Posted tagged ‘elderly parents’

Dad’s Hairbrush

September 2, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W                                                       September 2, 2018

                                     

When my dad passed away last February it was the end of a generation. It was also the end of a gathering place for family keepsakes. Dad’s apartment in the Wyngate Senior Living Complex needed to be packed up and moved out. That task fell upon my sister and brother-in-law to complete after my family flew back to Colorado, and my brother drove back to Frankfort, Kentucky.

A few weeks later a box arrived at our house packed with family pictures, an iron skillet, and various other items that had meaning to the Wolfe clan.

And in the box, stuffed down in a corner by a tube of Brylcreem, was Dad’s hairbrush. The bronze-colored handle fit my hand easily. When I picked it up out of the box a flash flood of emotions surprised me. I recognized that this hairbrush had stroked the hair on Pop’s head for years. In his last few years it would be accurate to say that it didn’t have that many hairs to brush…kind of like a cornfield during drought conditions!

Each morning since I opened that box I’ve used Dad’s hairbrush on my own head of hair…well, with the exception of the few weeks when I shaved my head because of a lost bet with one of my basketball players (See “WordsfromWW.com” 3/4/2018 blog post “My Last Day With Hair For a While”). 

I’ve moved my part over to the left slightly to allow the brush to take a longer stroke. Having a part in my hair isn’t as easy with a hairbrush as it was with a comb, so I’ve just relocated it closer to my left ear. Darla, my barber, shows me a path that I simply trace over each morning.

And each day I pick up that hairbrush and hold it in my hand I think of Dad. It’s a simple thing, a moment of reflection and connection. 

There are some people that you miss about as much as a hemorrhoid…and there are other people you miss like your heart has been cut from your chest cavity. Dad was our heart, our wisdom, the groomer of our civility. 

As I ponder the words I write this morning my emotions rise up from within. It is the way things should be; that our parents reappear in the moments of ordinary routines. 

For my mom, who passed away five years ago today, she comes back to life every time I see a crossword puzzle, or see a pair of those fuzzy looking house slippers, or eat a ham and cheese omelette. (I ate one last night!)

For Dad, he shows up anytime a Kentucky basketball game is on TV, I put hamburgers on the grill, and…brush my hair!

A lot of people think of flashy events and extravagance when they remember people from their lives. Flashy would not have been a word that anyone would have used in describing my dad. The motorized wheelchair that he used for the last year or so of his life was about as flashy as he got! His life was more like a consistent steady walk with strides of patience and humor. 

It was more like a stroke from a hairbrush, long and loving, the same day after day.

Senior Adult Television Network

August 9, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                   August 9, 2018

                          

There is a plethora of television channels that I can flip through on my cable system. Most of them are worthless! Just sayin’!

In the midst of this chasm of blah-blah-blah there is a noticeable void. Well, maybe more noticeable to me as I creep further into the amazing 60’s of my life! The gap is the absence of a television network devoted to senior citizens. Maybe they thought we wouldn’t notice…or we’d simply forget!

There are 46 million people in the United States who are 65 years of age and older! 46 million!!! There’s a lot of beans in that pot!

I got to thinking about the programming possibilities and the ideas flowed through me smoother than my last bottle of Ensure.

Here’s the sample Monday programming lineup:

7 AM- The Iron Skillet- Cooking the old way! My Mamaw Helton would be proud! I can smell the bacon…and the eggs frying in the bacon grease! 

7:30- The Cholesterol Physician- An actual doctor who specializes in treating people with high cholesterol because of their tendency to consume bacon and eggs for breakfast.

8:00- Old News!

8:30- Senior Discounts- The deals that go unnoticed, like free foot massages on Mondays and the cheapest places to get your hair colored.

9:30- The Andy Griffith Show! Self-explanatory.

10:00- Gunsmoke! Even more self-explanatory

11:00- Wyngate- A reality TV show based on the actual senior adult independent living complex my dad lived at the last three years of his life. Drama, humor, field trips for the residents, slow fire drills, groans and gripes with an amazing cast of real characters.

