What About Dad? Caring For Seniors Requires Compassion, Humor & Patience…

Most children never consider the possibility of having to care for their parents as children. The reality of having an elderly parent struggling with health issues is a shocking surprise for a person you once viewed as strong and capable of handling anything on their own.

Ten years ago, my husbands father who had been a businessman and honored member of many organizations as well as best friends with Amon Carter Jr, grabbed a shotgun and began shooting at invisible intruders on his sprawling ranch. His wife called my husband in a terrified state of panic begging him to drive four hours to the ranch from our home and settle him down.

Due to the distance, by the time Matthew arrived at the ranch, his father had been given two options by the police. Either go to a nursing home or go to jail. At 84 years old, Mr Wortham went in to a nursing home unwillingly. The late night phone calls to our home were so bad that at some point, my husband turned his ringer off after midnight. His father would often call screaming “get me out of here!” My husband rarely cries but for the eight months his father spent ending his life in a nursing home, I never witnessed my husband crying so much or on the verge of tears. Even commercials could cause him to cry.

Yesterday morning while talking to my TDCJ Hodge Unit Bride, Cindy sent me a text that my father believed poison was being pumped through his air vents and needed us over at his house immediately.

Over the past few months my father has had some wild and certainly out of the ordinary fears about people living in his attic, killing his lawn or his trees and spying on him through the air vents. Like my husband when dealing with his father years ago, I’m confused and frightened about how someone who had always had it together isn’t dealing with life or reality well anymore.

As children, my father was the strongest person I’ve ever met. How strong? If he told you something, you listened. My father and mother had a rocky marriage. By the time our little brother was born, the marriage had become irreparable. My mother was a heroin addict and my father wasn’t the most tolerant person. 

With four children and marital problems, the split of our family and any degree of normality would end abruptly for four children who had been brought up together.Our sister, Tammy was a few years older than Cindy and I and also had a different father. Because my father didn’t adopt her, in the midst of our parents divorce, we lost Tammy.Our grandmother Tinney adopted her and Tammy stayed in Lompoc while our father moved my sister, brother and I to Oklahoma to work for Uncle Bob. I never stopped asking about Tammy. 

We found a box of photos after moving to Oklahoma and kept many photos of the sister who had been such a large part of our childhood. The divorce and subsequent move effectively split our family into two unequal parts.Cindy and I missed Tammy terribly and although our brother didn’t really remember her well since he was four years younger than Cindy and I, finding the sister we had lost would become a goal in my life that I never gave up on.

My first experience in a nursing home was at fifteen years old. Azle Manor was my very first job as a nurses aid. Being thrown into caring for seniors in order to pay for a light pole damaged in an auto accident, I had no choice of finding suitable employment at my age. 

It was an experience that I’ve never forgotten. Old people forgotten and unloved wandering the halls and anyone walking into the building was “rushed” by the lonely people hoping for a visit from a family member. I quit as soon as I had enough money to pay the City Of Fort Worth back for that light pole.

By sixteen, Cindy and I left home to never return. My relationship with my father would remain distant although I put forth effort to mend my broken childhood. 

At twenty four years old, my first husband moved me to San Clemente while my father and his wife, Jo Ann were living less than an hour away in Escondido. Now and then, I would make the trip to visit dad in Escondido from San Clemente but, I hated my stepmother, Jo Anne and never really got along with her. 

Trying to create a family out of the broken pieces and relationship with my father would continue to prove difficult for not only me but also my twin sister. My dad has never been the “lovey dovey” type.

Since I was already living in California, I decided to find my sister and my mother. My father and brother were upset about this decision but, I wanted answers from my mom and to reestablish my relationship with the sister I had lost.

My dad hated our mother but had no real reason to dislike our sister, Tammy. After fifteen years of wanting to find my sister again, I wouldn’t allow anyone to stop me.

Arriving in Solvang, I wasn’t far from Lompoc but missed Tammy on my first meeting with my mother. The meeting with my mother went horribly but, I didn’t have high expectations. 

At least my grandma Tinney was there which made my cup half full rather than half empty. For years, I had a wonderful relationship with grandma Tinney and reestablished my relationship with Tammy.

At sixteen, my brother went into the Navy and made a life in the service. I sent him letters every week and was happy when Jerry finally found Michelle and married. My brother has a daughter, Hope and a son, Frankie. Jerry and Michelle lost their first child, Jerry Jr.By the time my son, Robbie married, my dad had met Gretta. She was the bright spot of our lives and the only woman my dad had been with that we accepted. 

Gretta mended the broken fences of our relationship and my grandnieces, Maryssa and Makenna adored her.Cindy’s daughter, Stephaney became pregnant at fifteen with Twins. Taking it on the chin, Cindy celebrated our second generation of Twins and at three months old, adopted them.Our dads mom, my grandmother was in bad health and died shortly before the Twins turned one. For seventeen years, Cindy had taken care of our grandmother by moving her into her home. 

