Tuesday, September 20, 2011


I made the thirty minute drive the other day to pay a visit to Dad. It was a hot and beautiful day, one of the few we've gotten here, and I figured I'd probably find him outside on the patio of his house. I parked my car, seeing only another resident in his wheelchair, reading in the shade of a tree. When I walked into the house, I saw my Dad, reclining on the couch with his eyes closed. A young man who introduced himself as the son of the owner introduced himself.

I sat next to Dad, who opened his eyes and looked at me sideways, wary and curious as to what I wanted. Looking into his blue eyes, curious as always as to what sort of recognition, if any, I would see there, I started talking to him, mentioning the heat and the lovely sun. The young man leaned over and said that until a few minutes ago, Dad had been outside walking around and enjoying the sun and that they had just come in for a little rest. This sounded perfectly reasonable, but my constant doubts raised their heads.

The last time I visited, Dad had been snoozing in his room in his recliner. I had seen him at other times, drowsing on the couch or in his chair. Could I really trust them to be doing what was best for Dad and making him walk and exercise? When you finally decide you need to give over care of your loved one to someone else, even if you find a caregiver you think is the most capable and trustworthy, I've found you never really stop being suspicious. You never completely trust that they will treat your loved one well, and not leave them stranded like so many horror stories that make the rounds.

I'm pretty sure I've found the absolute best place possible for Dad. I believe that they care for my Father. The home has great state reviews and inspections, and I stop in unannounced as often as I can. The worst thing I've ever seen is Dad snoozing inside on a sunny day. But I am never, ever free of these quiet doubt whispers, and I figure I never will be. It is the price I pay for not taking care of Dad personally.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Car Show.

A few weeks ago my fiance and I were invited to bring our 1965 Corvair to an Assisted Living Facility in West Seattle. Apparently, they throw a barbecue every year for their residents, residents' families, and neighbors of the facility. This year they were including a classic car show and inviting an Elvis impersonator to sing and perform. We agreed to do it gladly because it seemed the perfect mix of our classic car interests and my work with dementia and hospice. I pictured a little gathering at a mid size facility, maybe five or ten cars, and a few barbecues. I couldn't have been more wrong!

The facility was huge, one of the biggest I've seen, encompassing those who could still live independently, those who needed secure facilities, and nursing facilities. It was obvious they'd done this before, the set-up was huge: rows of chairs placed in the garden, some already occupied by residents; several tables packed with food trays and bowls, with huge barbecues behind them; and a full sound system! I would estimate that there were twenty to thirty classic cars, and easily more than a hundred people. It was something!

We enjoyed being out in the sun, and eating the fried chicken and cobbler with vanilla ice cream. We even enjoyed Elvis' performance-he was pretty good! But what we really enjoyed was chatting with all the elderly residents and their families as they viewed and exclaimed over our car. It seems like back in the sixties and seventies, everyone either had a Corvair or knew someone who did, and it was so fun to see our little car take these friendly people back to their child-or young adulthood, reminiscing about THEIR cars and their lives.

Everyone has a story, especially about cars they have had, and most people don't need much encouragement to tell them! It was so gratifying to see the older gentlemen come shuffling slowly by, aided by caregivers, watching their eyes light up to see our car and the other classics lined up. I loved watching families take care of their loved ones, and caregivers gently encourage residents to dance or sing along. I can't think of a better way to spend a sunny Summer afternoon, and it almost made me wish my Father was a resident here so he could share it with us.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Belief System.

I may have mentioned in past postings that my father was a Christian Scientist. In that particular faith, it is believed that the material body is a reflection of the perfection of God, and that any illness or injury can be conquered, completely cured, by prayer and/or right belief in this fact. Followers pray and read passages from the Bible and other publications written by the religion's founder. When a member becomes ill, their illness is tacitly ignored and denied, although they may still receive offers of help with driving and chores. Even death is acknowledged only obliquely and funeral services are never held in the Church. No one acknowledges that the body is physical and has needs and dysfunctions. I was raised in this faith, but came to believe that it was almost cult-like in its beliefs and was incredibly damaging and delusional.Unfortunately, its effects had already been felt in my own health and well-being.

My Dad continued to believe, praying and reading right up to the point that the words were stolen out of his mind by dementia. I'm sure he felt deeply that whatever was affecting him could be conquered if he just believed it hard enough. Unfortunately, it didn't work that way; in fact, it led to him obstructing us in every possible way, denying he had a problem, needed help, or was in danger. Members of my Dad's Church helped him in his denial, refusing to acknowledge that they saw any strange or potentially dangerous behavior from him, although I'm sure they did. To these people, physical problems, even death, are negative beliefs that just haven't been fixed yet.

Although I disagree strongly with his beliefs, I have tried as hard as I could to ensure I follow them on his behalf as closely as I can; not filling him full of drugs, limiting visits to doctors, and limiting medical intervention.

The other day an old friend from Dad's Church called to check in on him, since he hadn't been to Church in quite a while. I receive these calls periodically, from people that I have known since I was very little. They are all lovely, kind people, but not one of them actually believes that there is anything wrong with Dad, which makes discussing his illness both strange and uncomfortable. Knowing there's no point in saying much, I try to be honest about how my Dad really is, while at the same time, knowing they are mentally denying every word I say.

In the end, I try to be polite, giving them few details beyond that my Dad continues well and happy where he's living. While I appreciate their kindness and their concern for my Father, I dislike these calls. They are able to hang up the phone feeling good for having checked in and happy that they can continue to fit my Father into their beliefs of the world. It tends to bring up bad memories of my time in the Church and my time being ill. I wish I could stop all connection with this harmful faith and its dysfunctional followers, but until my Father dies that won't happen. In the end I'm left with their refusal of the truth, feeling conflicted and uncomforted, knowing that there has been no real connection made, and that I must continue to participate in the denial.