulted cedar ceiling with large wooden beams. The beams slant down ending in tall picture windows that look out onto the lake. Peeking through the trees, the house sits perched on an enormous outcrop of rock. They decided a lawn would only detract from the beauty of their forest surroundings and settled on nestling in the woods with a beautiful view.

When Mom passed away fourteen years ago, their house still sat alone overlooking the lake, isolated and surrounded by acres and acres of forest.

Sensing my dad’s inevitable loneliness, I arranged staggered vacations instead of a joint one. My daughter visited dad first, then I visited, and the last to visit was my son Brad, who eventually ended up settling down in Fort Payne. When Brad visited, my dad offered to send Brad to a nearby college, and Brad in turn lived with him. His living with my dad transformed the lonely existence on the lake into a companionship and camaraderie that filled my dad’s emptiness and brought him back to life.

However, young adults grow up, and the time came for Brad to move on. He settled down and created his own family in Fort Payne. At this point, Dad began to sell some lots and slowly a few neighbors built houses around him, first Brenda and Jim, then LeDon and Amber, and afterward Tom. But knowing that selling lots meant building houses, dad never sold lots that would spoil his beautiful view of the lake and forest.


October 15, 2006

My Dad would have qualified for acceptance into West Point Military Academy except for his eyesight. He didn’t pass the eye exam. The optometrist who examined him suggested he consider a career in optometry. Dad followed up on that suggestion and went into the optometry program at Ohio State University. An Ohio State professor, notorious for thinning out the ranks, assured the class of aspiring optometry students that only 10% of them would get a passing grade. My dad cleverly picked out the smartest student in the class and paired up with him for study. When it came down to the top 10 %, Dad ranked with the best of them. Working out strategies became a successful operating basis.

In fact, strategies have played an important role in most of my dad’s successes. When he belonged to the Rawega Country Club, his friend Harry Partridge egged Dad on to participate in the annual golf tournament. The finalists would have to play three sets of 18 holes in one day. My dad didn’t consider himself the best golfer. However, his competitive drive to win led him to develop a winning strategy. A month before the tournament, he began walking to and from work, totaling close to three and a half miles of daily walking. Some days he walked home for lunch too, making it total seven miles. By the time the tournament arrived, he had built up excellent endurance.

When the tournament began, the top golfer and my dad were neck and neck during the last leg of the playoff, the final 18 holes. By the end of the match my dad’s rival was worn out and gave up at the 16th hole. Dad easily won. Everyone in the clubhouse had bet on my dad’s competitor—all except for Harry Partridge who cashed in bigtime on the bet. Harry told them, “You just don’t know Jack.” He never doubted my dad—he knew Jack would figure out a way to win.

Getting to know my dad–Young Jack

October 15, 2006

Now that I’ve told you about my old pops, it only seems fair that I share some of the younger chapters of his life.

In recounting some recent incidents about Dad to my daughter Ericka, I mentioned how unbelievably strong-willed, feisty, and stubborn he was. As my daughter Ericka so aptly put it, “it’s no wonder he was still that way now–look how he started out.” Her Great Grandmother, “Nana,” told her that Grandpa Jack was unbelievably incorrigible as a child. Nana tried all manner of punishments and disciplinary tactics in attempt to get him in line. In fact he was so incorrigible that the only workable punishment was tying him to a tree. Tree tying was Nana’s last resort to stop Jack from playing on the railroad tracks. He hated being tied to a tree more than anything.

It wasn’t only his stubborn strong-willed nature that made my dad, Jack, stand apart from others. His shrewd mind developed business acumen at an early age.

In grade school, little Jack sharpened his marble shooting skills by practicing with flinties (a heavier than usual type of marble) every night at home. He was soon beating all the other kids in marble matches and winning all their marbles. In true entrepreneurial spirit, he convinced other kids that the secret to his marble shooting skill lay in the flintie (not mentioning the nightly practice). Having now created a demand for flinties, he bought a bunch of flinties and started selling them at a profit to other kids during recess. Not only that, he also started selling back marbles he‘d won from them in marble shooting matches.

As Jack would outgrow certain toys and lose interest in them, he devised a yearly sale where he’d sell his toys and rake in the profit. He also managed to re-sell my grandfather’s radio several times. The radio found its way back into Jack’s hands prior to the second annual sale. My grandfather, who got a kick out of his son’s business centures, bought it yet another year.

