Tygerpen: Keeping Mom and Dad out of nursing home and jail

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With Thanksgiving only a couple of weeks away, I’m glad I don’t have to worry about where I’m going (a friend’s), what to bring (a brisket), and which relatives to invite (my friend’s problem, not mine. Yessss!). I have to admit, at this time of year I particularly miss my late parents (they were always late, like me), especially when I hear friends stressed by their elderly parents. I vividly remember those last couple of years with my folks.

For some time, their frustrated doctors had urged me to move them to the Jewish assisted-living facility. At 90 years, Mom and Dad would have none of that and continued to live fearlessly alone at home.

Most people worry how to keep their parents out of nursing homes. I tried to keep mine out of jail.

For one thing, Dad still drove, although his driver’s license stated the car should be driven by a guide dog. Mom was known to walk off with stuffed animals from a grocery store display because “I thought they were giving them away.”

Dad enjoyed good health for much of his life, not counting a brief fight with throat cancer and a sputtering prostate (or prostrate, as he called it, and it was certainly that). But he suffered from a different kind of urgency, an ants-in-the-pants passion to go globetrotting, which in their case was more like globe hobbling.

I thought they’d finally gotten the message about needing care after their last trip to Palm Springs, when their car collided head-on with a car driven by a 75-year-old. The exploding airbags broke their ribs.

After the accident when I flew down and stayed with Mom, she moaned, “I don’t want to die. I don’t want to die.” I wasn’t worried. I was used to her fixation on dying. She’d repeatedly talked of dividing the household effects between her two daughters, claiming “I haven’t much time.” She started saying that when I was 12.

I also knew that the secret to her longevity could be found in 19 bedrock homilies (aka family folklore aka bubbe meises) she passed down to me:

• Don’t put on any weight or you’ll look like your cousin Shirley.

• You should have a b.m. every day or you may have cancer.

• Chocolate causes everything bad. “I have to eat it because Dad brings it in the house.”

• Don’t drink liquids with your meals.

• Do drink liquids with your meals.

• Rubbing your nose will make it bigger.

• Sleep on your stomach.

• Don’t touch there.

• Or there.

• Wash your bra out every night. You never know who might see it.

• Don’t walk barefoot in the house or you’ll step on a needle like Aunt Lucy.

• Don’t talk religion or politics, unless somebody starts something.

• Stand up straight or you’ll have round shoulders like Cousin Marilyn.

• Be somebody. Have a career to support yourself.

• Marry a wealthy man who can support you. You don’t want to work like I did.

• Having a baby is no worse than bad cramps.

• Don’t just lie there in bed at 8:30 in the morning. Do you want to be a lazy tramp like your Aunt Pearl?

• Save your money!

• Don’t save! Life is to be enjoyed!

Not surprisingly, Mom and Dad did remarkably well in the hospital following the accident. Dad boasted that the police determined the other driver, not he, was at fault. Mom’s biggest complaint was that someone stole her bra. Fortunately it had been washed the night before.

After they returned home and, I thought, finally appreciated their vulnerability, I persuaded them to be waitlisted for the Jewish assisted-living facility. I also lectured them on taking alternative transportation and the need for a part-time in-home aide. They listened intently and nodded. Relieved, I flew back home.

The next day they called.

Mom: “It’s our 67th anniversary in two weeks. If we drive down, will you have a big party for us at a hotel with your friends?”

Dad (calling one hour later): “Don’t plan a party yet. I just read a flier in today’s mail. We’d like to take this cruise to Tahiti.”

For their anniversary, I bought them each a cell phone in case they got lost. Or in case they needed to make the one permitted phone call to their attorney.


Trudi York Gardner
lives in Benicia and can be reached at [email protected] or via her blog, www.tygerpen.wordpress.com.