Father’s Day: Tribute to Jim Thompson

dad and me
Dad and me when I was about 4 years old.

It’s no secret that Dad was my favorite parent.  I was “Daddy’s little girl.”  I was a superstar, and could accomplish anything I wanted.  To have not had sisters — or a mother that he could remember — Dad had a knack for raising girls.

It was Dad who was the nurturer — the one who kissed the boo-boos, affirmed me, told me I was smart and beautiful.  He was kind, loving, and steady.  Even when he was angry, he wasn’t prone to outbursts.

It was Mom who spanked, yelled, and always found something wrong with me.  My hair, my clothes, my makeup, the condition of my room — nothing was ever good enough.  It didn’t matter what I did, it wasn’t right.  Oh, sure, she praised me when I brought home straight-As or other successes.  But she didn’t love me like Dad did.

Dad wrote me letters while I was in college, carefully printed on yellow legal paper, using yellow correction fluid to fix his mistakes.  He would visit me periodically.  He bought me my first car — and took out a credit life policy so that it would be paid off if he died.  Which he did.  I wonder now if that was foreshadowing.

When Dad died suddenly at age 60, I was on the phone with him.  It’s a fact few people know, and something we never talk about.  Ever.  I still wonder whether I did the right thing, if I waited too long to call for help.  By the time the rural volunteer paramedics arrived, he was long gone.

When it came time to plan a funeral, choose a burial plot, and other such tasks, Mom was a mess.  I was the rock, the one who ushered her along to make the necessary decisions.  I remember standing with Mom, staring at Dad in his casket, and her whispering, “It’s OK to cry.”  I didn’t cry at all.  Later, with my friends, on a dark night outside my parents’ house, I cried until I threw up.

And I still cry today.  There have been many times I’ve thought that Dad was the only person who truly loved me.

While I know that’s not true, it remains a fact that he loved me best.

 

 

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The Reluctant Caregiver: Picking Your Parent’s Nursing Home

FullSizeRender (2)Many years ago, I bought my mom a gag gift.  It was a crafty sign that hangs on the wall that reads, “Be Kind to Your Children, they Pick Your Nursing Home.”

Fast forward a couple of decades.  Today, I chose my mother’s nursing home.

That shouldn’t be a big deal.  I work for an organization whose mission is to “disrupt aging.”  I analyzed our local facilities a few months ago when my significant other’s father needed to be in a facility temporarily.  Ironically, I had just thrown all of that information away.

When my mom was in good health and of sound mind, I would joke with her about the time when she couldn’t live on her own anymore.  I would jovially say that I would send her to the nursing home near her house.

When the hospital where she was a patient said they were going to discharge her to a skilled nursing facility for rehabilitation, she chose the nursing home near her house.

My sister and I sounded the alarms.  That facility gets very bad scores on Medicare’s Nursing Home Compare tool.  One star!  Much below average!

Mom, like most older people in her position, wanted to stay near her home.  But most of all, she wanted to stay near her dog.

Mopsey is a Lhasa Apso who is at least 15 years old.   She got him soon after her border collie, Jessie, passed away.  He had been abandoned near the local veterinarian’s house, and the vet thought Mopsey would be perfect for Mom, who was grieving for Jessie.  He was right.  They became fast friends and constant companions, even when my mom met and married her second husband.

My stepfather passed away after 10 years of marriage to Mom, but Mopsey was still her constant companion.  Grandchildren were born (my sister’s kids), I moved further away, but Mopsey was always there. An odd dog, he wasn’t lively and high strung like most small breeds.  He was sedate, almost depressed.  Perfect for Mom.

When Mom fell and broke her wrist, Mopsey was there.   She was taking him out at the time.  Her health was a downward spiral after that.

After her fall, Mom hired caregivers to stay with her – mostly at night.  She professed a fear of falling.  But I believe a fear of being alone, and a need for someone to care for Mopsey, drove her to spend several thousand dollars she really didn’t have on caregivers who didn’t do that much for her.

Let me note it’s not the caregivers’ fault.  Mom didn’t give them many tasks, other than running a few errands, taking Mopsey out, and sleeping in her house.

Her health became so bad one of the caregivers called me in alarm.  Mom was getting worse and wouldn’t let them do anything.

My sister intervened.  She lives about 2 ½ hours away and went for a visit.  Disturbed by Mom’s condition, she convinced her to go to the closest university medical center.

That brings us to today.  Mom was in the hospital for nearly two weeks. They conducted a multitude of tests, two procedures and treated her medical problems.  It was time to talk about next steps.

Mom had been adamant she wanted to go to her hometown nursing home.  No matter how many times we joked we would send her there, my sister and I did not want her to be a resident.  We read the reviews, the inspection reports, etc.  We heard from people in the community who had opinions.  If she went there, she would get even more seriously ill.

As luck would have it, her neighbor who was caring for Mopsey needed to go out of town at the same time I planned to visit.   He inquired regarding my plans for the dog.  I learned his schedule was about to become very hectic, and there is no room in it for a geriatric pup.  I said I would bring the dog home with me when I visit.

Low and behold, Mom determined that Williamsburg, Virginia, is where she wants to reside during her rehabilitation.  Not because it’s a major retirement mecca.  But because it’s where her dog will be living.

That’s OK.  Mopsey is a sweet pup.  We have many good options for long-term care in Williamsburg.

Today, I chose my mother’s nursing home.

This is a new journey for us.  Despite the fact that I work for the world’s leading advocacy group for people age 50+, and have the world’s experts and research on aging at my fingertips, I’m scared as hell.

But then I step back and think about what it must be like to be my mother.  She was in a giant hospital, underwent numerous tests, and she couldn’t name the president of the United States.

This is sad.  I remember the day President Obama was elected, and my mom’s elation.  She was glued to the TV.  She followed every moment of the inauguration.  She commented on Michelle’s dress.

Today, she can’t remember the name Barack Obama.  It’s sad.  It’s scary.

I never had children.  It was a choice I made, not fate.  But here’s my mom, needing the guidance of an unruly teenager.

I see a challenging journey ahead. Stay tuned!