The “slips” with grandma were our first inkling of “Seniors Slipping Into Senility.” I will never forget Cindy calling me because the police found grandma wandering the neighborhood wearing only talcum powder.

We didn’t realize for years that my grandmother was suffering from diabetes which would’ve attributed to her acting drunk when her blood sugar was low. 

By the time the Twins were six months old, my grandmother was blind. Diabetes ravaged her body and in later months, her ability to think clearly. 

Had we insisted on her being screened for diabetes, we might’ve been able to save her eyesight but, we didn’t realize the problem and assumed that she was becoming senile.

Gretta became “Big Momma” to the Twins and the last outing we had with Gretta was on Halloween.

Sleepovers at Gretta’s house were the highlight of the Twins weekends. Cooking together and watching late night movies or shopping adventures with Gretta and dad created fond memories for Maryssa and Makenna.Losing Gretta to breast cancer, my father would never be the same. Gretta was one in a million. Her smile and her kind heart would’ve made her a wonderful mother but a car accident had impaired her ability to ever bear children.

The twins grew up surrounded by the love my own sister and I never had. We became the parents we had lost to divorce and the sister we had known since birth. We moved on.

Finding my sister again in California was a gift for me. It was a gift that I never expected to have. Our sister is funny and loving and for years lived next door to our mom. 

On every trip to California, we visit Tammy in Lompoc. Her husband is amazing and having a family that we had spent half of our lives without finally gave us the family that we had always wanted. Last year, I married Tammy’s daughter in California.Our mother attended the wedding and although it’s sometimes awkward trying to have a conversation with our mom for Cindy and I, the celebration of the wedding kept everyone busy enough to prevent a long conversation with my mom that normally ends with “who are you?” 

These “who are you conversations” with my mom are due in part to an accident that damaged her cognitive abilities. 

How Tammy deals with our mom I have no idea but, Tammy and Rob have a lot of patience. They are truly wonderful people with kind hearts and a lot of perseverance.

When my son married years ago, I flew Tammy and Rob to the wedding and they stayed with us. After all of the years of wondering about the sister we had lost, we found her and we got our sister back! 

Last week, I added an update about my dad and niece constantly interrupting Cindy or I with their wild theories that have become so paranoid and dillusion filled that I occasionally skip answering the texts. 

If you missed it, here’s the link– Back At TDCJ Beto Unit & More Crazy Texts From Dad & Stephaney.

Arriving at my dads house, Cindy’s car was in the driveway and the fire truck parked in the street. My dad was convinced that someone was pumping poison through his air vents. Having the firemen go into the home he had shared with Gretta and now lives alone in, my dad told them to check the master bedroom.

Not surprisingly, the bullet holes in the ceiling raised alarm. As my dad sat outside in the carport getting oxygen, my grandniece, Maryssa was frightened and worried about what was going to happen to grandpa? 

Dad wasn’t running around with a gun in his hand acting crazy but, the police decided to treat him as if he were. Cindy went into the house with the firemen while I had to address the police who were called by the firemen after seeing bullet holes in the ceiling. 

The ceiling was pretty “shot up” from my dads 38. Dad had taped a paper plate near a spattering of bullet holes because he thought that someone in the attic was watching him.I knew my dad would refuse the ambulance and I was worried he might have lost oxygen or missed his blood pressure medication? 

For Cindy and I, the strained relationship with our dad all of these years never prepares us both to be the ones trying to care for him. Why? We raised ourselves and left home quite young and our father favored our brother who conveniently lives in another state. My dad adores our brother and always has. 

The police wanted to remove the guns from the home but, my dad wouldn’t agree to that. “I’m a senior citizen living alone and entitled to protecting myself.” 

My dad grew up around guns. His father was in the military through retirement and taught dad about guns at a very young age at Anderson AFB. By the time his family transferred to Vandenburg AFB, my dad was dove hunting and using a rifle. 

Although I’ve never been a gun person, my husband has numerous firearms that are safely locked away from my grandnieces in our home. My husband is fifteen years older than I and being a born and raised Texan, accustomed to having a gun in the house. 

It should be noted that years ago, my husband was a victim of a home invasion and wouldn’t feel comfortable today without a gun to protect himself.

Watching the parade of police and firefighters going in and out of my dads house, I quickly went to my SUV to call my brother in North Carolina. 

Things were going from bad to worse at my dads house a few blocks from my own home on Byers. Birchman Ave was a parade of first responders and as my dad sat quietly on a patio chair between the cars under the carport, I suddenly realized how frail he actually was. 

For most of my life, everyone feared my dad. The last thing you wanted to do was upset him. But, the dad that was sitting in that patio chair was a stranger to me. It wasn’t the dad I had known for fifty years. 

