Special Edition: Taking Care Of Our Senior Family Members – A Cautionary Tale

Jul 20th
        (Al and Russ on one of Al’s visits up to see us – this one always makes me smile.)

As most of you know, we’ve had a very turbulent few days . . . On Wednesday, late afternoon, we got a call from my husband’s Mom, that his father was in the hospital, in critical condition, and wasn’t expected to make it.  This call came 4th hand, not from the “caregiver” that my father-in-law had been with for the 10 years since his divorce from my mother-in-law.  We quickly got things together and we left early Thursday morning to go to Oregon to the hospital, praying we would make it in time. 

We arrived at the hospital, found his room, and walked in, dreading what we would see.  What we found was a very awake, aware and sharp elderly man – obviously in discomfort from a fall he’d taken.  He had bruises around his eye, his back ached – he actually ached all over, and he was suffering from a form of pneumonia that occurs when liquid gets in the lungs from being unable to swallow properly.  He was tired, and expressed that he was ready to go.  What struck us the most was his shock that we were there, and the fact that he wouldn’t look my husband in the eye.  We stayed with him throughout the day, spoke with his nurses and a social worker.  His doctor was not present, nor was the woman who was supposed to have been caring for him for years.  We were told that the hospital was unaware that he had any family, and that his “power of attorney” had told them he had nobody.  Seriously? Nobody?  He has people, more than a few, but I’ll get into that in a bit.  We were also told that he’d been there since Monday, but nobody had let ANYONE in the family know until late Tuesday, the news not reaching us until Wednesday.  The doctor hadn’t given him more than three days to live on Monday, by Thursday they said he had improved to the point that they were giving us addresses of nursing facilities to check out.  We were so relieved, and spent the remainder of that day, until his dinner time, visiting with him.  We were even able to hear his last joke!  The man had a sense of humor, for sure.  We were getting ready to go to speak with the social worker for the first time, and call some family to see when they were going to arrive at the hospital, and to cover that we were going to go talk about him, we said we were going to get a bite to eat – was there anything he wanted?  His immediate comeback – no hesitation, and clearly automatic . . . “A blonde”!  HAHAHA always one to love the ladies, he’d requested a blonde.  Cracked us up!  We couldn’t find a blonde lady willing to go hang out with him for awhile, but we did find a cute little blonde teddy bear – and I’m not sure but it may have been the only bear he’d ever had!  He held it for a bit while were visiting with him, and he got a good chuckle out of our attempt to make his request come true.  When we left that evening, we were confident that we would be able to see him on Friday and figure things out better, and hopefully have a chance to see his doctor.  Throughout this entire time, we hadn’t heard one peep out of his “caregiver”. Not one.  You’d have thought, after taking care of him for all this time, she would have been there for his last couple of days in his distress.  (This is a picture of Blondie The Bear – strapped in and heading home from the hospital – she will always remind us of our last day with Al.)

On Friday morning at 6:45, we got a call from my husband’s nephew – Dad had passed away at 6:25 a.m.  On Thursday he was joking, on Friday he was gone.  And here’s where we get into the cautionary tale. . .

