The day when I have to fully take over my Dad's affairs is not here yet, but I can see it coming around the bend.
Dad has lived alone since about two years after my mother died in 1982. About a year ago, we started to notice things. For the first time any of us could recall, my Dad was forgetting things. Not the "where are my damn car keys" stuff, but standing appointments, day of the week, and items from conversations just the day before. He would at times get easily confused. My partner Tom, a psychiatrist, said it could be adult onset dementia. Didn't seem to be Alzheimer's. Conversations with Dad's friends and neighbors confirmed the forgetfulness. It seemed to have begun shortly after his best friend died unexpectedly. Dad was very close to his pal Bob, a man 20 years younger. When news of Bob's heart attack and death in Florida reached Dad, he was devastated. Only months later did we begin to realize the full effect of Bob's passing.
Last fall, we began to gently suggest assisted living. My sister Karen, who lives just a few miles from Dad, patiently nudged him to go visit some places. "They're all full of old people! I don't want to live with old people!" Needless to say, it was going to be a long campaign.
We decided to break it down. First we frequently pointed out that where he lives, Douglas, Michigan, is difficult at best in the winter. They get a lot of lake effect snow, often measured in feet instead of inches. That didn't used to bother Dad, but his legitimate fear of falling or skidding off the road kept him in his condo for days at a time. Douglas being a summer resort town, many of his neighbors were gone for the winter. He began to agree with us that another winter might not be wise.
Once he was comfortable thinking that he shouldn't live alone in the winter another year, we nudged him along to choose a place. He didn't like our suggestions, and ultimately found a place he liked, felt he could afford, and that was still very close to my sister and his friends. He agonized over committing, because he didn't know what he would do with all his stuff, how he would move, how much it would cost, and so on. No matter how much assurance we'd all give that it would all be taken care of, he still worried and bitched about the whole idea of moving. To our surprise, one day he just went to the place and put down a deposit.
And then the worrying really started. Jesus God this man could work himself up. I finally wrote everything out -- every detail, every plan, every date, every cost -- in a three-ring binder so he could look it up rather than call me and ask, for the umteenth time, what day the movers were coming. As the date got closer, my brother, sister and I all spent time with him, packing things, sorting stuff out, and sneaking junk out to the trash. The move itself was almost anticlimactic. It went off without a hitch, and his place was all set up within hours. Tom went as far as to replicate his old bedroom right down to where the pictures were hung in the new place.
Dad's been at the new place for a little over two weeks now. He says he likes it. Sort of. They provide one meal, a dinner at noon. His place has a full kitchen so he can fix breakfast and supper himself. He's tried out the shuttle trips to the farmers' market and the grocery store. He's charming the old ladies as only a gay man can. Meanwhile, he still makes remarks about how everyone is so old, even though he's 83 and shuffles around just like his neighbors. All in all, he knows this was the right thing to do, but he's still somewhat depressed about it.
Our next big step came last weekend. Almost to my surprise, he let me take over his regular checking account. He'd messed it up a few times recently, and so I got myself added to it and took it online. It's not all that complicated, but for whatever reason he still worries about it to the point of near obsession. For years he had the same routine. Now there were auto-debits for his rent and insurance, and other things that required moving money around each month. Dad's not computer literate (by his own choice), so what would take him a trip to the bank takes a minute with the laptop for me. He agreed the plan made sense. I expected a fight but he just gave in and handed me the checkbook. (Well, OK, actually I had already pocketed it. But he did give it back when I handed it to him.) I know it had to have been hard for him. Essentially, for the first time in maybe 65 years or so, he is no longer in control of his day to day finances.
Next up: the car. Yes, he is still driving. I wish he wasn't. He knows we hope he'll stop and sell the car. My brother offered him upper end Blue Book for it to give to my niece. But the car represents his last claim of independence and self-sufficiency. Granted, he may still be OK to drive. I almost ran a red light I didn't see while driving with him Saturday. "Red light" he said calmly but in time for me to safely stop... just like he did when he taught me to drive. He never yelled or let loose with blood-curdling scream the way my mother did. I digress. But I still really worry, not only for him but for every other person on the roads of Holland, Michigan when he's out there behind the wheel.
Dad's at that point now where, I finally learned, he wants us to tell him what he should do... needs to do. He doesn't come right out and say it, but that's what he wants. Almost in a businesslike manner, if we make a proposal and show him why it makes sense, he'll agree. I'm only sorry it took me as long as it did to figure that out. Just like when I was a very young man and would seek his advice, what I really wanted was for him to tell me what to do. Now, he's wanting that from me.
Funny thing: I think my brother, sister and I have actually grown closer over "What about Dad?" in the past year. We've worked together, along with a lot of help from our spouses, to make things work out as best as possible. I'm glad for that renewed relationship. And I am glad I am around to look after my Dad.
I'll have to remember that feeling the next time he calls me to ask why the hell I have his checkbook. Which will probably be in a few days if not tomorrow.