You’re Fired! Well, maybe not…

The other day, Dad essentially fired me. It was an ugly scene. One sister and my BIL were there also; my sister tried to mediate, but her best efforts failed. Dad’s delusional state has made us all into something that we aren’t, and dealing with this now is difficult (while dealing with this ugliness after all this is said and done will probably be a different kind of difficult).

Dad worked hard to find any and all ways to say hurtful things, but the critical part was his refusal to work with me in order to help himself. He wouldn’t even sign the VA paperwork to request a copy of his discharge papers for his application for benefits. If I can’t get him to do even that, then I’m just punishing myself by engaging. As I told him, Mom may not have a choice about taking his abuse, but I do.

I was actually hugely relieved to be fired. But today I went back down the rabbit hole, as Dad asked me to come back and look at some VA application information.

I didn’t want to go, but I did, and arranged for my other sister to be there – I don’t go over there alone anymore, Dad is too mean when he has me alone. What I found is that he wanted things done by tomorrow, and done his way. “His way” basically means the wrong way, and he doesn’t trust anything anyone else says. I gave him the choice of letting me take it home and work on it (having it ready by next week), or leaving it there and he handles it all on his own. He chose to do it on his own, so I am fired again. Yay???

From our research, and the previous discussion with the lawyer, Dad won’t yet qualify for any VA benefits, so the delay in the application is of no consequence financially. Since he won’t listen to us, I’m letting him win this one, which turns out to be a win for me too 😉

In Limbo

Things are going to break soon, it’s just a matter of time.

Dad is still insisting on caring for Mom, which means that she isn’t being properly cared for – he just can’t. He is not physically able to provide her with good nutrition, her medications, or proper hygiene. Even if he were able-bodied, what he would be capable of doing is in question, him always being somewhat emotionally stunted.

He refuses to spend money to bring in care.

He refuses to use something like Meals on Wheels.

He refuses to consider any type of day care for her. The social worker told us that day care for seniors can delay placement in a facility for up to three years.

He refuses to find a skilled nursing facility for her. He thinks anyone that would consider placing her in a facility “should be shot”. That is Dad talking, not Mom. Although they aren’t the best of places, she would love to be taken care of – at least she used to be okay with that. Judging from her recent stay in a facility, I think she has a bit of Stockholm Syndrome going on and is more attached to Dad than what is normal for her. The reality is that what Dad is doing to Mom is considered abuse, but in his mind, he is the hero.

APS (Adult Protective Service) should be involved soon, and they should be able to help us apply pressure to Dad to move in a better direction. We spoke to a lawyer the other day. He did give us some good information, but we really don’t have many good options. Even getting conservatorships for them are out of the question, starting out-of-pocket costs would be $12,000. So we will have to work with APS.

I miss being able to just visit my mom, like a normal person should be able to do. I have such deep sadness that all of this is such a battle. Losing your parents to the ravages of age is hard enough, but all of this on top of that is overwhelming.

My Dad

I try to remember Dad, who he was, but it’s clouded by the problems we are having with him right now.

Dad wasn’t much involved with us kids, that was left to his wife.  Certainly any involvement was when it was convenient for him, unless there was some emergency.  I’m not sure about my sisters, but I don’t recall hearing many terms of affection from him, and certainly no guidance about life in general.

I remember wanting him to teach me things, about working on cars, and even how to shoot those rifles that he kept in the rack.  But I was a girl.   He did sometimes take us fishing when we went camping, but I think he preferred not to.  He did have us “assist him” when he was working on things because it was something he needed.  He was a mechanic and could fix just about anything.

We were what they now call “free range kids”.  I wouldn’t change that part in any way.

Dad once said that he wanted to raise us girls to be independent and do things for ourselves.  So that is what he thought he was doing (at least in hindsight) and in a way he was doing just that, but it wasn’t due to involvement on his part, but because of lack of involvement.

A few things that I contribute to my success are worth mentioning here….  I was a member of Civil Air Patrol for over a decade, and being surrounded by good people doing good things had a profound effect on me.  They helped me build my confidence, develop skills I would never have otherwise, and they exposed me to different worlds, as well as helped me hone my sense of right and wrong.  The CAP filled a void that I had growing up and made me a better person.  It’s kind of amazing how this can happen to a straight A student, but the only career advice I ever received in high school, was about 4 days before college admissions closed, and Dad suggested I apply to the local university instead of the local junior college.

But what saddens me about Dad, which I realized last year, is that I had grown up with a father that showed little to no empathy.  No wonder my mother lost who she was, she was always striving to win that piece of affection from Dad.   It is precisely this lack of empathy that is being amplified as Dad goes through his own process of dementia.

When I was a kid, there were only a few major tv stations, and, after hours, almost all of them aired that “test pattern” because they went off-air.  But on Friday nights, there were late night horror movies that I was allowed to stay up and watch.  I’m not sure how “late” that “late night” really was though – late for a kid not yet in high school.  Mom would go to bed, and I would stay up and watch while I waited for Dad to come home from staying out and drinking beer with the guys.  I don’t know how it started, but our routine became that we would sit at the counter and debate, and try to solve the world’s problems.  I was just a kid, but I guess I learned to argue with the best of them ;).  I grew older and this got old, and when I started to go to bed early instead of waiting up for Dad, he would come and wake me up when he got home, so he would have someone to argue with, and argue we would.