Cindy and I were so confused about everyone asking us if dad was senile or had a mental impairment that it took awhile to realize that everyone thought our dad was crazy. It was a perception that nothing we could say or do was going to change.

With all of the chaos going on, I thought maybe it would be a good idea to send dad to visit Jerry and Michelle in North Carolina. Could living alone in that rambling old house on Birchman be driving my dad crazy? 

Frankly, my dad had been sounding a bit paranoid the past few weeks but, I thought loneliness may have been the cause.

My dad is convinced that people are in and out of his house and nothing I can do or say will convince him otherwise.

Finally the paramedics convinced my dad that they would test him to see whether or not he had been poisoned. They were lying. 

The “trick” was that the police had issued a mental warrant for a 72 hour hold and rather than taking dad to Harris, they were taking him to JPS Tenth Floor. 

A police officer told Cindy and I not to tell dad where they were taking him. Knowing dad was going to the nut house, we helplessly watched the gurney loaded into the ambulance to take our dad to a place he had never been before. Into a situation that he would be helpless to change.

Everyone in Fort Worth has heard about “The Tenth Floor.” The Tenth Floor is more than a little familiar for my niece, Stephaney. 

My niece is Bipolar One and has been committed three times in three months. Getting transferred out of the Tenth Floor isn’t easy. 

A Legal Process “To prove you aren’t crazy, a threat to yourself or others” and more is required to be released from what Stephaney and now my dad call “the nut house.”

I probably spoke to my brother and sister in law yesterday more than I have in thirty years. Explaining the process of a Mental Warrant and Seventy Two Hour Hold isn’t easy to someone who has no idea of the legal process.

Once you’ve been transfered to The Tenth Floor, the hospital has no public records of you being a patient. In order for loved ones to visit or contact you, they must know the four digit CODE assigned to the patient.

Traditionally, once you are transferred to JPS, you can’t find the person admitted but, do to overcrowding yesterday, my sister and I arrived and found that our dad was in the “Green Hall” due to overcrowding on the Tenth Floor. Beds are literally lining the hallways. 

A crazy lady two beds down continued to scream incoherent things for the four hours we waited with my dad and two to four police officers standing by “in the event that he tries to escape.”

Off and on, my brother or sister in law called or sent a text to see what was going on. Finding a comfortable place to lean, sit or stand was a bit of a problem. Cindy broke her foot Friday which eventually led her to sit on the end of our dads gurney.

To say we were uncomfortable standing or leaning on the bed my dad was laying on with two police officers watching guard would be an understatement!

Dad hadn’t ate all day or had his medication so, I went to find a vending machine and go back through the pat down and screening process to renter the Green Hall that reminded my of being cleared to enter a Prison for a wedding ceremony. Security at JPS is tight. 

I brought my dad a soda and peanut butter crackers and realized for the first time in my life how fragile someone I had feared as a child had actually become at seventy five years old.

By the time they had found a bed on the Tenth Floor, my dad had aged at least ten years. 

I’m not so certain that this unexpected development hadn’t aged Cindy or I several years either. The stress of Sunday had left me feeling as overwhelmed as I’m guessing my dad did. 

Explaining everything to my brother after leaving dad at the Nut House Tenth Floor of JPS Hospital, all of us worried if dad would survive on the Tenth Floor with violent crazy people running around. 

The biters are dangerous and often in a straight jacket. If you’ve never been a visitor to a psychiatric inpatient treatment center, you have no idea how unpredictable the other patients actually are. 

Thanks to visits to my niece, Stephaney at JPS, I’ve seen firsthand the type of people that dad would be surrounded by and, it scares me. Stephaney fit right in but dad would stand out. A square peg that had no idea what he was being escorted into.It was horrible to watch dad being led away to the Tenth Floor full of drug addicts, homeless world and the crazy people who panhandle around Fort Worth talking to themselves or yelling at passing cars. Dad wouldn’t “fit in” on the Tenth Floor.

While sitting with my Dad who was terrified of being locked up in the mental ward, I thought about my niece, Stephaney who should be there. Off her meds and running wild without a job or a home, Stephaney manages to get released over and over again from mental institutions and yet, my dad gets committed because he thought someone was in the attic. A frightened senior citizen that was fearful and anxious regarding being committed doesn’t exactly “fit in” on the Tenth Floor. 

Stephaney could handle it. She has been involuntarily committed three times in the past six months. Dad on the other hand had no preparation for what awaited him on the Tenth Floor.

I spoke to my dad this morning and he is staying calm but, confused as to why he’s being held there. It’s quite sad that a senior citizen is in a world of chaos on the Tenth Floor. 

