Posted tagged ‘elderly parents’

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?”

 

Enjoying Dad

June 18, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                         June 18, 2017

                                        

Today is my dad’s 89th birthday! Extraordinary, considering he had a heart attack when he was 62! 62…that’s one year younger than my age right now!

He is sharing his birthday with Father’s Day, a double star on the family calendar! So today Carol and I will celebrate with him, probably take him out for dinner tonight, and talk about what was, what is, and what is to come.

I’m a bit surprised that his 89th has even come to be. Last year we were back for an Ohio visit on his 88th. When he blew out the candles (Two candles of the number “8”, not 88 candles!) someone asked him what he wished for and he cleverly replied, “89!”

I’ve reached the enjoyment stage with Pops. It’s a place that many sons and daughters don’t arrive at. Fathers often regress in their children’s minds from being strict to irrelevant to crotchety! The next generation moves out and moves on, living their own lives with just a hint of their fathers’ influence and presence.

Sad, but true! We become so self-absorbed with careers, our own kids, and our own routines that our parents become people in the rearview mirror.

I’m increasingly thankful that I’ve reached the point of “enjoying Pops!” Last night as we broke bread together at a local restaurant I peppered him with some questions about his courtship with Mom. How that came to be? How long had they known each other? What drew him to her, and vice-versa?

Our conversation was punctuated by amazement and laughter, as family stories were shared and details discovered. My dad had lost his dad when he was 14 in a mining accident. He shared the events of that story, the loss and the ripple effect of that loss. Losing his dad meant that my grandmother had to move him and his two siblings to Wittensville, Kentucky to live with his Uncle Sam, thus setting in motion a series of events that brought him together with my mom at Oil Springs High School.

My generation, and any generation once removed from their parents, tends to forget the stories of our past that have brought us to where we are in the present. We minimize the importance of pre-history, that is… the stories of our parents that precede our existence.

And so we talked and laughed. When my dad laughs his whole body shakes, especially his shoulders and head. He often slaps his knee with his right hand in extended appreciation of the humorous episode that was just shared.

I’ve noticed a few other things that stand out about him and his life. He has several University of Kentucky hats, fashion displays of his college alma mater. The other day he asked me to get him a Kentucky hat from the closet to wear. Expecting for there to be one UK hat when I opened the closet door I was a bit taken back to see “the collection” on the the top shelf.

I’ve enjoyed watching him converse with his “neighbors”, the other thirty people or so who live at Wyngate, a senior living complex in Proctorville, Ohio. Meal time at Wyngate is more about telling stories, and other stories as a result of the stories, than it is about the food. What can you say about egg salad? Not much, but you can tell a number of stories from when your family had chickens back in the day…that cause other stories very loosely connected to chicken to spring up!

Enjoying Dad has a warmth to it that is comfortable and satisfying. Watching the many Wyngate Widows smiling at him is a little hard to get used to, but also causes me to smile. Yesterday I joined him for lunch and we sat with two Wyngate ladies. I could tell that they find him charming and…enjoyable!

So today I’m going to seek to be showered with his laughter and bathed in his tales of what has been. I’m simply going to enjoy Pops!

Aging Parents From Five States Away

May 21, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                             May 21, 2017

                      

My dad turns 89 on June 18! Unfortunately, on May 18 he was a patient at St. Mary’s Hospital in Huntington, West Virginia! He will continue to be there for two or three more days as he deals with a heart situation and limited strength.

And I am five states and two time zones away…in Colorado! My sister, nominated by me for sainthood, lives close by and keeps watch over Pops. I am so thankful for her tireless efforts to make sure he is okay. She has her own younger family generations to keep watch over, including seven grandkids, but she always finds the time to check in on Dad.

The assuredness of her on-site supervision gives me some degree of peace, but not totally. I’m experiencing what so many adult children are going through…living a long distance from their elderly parents. Some families move mom or dad, or both, close to where they live. Sometimes that works, but often it’s the worst solution. To move Mom or Dad away from where their peers live is usually emotionally and socially damaging.

Having my sister two miles away from Dad, and my brother about a three hour drive away, means I don’t have to worry about moving Dad to high-elevation Colorado. That thankful solution, however, does not eliminate the sense of helplessness. Carol and I will be flying back to Ohio in just about three weeks- being there for his 89th!- but each day of separation from my father includes an ongoing element of emotional anxiety. A question wraps itself around my mind: Is he okay today?

There was a time when we wanted distance from our parents. They were impeding our independence. They would ask us embarrassing questions in front of our friends, like “When are you going to be home?” We didn’t want to hear any more of their questions. In our opinion, they didn’t know anything! They were old-fashioned and not understanding of the times. Many of us went through that phase. We wanted to go away to college…so they wouldn’t see some of the things we wanted to do!

