The mood was relaxed and happy on the five hour flight from California to New Jersey. It was Thanksgiving Day. The sun was just beginning to set on what must have been an unseasonably warm day on the East Coast. I smiled to myself. The plane had arrived ahead of schedule. I would be at my father’s home in time for dinner with him.
The airport shuttle driver let me off outside the patio of my Dad’s place. I could see Dad was sitting motionless in his recliner in the corner of the room. Only the kitchen light was on, but I could easily peer into this tiny garden apartment in an independent senior living community. It had been my father’s comfortable home for the past year.
The TV was off. Dad must have fallen asleep, again.
I knocked on the glass patio door and eventually woke him from his nap. He was overjoyed to see me. But, his mood went from gleeful to glum in only a minute. “I’m sorry. I’m afraid I don’t have dinner for you,” he said.
In our phone conversations over the past few days, my father had chatted cheerfully about preparing his favorite dish, baked turkey legs, for us for Thanksgiving. He had discovered a great recipe by accident and wanted to share it with me.
“I guess I fell asleep and didn’t hear the timer,” he continued. ” The turkey legs were totally burnt even though I had them in a low, 250 degree oven.”
“How long do you think you overslept?” I asked.
“Oh, it might have been six hours,” Dad said sheepishly.
“That’s ok. You have some hamburgers in the freezer that we can make, right?” I said trying to sound upbeat. (Did I hear that right, six hours?)
I walked into the kitchen to start preparing the hamburgers. The stove was dirty. Pots had boiled over and burnt remains littered the trays under the burners. I peered into the oven. It was just as dirty. The entire apartment smelled like burnt food. This was a major change since my last visit.
I tried to hide my uneasiness as the realization began dawning on me that Dad was not able to safely cook for himself anymore.
“Gee, Dad, it looks like you had a few pots spill over,” I said.
“Yeah, pots boil over from time to time. It’s no big deal,” he growled.
“Looks like you could use some help with the cleaning, Dad. ”
“I’m doing fine by myself! I don’t have extra money pay for cleaners. I have barely enough to live on! ” Dad’s growl had turned into a shout.
Lowering my voice, I turned to him with a big smile, “I know you have done a really great job managing your money. It is looking like you could use a little help here, that’s all.”
That was the beginning of a weekend-long argument. I gave my father all sorts of suggestions for ways he could get help. He rejected every one.
We met with a non-medical in home care provider. Dad turned pale when he heard the hourly rate. I got out the rate sheet for the additional cleaning services that the senior apartment complex offered.
“That’s too much! Dad shouted.
Finally, I hit upon the idea of Dad purchasing the meal plan from the dining room. Together, we figured out how much he spent on food. It looked like buying dinner on the meal plan would not cost much more than he was already spending.
I reasoned and cajoled. Dad finally agreed that he would enjoy getting his evening meal from the dining room. All that was left to do was for my father to sign up for the plan on Monday. He said he would do it.
I left for the airport on Sunday evening with a light heart.
On Monday, I phoned to remind him to sign up for the meal plan. He began to waffle. Maybe he would wait until December. Maybe he would wait until he finished the food in the freezer. Maybe he would wait until . . .
Of course, I knew these were just excuses. For each one, I countered with a reasonable argument. Dad thought up another. He wasn’t going to do it and I was too far away to exert the same kind of influence I had when I was physically there.
A November 2007 study by the National Alliance for Caregiving and Evercare found that the long distance caregivers spend an average of $8728 per year out of their own pockets to help an elderly family member. Local caregivers spend somewhat less — approximately $5000 annually.
And, it is no surprise to me that the largest percentage of this expense is going to provide care attendants, followed closely by medical expenses and long distance travel. I had already been spending money for travel to see my Dad. Once your parent needs care, but cannot or will not pay for help, the family may need to provide it. Those of us who work are forced to rely on paid helpers to to assist with eldercare. Bu, this can have a negative financial impact on the family members paying for care.
Fate took a different turn with my father. Later that week, he developed a nose bleed that the nurses at the retirement community could not stop. His trip to the hospital ended up lasting over three months.
The nurses also reported to the managers that Dad was having trouble keeping up the apartment. The managers said they would refuse to allow him back into his apartment when he was released from the hospital for his own safety.
Now instead of convincing him to eat in the dining room, I had to convince him to move to the next level of care. To be continued . . .