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Four heart-swelling days

We moved my parents last week. We have been talking about one-story “cottage” on their large property for years where they could escape the many stairs in their house and spend their last years. During COVID when those in nursing homes died alone without loved ones around, we decided to do it. My brother had always wanted to build something like this so he was in charge (with a lot of design/execution support from my sons, Brandon and Dan). It took a while (a story for another post), but it finally passed inspection week before last.

Sadly, in between the time we decided to build it and when it was finished, my dad’s dementia progressed. He began telling people he would move there when he was “fully retired” in “5-10 years”. Then he said it was really for me when I visited. As we explained that the move was imminent, he pushed back, “it’s not going to happen”. After I was there last, he even called to tell me how upset I made him when I told him I was coming back to help move him down.

So, we began the prep. I mobilized his doctor to tell him how necessary it was (doctor’s report: “your dad is one tough cookie”). Got the caregivers to talk up the new place. Got my brother to excitedly tell him it had passed inspection, and on and on. All seemingly to no avail so I was a little nervous as Tim and I flew out to (hopefully) make this happen in the four days we had to do it.

Our plan was to recreate the exact same set up for what occupies most of my dad’s time – the TV/DVD set up. The idea was to do that while he was gone on an extended lunch with my mom and the caregiver. They would come home to a functional and pleasant living room; my dad would turn on a movie and put on his headphones and we would keep moving the rest.

This was not so easy to execute given that we were trying to set up an old and outdated system in a new dwelling. We had their tech guy – a nice minister with a physics/electrical engineering background – set up their internet connection before we arrived. All we had to do, he thought, was set up something with COX when I arrived. We stopped at COX on the way from the airport where we found that they didn’t have COX TV (note to self – write down all your accounts before you lose your mind so your kids will be able to help you). Hmmm.

Talking to my brother, I noted that I do pay an ATT bill every month but assumed that was for their cell phones. Nope, he said, his wife has their cell phone accounts (note to self – talk to your brother more…answer to self – I do try…). Well then, maybe they have direct TV? Sure enough, there was that satellite disk. Tim hopped on the phone to see if we could get it moved…by tomorrow. Miracle upon miracle, they said they could send someone out tomorrow. Tim got to work to sink a post for the dish, I installed all the cabinet shelves and told my dad how lucky he was to have the tech guy setting everything up at the cottage. No reaction. (Did he hear me? Was he resigned to the move? Or was he preparing to have a fit? Who knows!) Then we did an IKEA strike for remaining needs. Day one was down.

Morning of the move I visibly began to pack boxes hoping to tell my dad, “yep, we’re moving today”, but he went right to the TV and took no notice of me. We began to move smaller things down and the Direct TV guy showed up. Nope, we can’t move the dish, we need a new one. OMG. We explained the urgency of the situation. He says he thinks we can do it. Dan’s kids arrive (Mason is driving!) and ask what they can do. I knew Dan and Jess were coming but not the kids. Somehow that really touched me – two teenagers showing up for their great-grandparents. Then Dan and Jess arrive with the truck for the heavy stuff. I was really hoping it would all work.

Shortly after, my dad took off his headphones in prep for lunch. I scurried to get my brother so we could tell him together what to expect when he returned. “Dad!” we said, “when you get back from lunch, we will have everything – your whole set up – down in the cottage so you can watch your movies down there. We’re all here to help. We’re moving your bed and all your favorite stuff. And it will all be ready for you when you return.” Dad looked at us. Blinked a few times. And then said, “Who will get the paper?” (The paper is delivered on the driveway, up a big hill from the cottage.) Interesting question – one we hadn’t thought of. But we had an answer. “Amy,” (their caregiver) we say. He says “ok” and moves toward the car. Whoa. Was it going to be that easy?

While Amy entertained them with a nearly 4 hour medley of lunch, a tour of their favorite old places in San Diego, and ice cream at Foster’s Freeze, our plan unfolded about as perfectly as it could have. First, the Direct TV guy installed a new dish. Then he started helping us. He stepped in to help carry the TV as Mason struggled a bit hoisting it down the hill. And he stayed until he was sure that everything would work. Again, so touching. His understanding as we explained how important it was to get things going that afternoon and willingness to do what it took to make it happen. He even gave us his personal cell number when he left in case we had any trouble.

