Weighing the Options when it Comes to Care for the Elderly

Earlier this year, one of my dear elderly neighbors slipped in her garage, broke a hip, and landed in a rehab facility. She’s been there for the maximum three months; now it’s decision time for her kids.

Should they:

  • Bring her home and hope she can handle life all by herself, or
  • Transfer her to a nursing home permanently

It’s not an easy choice. On the one hand, she’s frail, never really exercised, and lives alone. On the other, she owns a one-story home, is financially comfortable, still possesses her wits, still drives, and has caring neighbors to check on her. And her kids live nearby.

How old is “too old” to look after oneself? Eighty? Ninety? I’ve known people at twenty-one who were unable to tend to themselves, either because of mental or physical disabilities or because of sheer laziness. I’ve also known people at forty who were unable (or unwilling) to look after themselves. So it doesn’t appear to come down to age.

Still, all of us eventually (if we live long enough!) are going to face this dilemma, whether for our parents or for ourselves. I wonder how many have made provisions? How many have even made their wishes known to their loved ones?

My neighbor’s kids have been fixing up their mother’s home, roofing and painting and all that. They’ve done it on the sly, coaxing the neighbors not to tell their mother because they wanted to surprise her.

I’d like to believe they did it out of the kindness of their hearts (with maybe a tiny bit of weariness over hearing their mom complain the house was “as old as she was.”) I’d like to think she’d ooh and aah when she’d walk in, marveling over the makeover and eagerly anticipating the rest of her life in a like-new dwelling.

But something tells me she won’t get to see the improvements.

You see, one of the kids confided to another neighbor that they intend to sell the house and move their mom to a nursing home.

She forgets things, they said. She might fall again, the house is too big for one woman, she needs to be around other people.

Huh?

This is a woman who likes her privacy, who never really was a social butterfly, who was comfortable in her surroundings. She could afford to hire a caretaker — full or part time, live-in or not — to help out, to ensure her dignity remains intact, and to permit her to stay in her own home.

I wonder if her kids even asked her wishes or if they simply decided what was best for her (and easiest for them). Knowing my neighbor, she’d agree to anything that wouldn’t inconvenience her loved ones. She’s that selfless.

But most studies nowadays confirm that people tend to do better and live longer in their own home. Shouldn’t she be given that chance, rather than shipped off to a group facility where she’s surrounded by people lying in beds or sitting in wheelchairs, staring out windows and waiting to die?

Don’t Touch my Feet!

Am I the only woman in the world who doesn’t do mani-pedis??

My sister and my niece actually look forward to the pampering; so do my girlfriends.

But not me.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve cut, filed, and polished my own nails — all 20 of them! — and I can’t see that changing any time soon.

When I was a little girl, one of my grandmothers chided me for having such short fingernails (hers were long and pointy).

‘But Grandmother,’ I protested, ‘I play piano. I’m active in tennis and other sports. I can’t worry about breaking a nail.’

She wasn’t swayed. In fact, I’m pretty sure she thought I hadn’t been raised right.

That, or I was an incorrigible rebel.

Back in the ’80s, a girlfriend convinced me to try fake fingernails, the kind that are already polished and easily glue on to your nails.

Eeeew, what a mess! Yes, they were lovely to look at, but try doing the simplest of tasks with them — things like picking up a coin or dialing a phone or even going to the bathroom!

The most trouble I had doing my own nails came when I was pregnant with my son. Bending over toes proved a challenge indeed with a full baby-on-board, but somehow I managed.

And I continue to manage, despite my crowded schedule, despite reading glasses slipping off my nose, despite my legs having grown even farther from reach.

While I occasionally go without polish on my fingernails, I rarely ever leave my toenails bare, especially in the summer.

Feet in sandals just scream to be pretty, don’t you think?

Yet despite nail salons sprouting on every street corner and in every mall, I’m still holding out. Call me weird, but nobody touches my feet!

Another Bittersweet Father’s Day

Sunday marks my third Father’s Day without my dad, and I’m here to tell you it doesn’t get any easier. Time doesn’t heal all wounds.

My dad passed quietly on the very last day of the year in 2008 after a three-year battle with cancer.

His doctor said he smoked too much, though he’d quit decades before; drank too much, though he’d quit that, too, years before his diagnosis and the start of chemo and radiation.

Other “experts” would say Daddy didn’t eat right (he had a sweet tooth, okay, but nobody should have to die for that!), and he didn’t exercise enough (though he practically lived on the tennis courts when we kids were growing up).

But yes, he passed too soon.

He never got the opportunity to see his last grandchild (my son) graduate from high school; never got to see his other grand-kids graduate from college; never got to see his wife re-learn to drive or handle the finances; never got to see the new landscaping around the house.

Daddy and Mama on their Wedding Day

He left before I could soak up his knowledge of running a business and apply it to my own. Before I could ask him to beta-read my novel and see if it’s publication-worthy. Before I could ask his advice about so many things.

I won’t be picking out a Father’s Day card for him this year nor will I plan a special outing. I won’t be grilling or fishing or playing board games or a thousand and one other things Daddy would have enjoyed doing.

But neither will I sit around mourning. Daddy wouldn’t have wanted it.

He loved to laugh and tell jokes and stories; he loved to see his family happy and healthy and active.

He didn’t particularly like tears, especially on the faces of his wife and daughters.

So while a big part of me weeps, the greater part of me rejoices. Daddy no longer lives here; he’s been “promoted” to a new and better place.

A place where there’s no more sadness. No more tears. No more pain. No more heartache.

I’m confident I’ll see him again, too. And this time, I won’t roll my eyes and say I’ve “heard that story before.” I’ll listen to his soft Southern drawl, savoring every word, every moment, and I’ll look into his blue eyes and remind him how proud I am of him and how very much I love him.