My dad went on to do odd jobs around the neighborhood, and soon his good work had earned him a steady income for a young boy. At one point he was selling wheelbarrows of dirt to neighbor ladies who wanted to make their gardens more fertile. By the time he was 17, he owned two Model A Fords. He chauffeured other students to school charging them a reasonable fee for the ride. Then he sold his cars and bought a truck. Leasing out his truck provided profits that went into his college fund.

He exuded confidence and believed there wasn’t anything he couldn’t do… if he really wanted it. Nana always told Jack he could accomplish whatever goal he set out to achieve. “If you really want it, and you work really hard at it, you can do it.” These words stuck with him throughout his life, reinforcing his confidence and bolstering his motivation.

The Less Favored but Inevitable Option

October 15, 2006

As Dad’s condition worsened, one day I got a call from the Rose Manor nurse who was very concerned because his coloring looked yellow. The nurse said she was sending him to the hospital. His gall bladder had become extremely infected, and he would receive laproscopic surgery to remove it. The surgeon said Dad had a 50% chance of surviving the operation, but would certainly die without the operation. I flew to Alabama and stayed for close to a month. The gall bladder removal was successful, and Dad spent nine days in ICU recovering, followed by nine days in the regular hospital, and 20 days in Rehab at Collinsville Nursing Home. He was able to return to Rose Manor and seemed to be getting around very well with his walker.

Then several months later I got a call from Rose Manor that Dad had fallen. My son Brad took him to the hospital, and x-rays revealed he had broken his other hip. I flew to Alabama, arriving in time for the surgery. Dad spent three days in the hospital, and then went to Collinsville Nursing Home again to rehabilitate for the 20 day period. The orthopedic surgeon said Dad wasn’t allowed to bear weight on his right leg for 6 weeks or he could break his hip again, ripping loose the pins that had been inserted. Remembering not to bear weight on his leg became an impossible challenge. Dad was continually trying to stand up and walk around. Finally, the only solution was to restrain him in his wheel chair so he wouldn’t attempt to stand on the leg and hurt himself.

His leg healed, but he never became stable on his feet, which left him saddled in a wheelchair. Still rather spunky though, he tried to wheel himself out the door enough times that Collinsville had to put him in the Alzheimer’s/Dementia Unit.

I hoped Dad would be able to return to Rose Manor. However, before Rose Manor could admit him, he had to undergo a standard evaluation required by the State of Alabama. The evaluation included memory testing, and we had a good laugh during his testing.

To test his memory he had to answer questions about a story. The story was: “Three men went to the store to buy a bottle of milk for breakfast”. The gal asked him “How many men went to the store?” He replied “Two?” She told him the story again, and he answered “Three.” She asked him “What did they buy?” He smiled broadly and replied, “WWWWWhiskey!!” He repeated his “Whiskey” answer a few more times, and each time it was as funny as the first. The gal ended up skipping the story and going on to the other test questions. But after awhile, Dad got upset about the questioning, and the gal ended off, never completing the test.

When I took him to his room in Rose Manor, all he wanted to do was leave. He continually tried to stand without his walker. In fact, he said if he fell, he would be okay. He did not need the walker. Brad and I both concluded that if he would not use the walker, he would just fall and break other bones. I found out that when he broke his hip, he fell on the carpet in the living room area at Rose Manor. He wasn’t using his walker because he forgot to use it. Even though the carpet was padded, his bones were apparently too brittle to sustain a fall. Rose Manor could not restrain him to the wheelchair. He didn’t want to be there, and I didn’t see how they could manage him anymore.

After I returned him to the Collinsville Nursing Home, he looked relieved. His anxiety had disappeared, and ironically, he seemed at peace. The inevitable option of nursing home care, resisted for so long by both of us, had finally become a reality.

As Dad looked around the Alzheimer’s Unit, he saw himself as top dog. After all, he wasn’t belligerently yelling at other residents, nor crying out in monotonous repetition like some residents. He made more sense than most when he talked. Yes, the size of the fish really is relative, and in this area of the Collinsville Nursing Home, he was the big fish in the little pond–and he felt comfortable with that.

Options for the Elderly

October 2, 2006

While I could have suggested assisted living several years ago, my dad would have never accepted it. At that time he was too preoccupied with proving he could get along by himself. A live-in caregiver would not have worked well for him either. I was the only one he trusted and allowed to help him. Plus, he found my help palatable only in small doses. Learning to gauge how much help to offer and timing the help at the appropriate moment was key. Achieving a delicate balance became an art that I was constantly fine-tuning.

Who knows how long he’d been teetering with disaster at his heels before I started living with him. When the final moment arrived and it became obvious he could no longer live alone at all, dad made his final stand. That protest led to breaking his hip. However, until he broke his hip, he did not realize he was no longer capable of living by himself.