I always thought of those times as special.  I did noticed later, when I was working on my PhD and we would continue our debates, that he would think funny and not in a logical manner – it was often nonsensical and frustrating.  That had been the case since I was young, but I never thought twice about it then.  But I think about that a lot lately.  Every time he’s had a brain scan (since long before there was any thought of dementia), they have always wondered about a strange spot in his brain.  Looking at him through now adult and more knowing eyes, I suspect all along there has been some sort of brain defect, maybe even a previous head injury of some sort.

I lived at home until I graduated with my BA @ 23.  Of all us kids, I knew my parents the best, in some ways.  I learned to forgive them for being human and having failings.  As a now, uh “mature adult”, I am thinking now about different parts of them.  Part of this is survival.  How do I help Mom survive Dad, and how do I survive him and his illogical, uncaring and hurtful thinking?   And finally, how can I use this to find a way to grow older in a more graceful manner….

 

My Mom

I try to remember Mom, who she was, but it’s hard right now.

She was born in Austria in 1925.  She lived there during WWII, when Hitler took over, and when the Americans bombed.   She was forced into the Hitler Youth Corps during that time, which I could never get her to talk about much.  It was after the war when she met Dad, who was in the Army stationed in Vienna.  He came home to California, and eventually she got on a ship and travelled to Canada.  She worked there for awhile to repay the cost of the ship fare.  She was independent and she was brave.

It’s not clear that she came over because of Dad.  They both have told me no, but I seem to recall them telling me yes at some point.  When Mom was in the hospital back in 2009, and pretty delirious, she told me about a love of her life that she had, and it wasn’t dad, but I don’t know if that was a high school crush or what.  When she was recently in the rehab facility, she would talk of her love and her lover (very uncharacteristic of her), and then cuss Dad out when he arrived because he was not her husband – I do not know in what world she was living in at that point.  The reality is that my parents have been married for 61 years now, regardless of what happened before that, and that’s a VERY long time.

When Mom moved to the States with Dad, they moved to a very small town on the eastern side of the Sierra Nevada, where Dad had gone to high school.  Small towns can be difficult towns to live in.  Small towns can be difficult to assimilate into, particularly when you are from a foreign land with the wrong kind of accent.  They weren’t very kind to her.

I often wondered if she wondered what the heck she got herself into – travelling across an ocean, giving up an independent lifestyle in Canada, and moving to this hick of a town that wasn’t very nice to her, to a mother-in-law that also wasn’t very nice, and to a husband that she probably didn’t know very well at the time … she probably lost a lot of who she was.

She was nosy and snooped on us kids, but she really just wanted to be a part of our lives and know what was going on with us.  My parents did a lot of things wrong raising us, but it was a different time.  I am the youngest of three girls, now almost 54 years old, and the lasting memory I have of my mom is of her trying to help me, again and again, by figuring out ways to get around my dad.  She was very proud of me, and in later years, more and more dependent upon me, until I had to pull back some.  I know that she still worries about me, even in her compromised state.

I can’t help her in the home that she is in now with Dad blocking us at every turn, but I know that us kids are her last hope.  Now we are the ones that have to join together to find a way around Dad to help her.

Empathy Sucks.

I am overly empathetic – even my dad remarked that I am “the sensitive one”.  I have a heightened sense of empathy, and I’m not very thrilled about that.  Empathy allows me to feel, no, experience, others’ suffering and pain more easily, and I’m not too keen on that.  I don’t feel the need to post about all the details of what goes on with Mom and Dad, but I will say that watching my dad’s stubbornness compromise the care of my mom is really, really difficult.

Studies have shown that people who have more empathy have more white matter in certain areas (plural?) of the brain.  The question is whether that is something that can be developed, or something that is lost when head injuries, or even dementia is experienced.  I find this all pretty interesting, since most papers compare this to the “rational response” of the brain as opposed to this “emotional response”.  Why so interesting?  Well, because I have a PhD in a technical (STEM) field, so I am this weird mix of rational and emotional it seems.

I am a university professor, for over two decades now.  Long ago I made the choice to not be one of those professors that stands around the water cooler complaining about their students, and chose instead to understand where they are in their development (both in the subject matter and in life), and work with that.  So maybe I’ve done myself in by practicing empathy all these years too….

The question of whether or not we lose empathy as we age is an interesting one.  When I’m able to talk with my mother, she is still concerned about me – about the house, the finances, the dog ( ❤ ).  My dad, well, it appears that there is not an ounce of empathy in him, which seems to worsen as he ages.  I know that dementia robs people of who they are, but, in a sense, they seem to become more of who they are at their core.

For me, empathy really sucks.  I worry a lot.  I worry about the tragedy of the life they are stuck in and the feelings that come with that.  The rational part of me worries about the finances, as well as this detail and that detail.  But when it comes down to it, it’s the empathetic side that’s the most difficult to deal with.  Empathy sucks.