Thursday, 29 January 2015

My father, Tony Jessup

Last week was a difficult and stressful one.  My dad, sitting here with my mom a few years ago outside the nursing home where my mom was in full-time care for Alzheimer's, had reached a crisis point that we children had to respond to.  He lived by himself in the house shown below since my mom had to go into care. 

They had emigrated from the UK in 1957 to Toronto, and after living in a couple of rentals for a few years, this was their first and only home purchase in 1962 - for $14K.  They had very little money and had a first mortgage of $9,500 and a second mortgage from the builder for much of the rest.

I can remember my mother telling us how much they pinched pennies to make those mortgage payments.  I think it took about 10 years to pay the whole thing off, which was their biggest desire. Now it is worth many, many times more - a shocking amount more - mainly for the large lot it sits on.

My dad, we noticed, had begun having memory problems about 4 years ago.  Nothing too serious, just age we thought.  Still, when I would call and tell him I was flying in to visit and gave him the date, time, etc. to pick me up at the airport, he would call back again and again to ask me for that information.  The same thing happened to my sister, who lives in Denver.  And there were other things.  But all in all, he seemed to be managing fine by himself.  He refused any help offers.

He is a man of routine; and his routine was to go visit my mom for a couple of hours in the morning, come home and have lunch, then go to the community centre and play snooker (pool) with a group of men.  On Fridays, he went food shopping too.  This routine is what gave him the ability to continue to manage himself living alone, even as he descended into Alzheimer's himself. 

We found out he also has Alzheimer's last week.  He had gone to visit my mom in hospital where she had been moved due to a flu outbreak in the home.  It took him out of his schedule and to an unfamiliar place.  He left the hospital and began walking - taking a taxi was beyond his cognitive ability - and was lost for 5 hours.  The police finally located him 16K from the hospital.  The state he was in and the state of the house (they went into his house to look around) caused them to decide to get him admitted to the hospital - the same hospital where my mom was - on a 72 hours mental health hold.

It was the best, and the worst, thing to happen to him.

A CT scan revealed multiple small strokes had been happening and the brain showed signs of progressed Alzheimer's. 

My sister and I arrived and went to work, along with my brother who lives 2.5 hours away, to get him into a retirement home with a secure floor for residents with dementia.  He was never going to go home again.

This might seem cruel to some, but my dad is an incredibly strong-willed and stubborn man - combative even - and if he were allowed to go back inside the house, we would have an impossible time getting him back out.  And home-help, even full-time, which is what would be necessary, was not an option for us.  None of us live close enough to monitor that kind of situation, and my dad would have fought it endlessly.  We have tried many times to get him to accept part-time help, meals-on-wheels, a cleaning person even once a month - not a chance.

My dad is extraordinarily attached to that house.  Now, in his state, it is almost a child-like attachment.  His recliner by the big patio door looking out onto their rockery and garden, mature trees in the yards behind and beside him, was his joy.  Whatever joy he still had.

The last time I saw him in September, we sat together there, and he told me once again how he could never leave the house.  He would never have a spot to sit and look at the nature outside anywhere else, he said, and he would miss it terribly.  Then he said something shocking.  "I think about offing myself sometimes - but your mother is still alive and I couldn't do that to her".  I paused and looked at him and asked, "Do you really think that way, dad?"  He nodded.  My heart sank, knowing he was reaching the end of his rope.

Still, I had to leave him like that.  We kids seemed to have no options available to us.  We had called every social service we could think of.  None could help us until he went to see his doctor and got an assessment done.  And short of physically dragging him there, he wasn't going to go.

After that, he stopped being able to use his phone.  He stopped hearing it ring, and could not figure out how to dial it.  He stopped remembering his pin on his credit card, which he used exclusively for shopping - my brother would pay his bill online for him.  No-one could reach him to check in on him.  My brother and his wife went up a couple of times and tried to get him to accept help.  The only saving grace was his next-door-neighbour, a Vietnamese woman, who would pop in to check on him and report by email to me that she saw him coming and going and seemed to be okay.

We knew that it would take an emergency, a fall, a sickness to be able to step in and do something against his will.

Now he is in a very nice place, with excellent trained people, regular nutritional meals, and activities - even snooker - to participate in.  But he is fighting it with all his might still.  His cognition is really very bad.  Short-term memory is almost non-existent.  But he knows my mom is out there and so is his house, his chair by the window.  He will be taken to visit my mom when they feel he won't fight coming back into the home.  For now, we are not to visit, to give him and them time to get him settled and into their routine for him.  He likes routine.  I hope he can find a measure of happiness in his remaining years.