Love you and miss you, Daddy.

Oopsie!

When a person is as clumsy as I can be, accidents, falls, missteps, and a variety of other perils are just waiting to happen.

One happened this morning.

I’d taken out the trash and was walking back to the house when I noticed a pile of dried whirly-birds that had fallen from one of our maple trees into the downspout area of our guttering.

They looked nasty, so I scooped up two handfulls and carried them back to the trashcan.

With my hands full, I used my foot to lift the lid off the can, but the lid snapped right back down. So I tried again.

Uh-oh.

The can moved, I lost my balance, and there — in front of the entire neighborhood — I toppled backward into the street.

My tailbone took the brunt of my fall; however, both elbows, my palms, and even the back of my head decided to get into the act.

Recalling a much earlier stumble (one that necessitated nine stitches), I brought my hands up and applied pressure to my head. Yep, it was bleeding.

My mom (bless her heart for not panicking!) washed the spot with antiseptic soap, assured me it “didn’t look too bad,” and urged me to call my doctor “just in case.”

My son (who hates all things medical) drove me to the urgent care clinic. They took one look at me and rushed me ahead of the others, who didn’t have head wounds.

After administering a series of weird tests — “follow my finger, raise your eyebrows, smile, frown, stick your tongue out and wag it side to side” — and after talking to me to determine my lucidity and taking my vitals, they pronounced me okay to leave.

No stitches needed.

They offered pain medication, but I said I’d stick with Tylenol (no sense compounding my pain with nausea!).

So I’m trying to lay low for the rest of the day, take it easy, and stay out of more trouble.

I’m fortunate it wasn’t any worse, don’t you think?

Mowing can be Hard Work

Inadvertently, I’ve found myself in possession of a new job — lawn mowing.

It started simply enough — our wonderful yard man informed us back in the winter months that he needed knee surgery and wouldn’t be able to mow for us this summer.

After calling around, we found a “substitute.” Unfortunately, this man’s work paled in comparison. He wouldn’t edge, wouldn’t weed-eat, wouldn’t sweep the sidewalk and driveway afterward. He refused to show up until at least 10 days had passed (in the summer, our lawn needs cutting at least every 5 days). He wasn’t agreeable to planting extra shrubs, and he charged a ridiculous amount to clean the gutters.

So I volunteered to mow between his regular appearances, spelling him off, as it were.

A week or two passed, then My Favorite Domer arrived home for summer break. Hearing about the problem, he offered to spell me off and climbed aboard the riding mower, heading for our backyard.

He’d made a few rounds when I noticed the humming had ceased. Next, I heard the back door slam.

Uh-oh, I thought.

Fearing the worst, I ran to the kitchen.

My son was white-faced and shaking. “I think I just decapitated a baby bunny,” he told me.

Now I love bunnies. And I hate the thought of a bunny in trouble. Knowing I couldn’t look at what I expected was a gory scene, I told him to take a shovel, scoop up the remains, and toss them far into the field behind the house — far enough away to prevent our Sheltie from feasting on a bunny dinner.

He wouldn’t do it, said he couldn’t. When he appealed to his grandmother, she took care of bunny’s “burial.”

And when he begged me to finish mowing the back yard at least — where mother bunnies invariably safeguard their little ones in ridiculously shallow nests, despite the adult Sheltie who regularly patrols the area — I agreed.

How could I not?

He was so upset and at least for now, has condescended to mow the front yard, assuming that no bunny nests are tucked away there.

I guess I’ll earn that job, too, should he ever see another bunny pop up from its hole!

Prayer

I tend to think of myself as a praying person, but lately I’ve been wondering how well I pray.

There’s a difference, my non-Catholic friends tell me, between praying and praying.

Too often, Catholics are accused of reeling off mindless prayers. The Rosary, for example, involves recitation of the same group of prayers, over and over in a methodical pattern.

Silently praying the beads or even reciting them aloud in church causes my mind to wander. Something about the almost sing-song chants, the familiarity of the words, and before I know it, I’ve “lost” whole decades!

Not that I don’t love the Rosary. I do.

But “rote” prayers don’t make up my entire prayer spectrum.

Prayer — the kind where you read a portion of Scripture or a devotional and allow its message to slowly sink in and permeate your being —  well, somehow that seems a “higher” form of praying. After all, many times it leaves you rejoicing in God’s goodness, your heart singing or leaping with gratitude and peace, and often what you’ve read seems to address your particular needs right then.

So which prayer is more pleasing to God? Who can say?

Who also can say when is the best time to pray?

I’ve known people who set their alarms early so they can have an hour or so prayer-time before starting their day. Others do their praying in the evening, right before bedtime.

For me, most of the day is a prayer. That probably sounds odd, but I realized a long time ago that I’m unable to do anything good, anything of meaning, by myself, so I pray.

Didn’t St. Paul advise us to pray unceasingly?

But when does “unceasingly” become remote, mechanical, overkill?

Part of me wonders whether God doesn’t tire of non-stop prayers, whether He doesn’t want to say (as I occasionally did when my son was little), “Enough for now. Let my ears rest.”

Jesus’ friends faced a similar dilemma. They begged Him to teach them to pray, so He gave them the Lord’s Prayer.

What a wonderful pattern for prayer in general — beginning with praise, acknowledging God’s Will, making our request for this day’s bread, and asking forgiveness for our failings!

Perhaps all kinds of prayer are acceptable in God’s eyes. The little, quick prayers; the long, deep prayers; the recited prayers, the spontaneous, “made-up” prayers.

In the end, I think, it’s not the kind of prayers or the amount or the time of day. It’s that we pray, and pray often.

What do you think?