12:00- New Old News

12:30- Senior Bowling League- The best geriatric bowlers in the country compete for fame and glory.

2:00- As The World Turns- Got to throw one of those soap operas in. I remember that some of my aunts revolved their days and lunch hours around “the soaps.” 

3:00- The RV Reverend- Reverend Roger ministers to the elderly residents of an Arizona RV park. 

4:00- Senior Scambuster- Mr. Smith investigates, informs, and exposes the growing number of scams aimed at senior folk. 

5:00- World News Tonight for Seniors

6:00- America’s Got Mature Talent- Sometimes talent doesn’t emerge until a person passes sixty. Who will be judged to be the most talented elderly performer?

7:00- Penny Mason- The niece of the great defense attorney continues her uncle’s legacy of defending the falsely accused and revealing who the real murderers are.

8:00- Snowbirds in Paradise- What happens when a retired couple from North Dakota decide to spend their winter months in the south Texas town of Paradise. The plot line of every episode revolves around the couple not understanding what their new Texas neighbors are saying!

9:00- Slowing Down- In a world where people are infatuated with speed the stories from the other side, how people are going slow to do amazing things.

10:00- Octogenarian Odysseys- The amazing life journeys of those now in their 80’s, stories to give hope to those of us approaching that period of life.

11:00 Symphony Music for Insomniacs- Just the music, no picture!

And that’s just one day! I haven’t even gotten to “Gaming From the Rocker Recliner!” and “Replacements Who Are Really Hip!”

As you can see, the possibilities are almost as endless as the throbbing pain in my knees and hips. By the year 2060 the senior population is estimated to be 98 million! We desire our place, our station! 

When Pops Is No Longer There

July 19, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                           July 19, 2018

                                  

Today is different.

It is the first time I have traveled back to where I grew up in Ohio and neither of my parents are here. Translated into years that equates into 46 years of coming back home and seeing Mom and Dad…until today!

When Pops passed away February 15 things changed. I’ll be going to my nephew’s wedding in Frankfort, Kentucky this weekend, but I’m here in southern Ohio today with no father to eat lunch with.

It’s hard to explain or describe. The best that I can compare it to is that it’s like going back to your roots and seeing that the house you grew up in has been torn down in order to make way for a parking lot. Or, for me, when I went back to the town I was born in and realized that the elementary school where I attended first and second grade had been condemned. There’s something sobering about that!

My dad would have turned 90 on June 18, so it’s not like his passing was unexpected. However, when someone has always been there for you it is unbalancing. It’s unsettling…kind of a conscious disorientation. 

In the midst of the new reality I’ll honor some traditions. Dad and I would always visit Bob Evans Restaurant for breakfast at least once during each of my visits. I’ll carry on that practice one morning during my week-long visit. I’ll go have lunch one day at Wyngate, the senior living complex he resided in his last three years or so. I’ll sit with Carl and Louise and soak in the old stories, visit with Robin, the residence manager who loved my father dearly, and try to talk to Chuck, who would visit Dad in the hospital but can’t hear squat!

And while I’m here I’ll drive down to Paintsville, Kentucky and visit the cemetery. That may be the moment that overwhelms me as I gaze upon the plot of ground where my parents now lay side-by-side. For the past five years or so each cemetery visit has had Dad standing beside me quietly staring at Mom’s resting place. Now I’ll stand by myself and long for his voice to say a few words. 

One tradition I will not carry forward is taking Pops to at least one doctor’s appointment, radiation treatment, or hospital admission while I’m here. He had a “time share” at St. Mary’s Medical Center across the river in Huntington, West Virginia!

Life is populated with assumptions. One of those is that things will always remain the same even though we are fully aware that they won’t. I assumed that Victory Heights Elementary School would be there fifty plus years after I last attended it. I assumed K Mart would always be in business! I assumed I would always have hair and be able to run fast! And at some time in the journey what I thought would always be changed to”the way it used to be!”

