For some time now, my wife and I have been concerned about my elderly parents living alone out in the country. It has now been about 17 years since my mother stepped out onto the patio, slipped on the wet surface, went down hard and shattered her shoulder. She had to have surgery to remove the crushed pieces of bone and replace it with a new shoulder. These fixes are not designed to last forever and we know that she will likely have to have the shoulder replaced again at some point.
In the meantime, my parents inched up into their eighties. They are in relatively good health for their ages, but my father has to keep having growths removed from his head. Then there was the time he passed out in the bathroom and hit his head on the floor. This past weekend, I called to see how they were doing and, sure enough, it’s starting all over again. Dad climbed a ten-foot ladder to replace one of the fluorescent bulbs in the kitchen ceiling. Well, you can guess what happened. On the way down, he fell, hit his head on one of the cabinets (knocking the knob clean off), then continued his fall headfirst onto the floor. Being Dad, he refused to seek medical care.
Until three days later, that is, when he realized that he was still in pain. Turns out he had two cuts on the back of his head. Fortunately, an x-ray revealed that he had not fractured his skull. I guess you could say he is hardheaded, not unlike his son.
I suppose this will go on and on until a true disaster occurs. My folks enjoy having their big piece of land out in the country where my mother can spend her days planting trees and tending to the flowers and her little vegetable patch. They have acknowledged that they will be unable to stay there forever, but they give no indication of taking any action to set up in a more favorable situation elsewhere. They love being able to sit outside in the cool of the evening and watch the nightly star show, courtesy of the extreme darkness out in the farm country. They can’t imagine being cooped up indoors in a little condo somewhere.
On the phone, Mom mused that they may be better off going back east, either to our native New York or to New England or perhaps to the Midwest, where homes are so inexpensive. “After all,” she tells me, “that’s where we’re going anyway” (alluding to the family burial plot in New York City). She then got into the difficulties of transporting a deceased person’s body nearly 3000 miles across the country. (“They don’t take caskets at Fresno Airport, so the funeral home would have to drive us to Los Angeles and then another funeral home would have to pick us up at the other end.”) It would be easier if they lived closer to their final resting place, she pondered.
I have no idea how to respond to arguments of this nature. My first reaction is to brush them off, assuming that they’re mostly intended for shock value. Nevertheless, I know full well that the time will come when such arrangements will need to be handled. Meanwhile, I have to hope that Mom and Dad do not become the target of one of the home invasion robberies that I have been hearing so much about lately.
Toward the end of our phone conversation, my mother related how she recently was locked out of the house late at night when she went to feed her cat in the garage. My father, who is going deaf and was watching TV at ungodly decibels in another part of their big house, was none the wiser. Mom had to go outside in the pitch blackness and feel her way around from the back patio, past the rose bushes, along the side of the house and eventually around to the front. She pounded on the windows and doors, and still Dad did not hear her. Just then, my sister called. When Mom didn’t pick up after a few rings, Dad answered the phone and then had to go looking for my mother to take her call.
What am I supposed to say? What am I supposed to do? I have no idea, but I am fairly certain that one or both of them will come to a bad end. And I truly do not want to think about what will transpire if one of them dies and the other is left alone. Hopefully, one of my sisters will step up to the plate. My wife and I live in a tiny mouse-hole that couldn’t accommodate a cat, much less another person.
Why is it that they don’t teach you how to do this stuff in school? Perhaps it’s because we all prefer to think of our parents as forever young. I just wish reality would stop that infernal knocking on my door.
Tomorrow: Kosher deli memories