The rest of the team was a machine. Boxes packed, carried down, unloaded, brought back up and filled again. Furniture disassembled, piled on the truck and reassembled. Kids constantly asking what next, including watering down the driveway (not yet paved) to make the up and down a little easier. New systems discovered, including a bed pumping system which had run out of batteries, so we not only moved their bed down, we replaced the batteries, so it was not a saggy mess (add to that note to self to also write down your systems before you lose your mind, so your caregivers know to replace batteries as needed). The TV was set up and working, the TV chairs and couch were down. We were still going a mile a minute, but the living room was ready when Amy called to say they were on their way back.

They arrived, walked down the hill, and came in as we all felt our stomachs lurch. My mom exclaimed how great it all looked. And my dad walked to his chair, picked up the remote, and turned on a movie. It worked. It was just as we had hoped. Within hours, the house was set up except for hanging pictures and clothes. We all had a pizza dinner and Tim and I turned our attention toward the big house. Day two was down.

We aim to rent out their original house to offset some of their care costs. I had arranged to have a company stop by that sells and donates what is usable, and cleans out the rest on the morning we were set to leave. My parents had lived in this house since 1970…there was SO much to go through. I brought my mom up Thursday morning and pulled out every item in her closet for a thumbs up or thumbs down. Then (reminding me of my work at Contempo Casuals in my early college days) I hauled arms full of clothes down the hill and arranged them in her closet. In the midst of that my mom told me thank you, again and again, and then broke down in tears about how wonderful she thought her family was.  We packed all the family pictures (seems like millions) in lightweight zippered pouches so they can be easily accessed and hung as my mom wishes. In between there were ant to kill, lost items to find, and things we had moved down that needed to go back up. How could it already be dinner time? My sister-in law, with her daughter and 16-month-old provided dinner and cuteness. Tim and I turned to the fridge and pantry. My sister-in-law gasped at the work ahead of us and said she’d be back with my nephew to collect and dispose of the trash. Amazing. Day three was down.

It is day four. To get back to Denver, we were driving back to transport some furniture Dan had made for us so we needed to pick that up and we still had the study and all the files to go through. Oh, and Mom wanted the pictures hung. And we were calling around to see who wanted what of what was left in the big house. I don’t even know what happened to that day. At some point, though, we were at Dan’s shop and I was telling Mason once again how grateful I was for his help. He said, ‘it was a lot of work but I liked being part of it. There wasn’t one time the whole day when I wished I was somewhere else.” What a cool 17-year-old.

At some point, Tim and I settled into the study where we went through papers and shredded SO MANY THINGS, including about a thousand file folders that had username, password, and security questions neatly printed on the front (another note to self – and others – don’t do that!). We also found trip folders where my mom had recorded mileage, time, restaurants, hotels – everything. For each day. It was incredible. So much else but a folder labeled George Troast (my maternal grandfather) led us to tears. It held a sympathy card from Tim’s mom as well as record of a substantial donation she had made to research Alzheimer’s in my grandfather’s name. Tim’s mom died in 2019 so this was particularly poignant. And then an essay Brandon had written, probably in high school, about my grandfather, his life as an art director, his work on Lassie and other TV shows/movies, and his kindness and caring. Though Brandon only met him as an infant, he had researched and written this later. So beautiful. The moment was loaded with meaning and feeling and I wished that we could stretch it somehow. But it was midnight; day four was over.

As we readied to leave the next morning, we met with the guy who will clean everything out as planned. Then we popped a few last things down to the cottage, where my mom told us thank you again and again, with tears in her eyes. And even my dad took off his headphones and said, “thank you for all you have done.” He hadn’t pitched a fit and they both seemed happy in their new place. But it was much more than that. There was so much caring on display during those days – from everyone who had shown up to help to the loving files my mom had kept. There was also some tension, particularly between my brother and I, who have very different approaches to most everything, but a focus on caring for my folks even helped work that out. We drove off feeling tired, yes. But also with our hearts full and feeling the hope that such acts of caring bring.  

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1 Comment

Jul 02

You have an amazing family, Debbi, glad they were there for you and your parents. This time is so hard, so I am so very happy for you that it worked out as well as it did. And you are an awesome daughter.

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