I’ll miss watching my dad socialize with the Wyngate residents this trip. He could bring a smile to the face of the most sour personality. I’ll miss sitting in his living room and talking about what was and what is, as well as just sitting and watching NBC Nightly News. 

I’ll miss seeing the respect that people had for him. He was Deacon Emeritus at his church. People still remember him as a gift from God. There’s still that respect, but his passing has reshaped that respect in a different way. 

Carl, who was born four miles from Dad in a remote part of eastern Kentucky and turns 90 this coming September, will look me in the eye and say something like this: “I miss your dad. He was my friend and a wonderful person!” And then Carl will pause for a moment out of respect…and I’ll see a tear slide down his cheek. That’s when I’ll know that although Pops is no longer here…he is!

Dad…Two Months Gone

April 15, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                    April 15, 2018

                               

Two months ago today Dad, Laurence Hubert Wolfe, passed away after a well-lived life of almost ninety years. He really wanted to break the finish-line tape of the ninety mark, but didn’t quite make it. And that was okay!

There are very few people who come to the end of their lives and are able to say “It was good! It was very good!” Dad was one of those! What made it good was the value he placed on things that are irreplaceable. He treasured his friends. When his friend Bill Ball passed away last summer it pained his soul. Bill was the last of Dad’s long-time friends, had passed the ninety mark a few years earlier, and the two of them conversed every week. Each had lost his wife around the same time and each had been married in excess of sixty years.

When Bill passed I think it hurt Dad, but it also eased the way for him. Seeing your friends, who are irreplaceable, travel on to Glory is like being afraid of entering an unfamiliar place, but then you see your friends go there and it makes it okay.

Dad had strong beliefs and convictions that he didn’t compromise. When the days remaining are few, I think that also brings a person to be able to say life was good. Remaining true to your promises and your commitments are signs of a life that is deeply-rooted, not tossed this way and that by what sounds good at the time. Steadfast and persevering, that’s how I would describe him! Gentle and fair would also be listed in the description of who he was and is.

A person never really gets used to the absence of the one who has always been there. The impact has been too deep and significant. I’m blessed in that the impact my dad left on me causes me to smile and feel blessed, as opposed to feeling oppressed and wounded.

And now two months since that Thursday afternoon when he breathed his last I still am able to experience his breath upon my life.

And it is good!

Dad’s Things

February 20, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                           February 19, 2018

                                             

It’s a small apartment located at the end of the first floor in the Wyngate Senior Living Complex. Dad has lived there for about the last three years, making new friends and acquaintances with other travelers of life’s final chapters.

Later on today and tomorrow my sister and I will spend some time over there going through some of his possessions, and breathing in the memories.

Dad passed from this life to the next on February 15 at the age of 89 years and 8 months. His was a life well-lived!

His apartment is a testimony to who he was and what had become entwined in his life.

There are the oxygen tanks that testify to his health limitations. Like a changing autumn landscape, I had noticed the changing interior of his apartment when I would come for one of my visits to southern Ohio from Colorado. Medications, the medical supplies a diabetic would need, blood pressure monitor, and (Sorry, Dad!) a good supply of adult diapers, his apartment spoke about that winter season of life that most of us will arrive at.

Scattered through the living room, bedroom, and closet are numerous items with the initials “U.K.” on them. Dad graduated from The University of Kentucky. He was proud of his Wildcats, suffering through many a football season and much happier most basketball seasons. There are UK shirts, hats, mugs, plates, flags, and the 1951 UK Yearbook. He had attended Kentucky after getting out of the Navy, but it wasn’t easy. He had married Mom, welcomed Child #1, our brother, Charlie, and provided for his growing family as he wore the hats labeled student, employee, husband, and father. Things were not easy during his UK years, and yet those years shaped him with the elements of resolve, perseverance, and organization.