But then we hit the mid-twenties and had kids! And suddenly we had the questions and we needed them for answers as we entered the new territory of parenthood. The public library had books on parenting, but nothing came even close to the wisdom of our parents. They counseled us through those “life lab” situations.

Like a light switch we’ve flipped back and forth with our parents as life circumstances have changed, from dependent to independent to dependent to independent…

Perhaps at this time in my dad’s life, in a strange way, I’m even more dependent on him. He is the solution to my helplessness. My emotional wellness is dependent on knowing he is okay and cared for. That comes from the memories of experiences. Dad taught me how to ride a bicycle and a few years later how to drive. He taught me how to mow the lawn and how to tie a neck tie. He became my mom’s caregiver as she struggled with health problems. He modeled a walk with Christ, taught Sunday School for years and was, and is, a deacon.

It does something to you when you go to the cemetery with one of your parents, see where the other parent has already been laid to rest, and see the name of the one still standing beside you already on the grave marker. It hits you deep in your soul that these days with him are precious and few in number.

In reflection, I am thankful for these feelings I have of helplessness. They are the dividends of relational investment.

Leaving Pops

February 11, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                            February 11, 2017

                                           

Five days with my dad…not a lot of time, but deeply meaningful.

I flew into the massive Charleston, West Virginia airport on Thursday afternoon. Dad came home from another time-share experience at St. Mary’s Hospital in Huntington the previous Tuesday evening. When I knocked on the door of his apartment at Wyngate Senior Living Complex, heard the invitation to come on in, I was taken back by the tubes he had in his nostrils receiving oxygen. He looked a bit frail and “dragged out”, as he would say!

We chatted about this, that, and the other, soothed by the ointment of each other’s presence. After an hour or so it was time to let him be for the night. We had seen each other after an absence of about eight months. It was almost like checking in on one another to make sure we were okay, and now we could sleep.

The next day when I walked into his apartment I was taken back again, but this time in a good way! He didn’t have the oxygen machine going. He looked like he was “with it”, the familiar smile authentic and inviting.

“How’d you sleep, Pops?”

“I slept like a baby! Went to bed about 10:30 and didn’t wake up until 5:30!” Seven hours! My dad hadn’t been able to sleep for seven hours straight since he was…was…was probably in his seventies! Getting all the body parts of an almost 89 year old body to cooperate at the same time is on the same scale as getting all of Congress to agree!

“That’s awesome, Dad!”

Well-rested conversation flows much better than dragged-out dialogue. We talked about new great-grandchildren and grandchildren, “remember when” moments and tall tales of previous aunts and uncles.

“Are you going to have lunch with me?”

“Sure! Are you going to eat in the dining room?”

“Yes.” He hadn’t ventured down the hallway to the dining room of the complex since he had come home from St. Mary’s. He grabbed his “hurry-cane” and we headed down towards the room of wisdom and crankiness.

The residents who had arrived before him recognized his re-emergence from his isolation. Smiles and greetings floated his way, and he made the rounds to each table hugging the widow ladies and shaking the hands of the few men scattered around. We sat with Chuck, who hears about as well as someone on one side of the Ohio River listening to conversation on the opposite bank. Dale joined us, parking his motorized scooter in a spot close to another. Navigating through the scooter and the walkers in the dining room was like driving through a Walmart parking lot! Chuck could walk, but not hear. Dale could hear, but not walk! Senior complexes are a pantry of can’s and “can’ts”!

Meeting Dale and Chuck, as well as others, opened up hours of shared stories from Dad. I learned once again about Carl, who had been born four miles from where Dad had been born in eastern Kentucky, and is a constant source of encouragement for Dad; and Leo, who had been at the same Navy basic training camp with Dad and Carl in Williamsburg, Virginia.

We revisited the story of Leo setting off the fire alarm about a year earlier because he was frying bacon in his apartment at 9:00 on a Friday night. We laughed about the possibility of motorized scooter races in the parking lot. We paused to remember Nellie, the lady who lived in the apartment next door, who Dad had taught to give herself insulin shots. Nellie had passed away a few months before.

Each day of my brief visit followed this path of remembrance and revelation. Super Bowl LI was the first Super Bowl my dad and I watched together. Awesome!

And then Monday night I said my goodbyes. His embrace contained strength and joy. It seemed as if each day had been a step of progression for him.

Whenever I say goodbye to my father I realize it could be our last visit, our last embrace, our last walk down the hallway…and I treasure the moments of the stroll!