Having daytime caregivers for Dad was a very recent addition to life as we all knew it. Who knew how it would work out, but at least it would keep Dad out of assisted living, or worse. It was the Washington School incident that had prompted me to take the last day of my June vacation—that previous Monday—to interview and hire the three people who I hoped would keep Dad safe and sound in his home for the rest of his life.
Two had started just the day before, on Thursday. Vee—a registered nurse who worked second shift at a nursing home—would be Dad’s morning caregiver. Vee is sweet, compassionate and Alyssa’s best friend’s mom, known to our family since the girls were in preschool. She is small-boned and delicately pretty, with very dark hair and eyes, and pale olive skin. She is soft-spoken, but has such a strong presence that you don’t speak over her or interrupt her. You might think she was one kind of person—a pushover, or someone easily led around, because she was so sweet—but you would be wrong. This woman had a spine of iron in that delicate body. She was used to working with elderly people who were far worse off than Dad was. She would see to it that he took his meds, ate his breakfast, bathed himself, and would help him with his physical therapy. Dad’s midday companion, Glenn, was George’s neighbor and best friend—a gregarious, gentle man who told great stories and was also a wonderful listener. Dad called him “The Big Guy” when he couldn’t remember Glenn’s given name. Glenn and George were each other’s right-hand man whenever either one had a home improvement project going on. It was Glenn who we hired as general contractor for Dad’s new roof earlier in the spring (it took us two years to convince Dad that he really, really needed it), and Glenn who helped George repair and repaint the water-damaged wall in the dining room once the roof was done (that water damage was the final piece of evidence that I used to persuade Dad about the necessity of the new roof). Dad enjoyed Glenn’s company; the feeling was mutual. Glenn was semi-retired, and had the time and the inclination to spend three hours a day with Dad. He would make sure that Dad ate his Meals-on-Wheels, run Dad around town on any errands, or take him to the cemetery if Dad didn’t feel like walking that day, or if the weather were bad. Justyna, the housekeeper, would start the next Monday—she’d been referred to me by a sainted nun who had, in turn, been referred to me by Dad’s also-sainted podiatrist during a recent house call (as I said, Dr. Joanne Sauer is a SAINT). Justyna was the only one of the three who I had never met before. She was in her early thirties, with soft blonde curls and a lovely smile. She had a slight Polish accent that I thought my Dad would find charming (if he could hear it). She was open, sweet and so genuine; I liked her immediately, and I liked the slow and patient way she spoke to my father. I would be there on Monday when she started with him, just so there wouldn’t be any bad surprises for either of them.
It doesn’t just take a village to raise a child—it takes a village to care for your elderly parents and keep them safe in their own homes.
I had it all set—on Monday through Friday, Vee would come from 8-11AM (meds, physical therapy exercises, and personal hygiene), Glenn from 11AM-2PM (Meals-on-Wheels, errands, companionship), Justyna from 2-5PM (household chores and laundry, maybe heating up some soup for early bird dinner before leaving Dad alone to sleep in his recliner in a darkening house). On the weekends, we sibs would look after Dad.
Our plan was in place.
He had slept in his recliner in the living room almost the whole day I was interviewing, fading in and out, at one point waking and asking me what he was doing in the library. I told him he wasn’t in the library; he was in his home, his living room. He looked around, wide-eyed, and asked “This is MY house?” I said yes, it’s yours, you and Mom bought it fifteen years ago. “Oooh”, he said. I said, “Dad, do you know who I am?” He looked me straight in the eye and said “Oh, you’re Claudia”, as if I were insane to ask him such a question.
When it was time for me to leave, he argued that he wanted to walk me to the bus. I told him I took the train now, and the station was a mile away, and I could walk it myself—it was a beautiful day. I knew that if he came along to walk with me, he would never find his way back home.
He said okay then, just call me when you get home. I held his face in my hands and said “I love you”. He said “I love you too” (which was not his usual answer—he usually responded with a spritely “Me too!”).
And then I walked away, looking back at him over my shoulder, as he stood next to his open front door waving to me and watching me go.
That was the last time I saw him.
The best laid plans, and all of that.