Come to think of it, using the word “scattered” to begin that last paragraph would be the antithesis of who Dad was. His apartment is organized. His papers are organized. His cupboards are organized. By golly, his dresser drawers are organized!

There are Rotary remembrances. The service club had been a part of Dad’s life for close to forty years, joining the Ironton, Ohio chapter not long after our family moved to the town in 1969. Service defined Pops! He fit well in the organization that was sewed into the community’s fabric. But he also served the church, served his neighbors, and served our mother in their sixty-five years of marriage. He served as her caregiver in the last few years of her life, and at Wyngate he did those little acts of service. I remember my sister telling me that Dad tutored a woman who lived in the apartment next to him on how to give herself an insulin shot. She was scared to death, but Dad was able to bring down her anxiety about being poked and help her jump over that hurdle.

Pictures and pictures! Photo albums filled with pictures…framed pictures…pictures attached to his refrigerator…pictures with meaning and memories. The pictures give “snapshots” of his journey…family, church, laughter, friendships.

Going through Dad’s things, I realize, is important for my walk of grief. It’s ointment for my aching soul as I cry out for my father to come and sit beside me. Most of the things in his  apartment will end up going to Goodwill or to someone else who needs furniture or dishes, but for now I need to be amongst “his things”. It’s a part of letting go and finding peace.

Senior Place

June 24, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                               June 24, 2017

                                              

Back in the 60’s there was a TV series that attracted a large following. Peyton Place, for that time period, sizzled with drama. At it’s hey day ABC was airing three episodes a week. It was a soap opera aired in the evening. Some good Baptists had to face the dilemma of watching a TV show with questionable morals versus their belief in leading the pure life. As a result curtains got pulled shut to hide their giving into the temptation. Peyton Place was a diversion to those of us who lived lives with minimal drama, ate macaroni and cheese at least once a week, and didn’t wear anything that hadn’t been bought at J.C. Penney’s (where my mom worked!).

In this age of reality TV shows that I cringe at involving teenage moms, wayward Amish, dance moms, and “You’ve got to be kidding me!” wives, I think there’s a place for Senior Place. It might not have the steamy sex of the 60’s hit TV series, but a large part of our population could identify with the issues, crises, and life situations.

My dad’s senior complex, a nicely situated thirty resident building called Wyngate, located on the banks of the Ohio River, could host the show.

Here’s a few of the episode elements that would become evident.

Meal complaints- It’s just about impossible to satisfy thirty elderly people who have been accustomed to eating what they want. One of the main complainers is an over-the-top gentlemen who is loud and demanding. At a recent residents’ meeting he was quick to point out that there were a couple of things in their contract that weren’t being fulfilled in regards to meals. Of course, I had noticed that he had been bringing his dog to breakfast with him and giving him a feast of bacon every morning. That probably wasn’t a part of the contract either. His dog was showing the effects of too much bacon consumption. His nickname could have been “Porky!”

Meal conversations often focus on something that was served in the past. “Do you remember those lima beans we had last week?”  “Weren’t those mashed potatoes a little lumpy last night?” And yet, the chef of Wyngate comes out and talks to them, fixes salt-free entrees for people like  my dad, and converses with them like she is one of their daughters. The women who help in the dining room- Robin, Gail, and Valerie- are incredible and caring. The food simply becomes a conversation piece in the midst of their community living.

History Lessons- I’m a history buff, and I was always amazed at the history shared at meal tables. My dad was in the Navy, and two other men who live at Wyngate were stationed in Norfolk, Virginia where he was stationed. A story that one of them tells usually resulted in two other stories that the other thought of as the first one is being told. Some stories get told numerous times because although they remember fascinating accounts of the past they seem to forget that they’ve already told it so often that the listeners know it even better than the Pledge of Allegiance. They are the Appalachian version of Prairie Home Companion! Stories are punctuated with knee-slapping laughter.