We are helpless to expedite the process of his release and send him to our brothers house in North Carolina. My brother wants my dad with him but, I can’t expedite the process. No one can because Mental Illness proceedings are a legal process. There are no shortcuts regarding an involuntary commitment.

Cindy and I finally found what my dad thought were people in the attic in the form of two raccoons. 

Our dad wasn’t crazy after all and sadly, we found out too late that a family of raccoons were living in the attic. Dads wild phone calls and texts about someone living in the attic the past several weeks have been more than a little alarming.

Apparently raccoons sleep during the day as I’ve checked the attic over and over for weeks now and found nothing. Cindy’s husband suggested setting traps just to check.

Had we not seen the dead raccoon decaying from falling off the roof today while getting my dad a change of clothes, going to Tractor Supply to buy traps would’ve never occurred to us.

The “voices” dad was hearing were actually baby raccoons. 

I will always remember my dad at my nieces wedding, Leigh Ann was glowing and my dad wondering if he would ever find another love in his life after Gretta. 

At his age, finding a partner in life isn’t easy. My dad never leaves his house lately and has become a shut in. 

Growing old alone with your adult children all busy with their own families or working leaves little time to go check on my dad. 

I take him food and go to visit between juggling my own schedule and commitments but, most of the time, my father is alone in a rambling multi level home. We had watched Stephaney get detained on two occasions due to a Mental Warrant but, we never followed the ambulance to JPS because we had to go to work and also because Stephaney was acting crazy again. We have seen too many “Stephaney Scenarios” the past sixteen years to stick around. 

Where my dad was calm and confused about the process, Stephaney needed a straight jacket and booty juice to calm her down. The difference was remarkable. 

Since Cindy and I have had three months of experience with Stephaney being committed three times, we’ve learned a few things about having a relative in the nut house.

In order to bring clothing or toiletries or even visit someone in the nut house, you need the code and a valid ID. Since dad is still on the Tenth Floor, he can’t have visitors or clothing until he is transferred to Trinity Springs sometime today.

My brother is devastated about this turn of events and in worried about my dads safery in the nut house but, we are hoping he is released on Wednesday to travel to our brother in North Carolina.

My dads sister, aunt Shirley and her family were at a family reunion yesterday. We weren’t invited which doesn’t surprise me. Our relatives in Gordon are also full of “great ideas” that have nothing to do with them “pitching in during a crisis.” 

As usual, their unwanted advice doesn’t involve any real help in dealing with an aging father that we never expected to need any help from us. 

Cindy came up with a few #Cindyism Quotes to describe the rampant stupidity of others who think they are being helpful. Here they are: 

“Unless you are helping fix my fence- get outta my yard!” 

“if COMMON sense were CRACKER crumbs, SOME people wouldn’t HAVE enough, FOR a PIGEON to PILFER!” 

“a FEW trees SHY of an ORCHARD!”

#cindyism “LIGHT may be FASTER than SOUND, until you LISTEN to SOME people and REALIZE, their BULB ain’t been LIT, in a LONG TIME!”

“BORN with a JAGUAR chassis, CURSED with a MOPED mind!”

“their SIDEWALK doesn’t MEET the PORCH!”

“there’s SMOKE in the CHIMNEY, but no WOOD in the FIREPLACE!”

“they would SELL the FAMILY tractor, to BUY a PLOW!” 

Having our other relatives suggest moving our dad in with us reminds me of the issues Cindy faced when our grandmother couldn’t live with her son (our dad) or our aunt (her daughter). 

For seventeen years, Cindy supported our grandmother alone with dad or aunt Shirley bothering to visit but not doing anything else regarding tolerating grandma. Nobody wanted my grandmother. She was a lot of work and no reward! 

My grandma was demanding and selfish. She wasn’t easy to live with and Cindy paid the price. I did too on my days off. Nothing we could do made our grandmother happy. Unlike grandma Tinney, our grandmother was a spoiled and self involved Princess.

For all of the relatives suggesting moving my father in who doesn’t have a good relationship with either of our husbands, I’m going to suggest moving him in with you. 

Moving relatives into your home means they aren’t ever moving out. Our brother has offered to let dad come live with him.

Dad isn’t senile and our relatives aren’t doctors so please, unless you have something positive to say or would like to go visit him yourself while juggling your work schedule. 

Please hold your calls telling Cindy or I what you think. This includes my cousins who may find all of this funny when it isn’t. 

We are exhausted, shocked and concerned but, the last thing we need from our “just trying to be helpful”  relatives who aren’t dealing with the drama here in Fort Worth is their bad advice.

Tomorrow Cindy and I are scheduled for a TV Interview and will once again be trying to look normal like we aren surrounded by crazy or unexpected events occurring with my dad or my niece but, after going through the motions with my father in law, grandmother and now my niece and dad, looking normal with all of this “outside and unexpected activity” going on isn’t going to be easy…