Grumpy Old Man

I spent a recent weekend on a visit to my father who was placed in a nursing facility just after Christmas.  The grief and heartbreak that comes from seeing this once vibrant, intelligent, caring man who had a witty, fun sense of humor turn into the ‘grumpy old man’ he is today is tough.  His memory is failing more and more with each visit making it increasingly difficult to have coherent conversations.

He has changed from the father who taught his children about ‘overcoming adversity’, to a man who sees only adversity.  He views his life as one of ‘incarceration’, his word, not mine, and likes to spend his time telling anyone who will listen how horrible his life is.

Yet, I have to wonder.  How bad is it?

To be sure it is not like being at home (being in a facility never is).  But he is stronger physically than he has been in a while partly because he has a bigger facility to walk around.  And while he may wander because he feels bored, he is exercising and being greeted by care staff and other residents along the way.  And if we are really honest, he was ‘bored’ at home where the only walking he really did daily was from one room to another and back again.

He has many friends, neighbors and former colleagues coming to visit.  I am astounded at the number of people who have made the effort to routinely stop in to spend time with my father.  It is a testament to the many lives that he touched in a positive way over the years!  Conversation with my father can be difficult, and yet they come; much more than when he was still at home.  A bad thing?  I can’t see how.

He has lost the capacity to do any computer work and yet is able to stay connected with folks by email through use of a new Kindle Fire.  He may need help in accessing the emails and be unable to respond well, but it is still a way for people at a distance to reach out to him and touch his life.

So, while we should continue listening to his complaints and evaluating them, I know that we need to keep perspective as well.

Through my years as a nurse working in senior living facilities, I have witnessed residents use ongoing complaints and requests to manipulate family members who may be feeling guilty about the long-term placement.  It is an easy thing to toss a complaint out there and watch the family scramble to ‘fix’ it all for you.

By way of explanation, remember, your dad (or mom) has lost control over just about everything in his life by being placed in a facility.  I don’t care how ‘nice’ the facility is, you still get your meals at a certain time, a shower on certain days, help with care from somebody helping many others (so it may not happen just when you want it) , and on and on.  My family is now handling all of the things that my father once did for himself and is no longer able to do, so yes, he has ‘lost control’ and is no longer ‘in charge’ (at some level)!

The only control a family member may still have gets expressed to the family in terms of dissatisfaction and complaints.  If you can take a step back, you may just be able to see the inconsistencies that will reveal this very thing to you.  For my father the fact that in one sentence he is being put to be too early and in the next they are not getting to it soon enough shows me that there may be something more fundamental than ‘bed time’ underlying the complaint.

The right decisions are not always the easy ones.  Will it still make me sad that my father is unhappy?  Yes.  But I will continue to know that the decisions we have made are the right ones and that ultimately, he is being taken care of and is loved by many.  And that while life for him might not be ‘GREAT!’, life can still be pretty good if he would only choose to ‘overcome adversity’………

On the journey with you…….Kathy

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