Alzheimer’s: A Thief in the Night

On Friday, after nineteen years of marriage and caring for my 84-year old father, who has suffered from advanced Alzheimer’s for many years, my step-mom decided it was time to place him in a senior living home. She is tired and worn out. Despite the fact that she is eighteen years younger than my father, it’s not easy to care for Alzheimer’s patients, and it hasn’t been easy for her. We, my sister and I, are grateful for the great care and wonderful life she has given our father late in life.

Florida visit with Daddy 2013 516After months of deliberation, research, and constant communication, my stepmom dropped my father off at a home fifteen minutes from their Florida home on Friday morning. We as a family were advised not to communicate with him for two weeks to allow him time to get situated. As you can imagine, Friday was a gut-wrenching day for my family, and I know it had to be terribly frightening and confusing for my father. I can’t imagine what was going through his mind when my step-mom left him in the care of strangers; it’s impossible to know as he forgets what happened mere minutes ago. But I do know that any deviation from his daily routine, no matter how small and insignificant it might seem to us, throws my father off completely.

Two weekends ago, my youngest sister and I got together to discuss our father’s placement in a “very nice place with wonderful caregivers”. We understood our step-mom’s decision–she has been my father’s sole caregiver in the evenings and weekends for years, with his days spent at a local senior citizen ‘day care’ from 8:30-4:30 during the week. My father and his wife’s decision to remain in Florida after my father’s Alzheimer’s diagnosis has been difficult for my sister and me, as we wanted them to move closer to us in Maryland and West Virginia so we could help out. As it is now, the only way to help them is to fly down and leave our homes, jobs, pets, and our children behind–not easy and not possible at this time. As single, working women, we don’t have disposable income for airline tickets, pet and house sitters.

Would my sister and I have preferred this to happen this summer for more time to make arranagements and fly down? Of course, but that’s not what happened. Our hands were tied, and of course we understand how challenging it is to care for my father–we’ve done it before. It was an impossible situation, and when a vacancy at the senior living center opened up, my stepmom moved quickly. Her friend’s husband lives at the same senior living center, and my father is now his roommate. The men will share a two-bedroom apartment with a common living area, and all meals are served in the community dining room. My father is still able to care for his hygiene, so that’s a help…if he remembers, of course. There are daily activities for the residents and field trips for those who can participate. There doesn’t seem to be much difference from my father’s weekly activities at the day care; the only difference I can see at the moment is that his wife will no longer live under the same roof. A huge difference I would say, and one that we pray he gets used to.

There is no blame here, only understanding with a heavy heart for where my father is today. Do we wish he’d grown older physically with his mind intact? Of course, we do. Alzheimer’s is a horrible, terrifying disease that robs patients of their lives, memories, and ultimately their health. It robs families of watching their loved ones age gracefully, with dignity–on their terms. Do we fear Alzheimer’s for ourselves? You best believe we do.

My sister and I will make our calls to the senior living home for the first two weeks, during which time my father will be watched 24-7. During this two-week adjustment period, it’s up to my step-mom to come up with a life plan for him–how much daily attention he is given in the future. My sister and I have spent many days alone with our father in recent years, we can’t imagine him living alone, even with a roommate he knows…if he remembers him at all. We will be watching on the sidelines, and offering our advice and suggestions, but it’s up to my step mom to make those calls and decisions as his wife.

Is there a blessing in this situation? A silver lining, perhaps? I am a person who usually tries hard to find the blessing in a difficult situation, but I can’t find one today. What I feel are pangs of guilt, sadness, fear, and a heavy heart for my father, my step-mom, and my family. We all knew this day would come and we’d prepared ourselves, but nothing can prepare you for the day when you are forced put a parent in a home.

I just thought of a few blessings–my father has two pensions and good health insurance. Many of the elderly in this country live on very little and many cannot afford health insurance. That is a tragedy, and that needs to change.

About Eleanor Parker Sapia

Puerto Rican-born novelist, Eleanor Parker Sapia, was raised in the United States, Puerto Rico, and Europe. Eleanor’s work as a counselor, alternative health practitioner, a Spanish language social worker, and a refugee case worker inspire her stories. When Eleanor is not writing, she facilitates creativity groups, and is making plans to walk El Camino de Santiago de Compostela a second time.

A Decent Woman is Eleanor’s debut historical novel, set in turn of the century Puerto Rico. The book was selected as 2015 July Las Comadres & Friends Latino Book Club, Book of the Month. Eleanor is the mother of two adult children and she currently lives in West Virginia.

A DECENT WOMAN available now on Amazon

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