After staying at Dogwood Haven for nearly nine months, Dad landed in the Fort Payne hospital when he became too weak to walk, incontinent, and incoherent. A hospital examination revealed his heart valve had worsened, and he was put on heart medication. He spent a week in the Collinsville Nursing Home, recuperating after his hospital stay. His physical strength rebounded, but his mental faculties never did. Mentally he continued to deteriorate. A medical scan revealed at some earlier time Dad had suffered a stroke. Brad and I suspected a series of strokes had gone medically undetected.

The chapter at Dogwood Haven Assisted Living closed. As dad’s ability to wheel around with his walker grew strong, so did his desire to wander. He made it down the large hill at Dogwood several times, heading out to visit his mother. His creative toileting went beyond the staff’s abilities to assist and supervise him. The owner recommended Rose Manor, a residence licensed to house residents with Alzheimer’s and dementia.

My son Brad moved Dad into Rose Manor, and I flew in to visit and complete the paper work. With ten residents and four staff on duty, the staff to resident ratio was up to the task. Two nurses were on duty most of the day. Their friendly, home-y atmosphere and competent staff helped calm my dad. He was put on two additional medications to relieve anxiety and help him sleep at night.

His mind continued to slip. I called every day, and one day Dad told me he was going to call Lyn and have her take him home. I explained that I was Lyn, and I was in California now, a bit far away to visit on such short notice. He seemed to understand, and then told me several more times he was ready to go home and would have Lyn come and get him.

Spinning your wheels

October 2, 2006

When I called my dad and asked how his day went, he told me “Really bad.” He had been robbed. I asked what was stolen and he said, “All my money.” “But Dad,” I said, “you didn’t have any money.” “Ha! Ha!” he replied, “Then the bastard didn’t get anything!”

He was very relieved to find out he had experienced a much better day than he thought. After dumping all his belongings out of his drawers and unsuccessfully searching for his money, he needed to put everything back in order. What a task. Was I sure he did not have any money, he wanted to know. I assured him he did not. I told him we kept some  money with the owner of the assisted living center, and I handled the rest so it was safe.

I asked if someone was in his room snooping around. How did he get the idea he had been robbed? He had not seen anyone in his room. He just knew a robber had been there because his money was missing. Yes, he had indeed tricked the robber and was now delighted. Outsmarting the robber by not having any money was very clever. His day swung from defeat to triumph.

A few hours before I called, I felt scatter-brained, like I was spinning my wheels–not getting anything done. Ken said he was feeling the same way. We had no explanation for it. We wondered who was spinning their wheels today. Hmmm…looks like my dad was madly peddling away.

Dad’s Moment in the Sun

October 2, 2006

Just as I was beginning to despair that our new adventure may not be working out, I received an email from our neighbor Brenda about her visit to Dogwood Haven. She included an attachment entitled, “Jack in the Newspaper”. There was my dad with the biggest smile on his face I had ever seen. Brenda explained this was merely one newspaper clipping of my dad. Apparently he’d hit the Fort Payne newspapers twice now as part of the Dogwood Haven news. The other clipping showed him playing games. While she didn’t have that clipping to send me, Brenda reported that the owner had saved a copy for me. Furthermore, the owner was delighted with Jack, and one of the regularly scheduled activity directors had practically adopted him.

Brenda’s mother-in-law, Ruby, had lived at Dogwood Haven for a while now.If you didn’t know otherwise, you would think they hired her as a PR representative. When I first brought my Dad to visit Ruby, she assured that he would love it there. She likened it to being on a cruise. They washed your clothes, provided excellent dining, and brought in entertainment. The only difference was the cruise ship wasn’t going anywhere.

From her visit Brenda further reported Jack was eating lunch and had almost cleared his plate. To best understand why this observation matters, you have to know that in both the hospital and the nursing home, he would pick at his food, leaving most of it untouched. Dad lost five pounds in the hospital and proceeded to lose another eight pounds in the nursing home, arriving at a weight of 122 pounds. Some years ago his normal weight ranged from 155 to 160 pounds. Although he’d shrunk from his five foot nine frame, 122 pounds became an alarming weight for a man his size. Gaining back at least what he’d lost was now a major health concern.

As Brenda announced these rave reviews, I filled with relief. Not only had Dad set foot on the road to better health, he was downright enjoying himself. I so hoped Dogwood Haven was a solution for Dad’s loneliness and boredom. That duo of emotions, which had fueled recent disasters, perhaps now opened the door to a better living solution—for both Dad and me.