My journey began in 2011 with the sudden death of my mother. One day I was in the kitchen with mom prepping our 4th of July feast. A week later I was frantically driving 300 miles to San Antonio in the mile in the middle of the night hoping to get to the hospital before she passed away. We didn’t make it.
While still in shock, we were thrown into planning her funeral. Thank goodness my dad was there. At 85, he was pretty experienced in arranging and attending funerals. Things went smoothly. I should have paid closer attention.
Over the next several years, dad continued to live by himself in our 3,000 square foot family home. He loved to travel the country with friends and would visit us in Dallas every holiday.
The First Move
During one Thanksgiving visit, we noticed him slowing down and he talked a lot about all the work that needed to get done around the house. We could also tell he was lonely; and still fiercely independent. That Christmas I wrote him a letter inviting him to consider moving to Dallas where he could be a bigger part of his only grandson’s life and we could help him as needed. To my grateful surprise, that New Year’s he called to accept our invitation.
Together, we scoured all the housing options. Luckily a close family friend recommended the independent living facility where his parents resided. It was a great fit. We signed the lease, packed up the house, and moved in 90 days. It took us another frustrating 18 months and dozens of trips up and down I35 to sell the house.
Take Away The Keys
A couple of times a week, dad would drive the 15 minutes to our house to join us for family dinner. One day he didn’t show up on time. Just as we were about to send out a search party, he called to say he had been in a car accident around the corner from the complex. When we arrived to check on him, he was fine but the car was totaled. So began the discussion as to replacing to car or to stop driving and rely on others for a ride to the grocery store, doctors’ appointments, and Sunday mass.
Hire More Help
We were blessed that Erika, the woman who had been my son’s nanny, was a natural caregiver. She started as his on-call driver. As his needs expanded, we paid for her to take Certified Nurses Aid training so the work she did with him could be reimbursed under dad’s long-term care policy.
One morning she arrived to take dad to the grocery store and found him curled up on the floor beside his bed. He had fallen in the middle of the night and could not get himself back to bed, so he grabbed a pillow and the covers and went to sleep on the floor knowing one of us would be there in the morning to help. At that point he was walking with a cane. Soon he moved to a walker. After each hospital emergency room visit he was discharged to rehabilitation, until they decided they could not improve his mobility. Then it was off to skilled nursing, which he hated. As the number of emergency visits continued to increase and the time between decrease, it was becoming apparent that dad could no longer live alone.
Knowing he would not like an institutional setting and realizing we could convert the extra bedroom into space for dad, we moved him to our house. We were blessed to be able to do this because of dad’s long-term care insurance and determined advocacy for home-health care. Again we purged his belonging down to fit in one-room, moved his favorite chair into the family room, and set up his dedicated reading area in the kitchen. The move required arranging 24-hour care and a change in daily habits for everyone in the household. It was great to have him home. We all shared stories and long talks. He raved to friends about getting home cooked meals.
Mother’s Day Surprise
Despite all our best efforts, dad’s health continued to rapidly decline. Soon he lost the ability to walk and care for himself. Going out became quite the effort, so for Mother’s Day we had friends and family over for dinner. I helped him to bed and we called my brother so they could catch up. They had been missing each other’s calls for a week. The next morning we found he had passed away in his sleep.
Again the whirlwind of funeral preparations began. This time my brother and I were in charge and on our own. Making it complex was his death at home, the need to return him to San Antonio for burial, and coordinating efforts to get his few remaining friends that could travel to the services. I’m happy to say we pulled it off without much disagreement because by then the family has spoken to him about what he wanted and available resources.
A New Beginning
Throughout the decade from my mother’s passing to dad’s departure I became a quick study in all things end-of-life. Each new twist and turn required more research on what was going on, what needed to be done, and available options. Daily, and sometimes hourly, my schedule changed as I tried to juggle multiple roles – daughter, mother, caregiver, and entrepreneur. Once the services were over and people went home, it was time to grieve. We each took time to seek counseling to help us through the transition. It was a blessing to find help to get unstuck.
As a teenager I had worked with the elderly at a rehab center and decided I wanted to go into medicine to help seniors live an independent life. My career took me away from medicine.
Now I find myself coming full circle. My mission is to help seniors, their loved ones, and care givers write the end of life story that suits them.
And so we’re launching GeriScope. Throughout these pages, I’ll share lessons learned from the layman’s perspective. My partner, Dr. Bert Brown, will add the son, father, and medical perspective. We encourage you to share your story and any tips you’ve learned along the way. Welcome to the GeriScope community!