Drama Because of Hearing Problems- Half of the residents can’t hear the fire alarm when it goes off…thus necessitating the flashing lights! Conversations are interrupted with the question “What was that?” every twenty words or so. Something said at a dinner table on one side of the room can frequently be heard by those…who can hear…on the other side of the room because of the limited hearing of someone at the table where it is spoken! I’m positive there has been Peyton Place drama created by miscommunications because of the elements of deafness and misplaced hearing aids.

Companionship- The heartwarming element of concern for others is the over-riding feature of Senior Place at Wyngate. The residents watch out for one another. They care about one another. When my dad was in the hospital recently a man named Chuck came to visit him. Chuck can’t hear diddly, which made the visit a little bit awkward, but he cared enough about my father to check in on him. That’s the part of Wyngate that my dad loves the most. When you’re 89 you could care less about things like a hot tub, exercise room, and cook-to-order omelettes, but if you know that there’s a group of people on the same journey of “getting older” with you it makes the final years a bit more tolerable!

Scolding Pops

June 21, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                      June 21, 2017

                                          

I was sitting next to Dad in the waiting room of the eye specialist he was scheduled to see. The day before he had experienced some blurred vision in his right eye and I had taken him to see an ophthalmologist. He couldn’t see anything such as a cataract, thus the referral to the specialist.

Before the ophthalmologist appointment I had taken him to the hospital for a CT scan of his lower abdomen area. He had been experiencing some discomfort there, and had dealt with a bout of bladder cancer a couple of years earlier.

My cell phone buzzed in my pocket. It was my sister calling. When I answered she asked me the question: “Did Dad tell you that he was suppose to go to the Emergency Room?”

I glanced at the 89 year old gentlemen sitting on my left side. “No, he didn’t say anything about that!”

“The hospital called yesterday afternoon and told him that he needed to go to the ER because he has a bowel obstruction.”

“He didn’t say anything about that to me.” I stared at him like he had stared at me when I was 12, and he had received a phone call about my misdeeds. “We’ll finish this appointment and head to the hospital.”

I said goodbye and turned to the offending senior, who had a sheepish look on his face. “So…you were suppose to go to the ER yesterday?”

He looked at me . “Yes!”

I thought of possible responses, such as the ones he had said to me when I had violated family behavior guidelines. This would have been when he said to me, “You’re grounded!” Or, “No TV for a week!” But those punishments seemed a little excessive for an 89 year old! So I took the easy out, yielding to my belief in his wisdom and common sense.

“So why didn’t you tell us?”

“Because I wanted to wait until after lunch today!” Dad had turned 89 on Father’s Day and we had ordered a cake that would be enjoyed by him and the other thirty residents of Wyngate, the senior complex he lives in, at lunch. “But it backfired on me!”

“How so?”

“I was going to tell both you and your sister after lunch, but since the sign in the office here says to mute or turn off your cell phone they must have called your sister when I didn’t answer.” He was unrepentant, and yet a rule follower, a contradiction in human form!

“I wanted to enjoy our dinner last night and then lunch at Wyngate today, and then I was going to tell you.”

I did not have my “I can’t believe you would do that” speech rehearsed. He seemed a little old for the tirade that begins with the words, “When are you going to learn?” or “When are you going to get some common sense?”

I couldn’t fault him. He was actually thinking of others. He knew that my wife Carol was fixing dinner the night before, and he knew the Wyngate residents would be disappointed if the birthday cake was delayed. In fact, my brother-in-law delivered the cake and the residents took care of most of it. By the time they stopped eating it the wording on the top of it simply read “89th Dad!”

That’s my dad! Putting a higher importance on the taste buds of senior folk than his physician’s urgent plea to get to the Emergency Room. I faked a look of disappointment and then we finished our eye exam.

I helped him to the car, and as we drove towards the hospital he said, “Bill, let’s stop and get a sandwich on the way!”

That didn’t seem like a good idea to me. After all, he had a bowel obstruction. Logic told me that I should say no and proceed to the medical center, so I looked at him and responded, “McDonald’s, Arby’s, or Wendy’s?”