10 years ago, after his divorce from my mother-in-law, Al  chose to have a daughter of a friend move in with him to help him out around the house, prepare his meals.  He was still pretty mobile, still drove, and she apparently needed the financial assistance in the form of a place to stay.  Well, OK, that worked out fine.  We lived over 350 miles away and getting down to see him wasn’t something we could do all the time and he seemed content.  We had him come up on the train to visit a couple of times, were able to spend Thanksgiving with him a few years ago, sent him gifts on Christmas and birthdays, and spoke on the phone.  It became, over time, more and more difficult to reach him.  His phone numbers kept changing, he moved several times, when we’d email the caregiver she’d have him call to talk to us, give us his new number and we just figured he forgot to give us the new information.  Not being very savvy about computers and phones, it stood to reason that he didn’t understand how to work cell phones.  Then things started to escalate.  She suddenly couldn’t help him come to visit, or it wasn’t convenient for family to visit him.  She had him buy a house, and put her name on it with his – all in lieu of a salary.  Then that house wasn’t good enough – so she had him buy another one.  And the cars! Always the new cars!  She put herself on his accounts, and from what we can gather, the funds disappeared.  She had him living in the 1st house with two college kids, while she lived in her new house – only checking on him every couple of days.  It was just a matter of time before he fell and hurt himself badly enough to not recover, or started a fire and burned the place down.  She spent 10 years telling him that nobody loved him, that his family had abandoned him and that once he was in the hospital, nobody would show up for him.  This explains why he was shocked when we all walked in, and why he wouldn’t look my husband in the eye.  He must have realized he’d been lied to, and that he’d bought it – hook, line, and sinker.

She informed the hospital that SHE was the power of attorney, that Al had no family – when in fact he had a son, a grandson, nieces and nephews, all who loved him very much and had been systematically shoved out of his life over the years.  It turns out – trying to make a very long story short – that she never had power of attorney.  The hospital had, on HER orders, taken away his medication and put him on comfort care, as he wanted to die with dignity and on his own.  She had him sign an agreement of “his wishes” on Thursday morning, against the express orders of his grandson.  After he passed away, still unwilling to come to see the family in person, she produced a very unprofessional will, in which we see that Al disinherited his entire family, and left everything to this woman.  Her words to his grandson when he was able to get in touch with her?  “I’m unhappy too! How am I going to pay the mortgage?”  SERIOUSLY?  When we finally had a family conversation with her on the telephone – all on speaker – we asked her about his personal effects (meaning his war medals, his family photos, etc. – we don’t CARE about money, unlike this viper), her instantaneous come back, “It’s ALL mine, he left it to me!”   Wow.  Just wow.  At that point she started pointing fingers at my husband saying that it was HIS responsibility to claim the remains and with the unspoken implication, to pay for the cremation and all other end of life expenses.  Um, no.  He has a family plot in which his ashes can be placed with the rest of his family, but she gets everything? She can have the expenses too.  You see, we don’t care how she is going to pay the mortgage, or deal with the hospital bills.  She wanted it, she gets it.

We have learned a few things from this . . .

Number one, and most important, don’t EVER leave your loved ones completely in the care of someone else.  Money isn’t important to people who truly love each other, but it is ALL important to those who prey upon the weak.  We all lead busy lives, and in this day and age, families are spread out over many, many miles, but that is no excuse to not be in touch.  We are guilty of allowing this woman to move  herself in, and shove us out. There is nobody to blame but ourselves.  We took it from Al himself, that he was fine, happy and content with his life, and since he’d always been such a strong and independent presence, nobody truly questioned it.  We should have – every single one of us should have.  We cannot change this for us, but I am hoping that some of you out there can change things for the seniors in your lives, so that their well-being comes first. 

Number two – people can be evil.  We already knew this, but evil comes in all forms, and sometimes it creeps in on the coat tails of supposed good intentions.  Don’t believe it.  If someone seems too good to be true, they probably are.  This woman laid out her plan carefully, and she carried it out with complete success.  I only wonder how long it is before she has her next victim in her sights.  We do know that she’s tried to start a “group” home for elderly folks, but was turned down by the state for lack of credentials (thank God for THAT!).  She isn’t done fleecing the elderly . . . she got her hooks into Al, got a taste for the simplicity of brainwashing a vulnerable old man, and she is going to use her newly honed skills on the next victim as soon as the dust settles from this one.

Number three – family is so important.  This is the ONE good thing to come out of this.  My husband was able to reconnect with his nephew and one of his cousins.  We were able to meet his nephew’s wife and incredibly well-behaved and beautiful children.  We shared meals together, had bittersweet laughs together, and we know that we do not wish to lose touch with each other.  Family is a blessing that should not ever be taken for granted, for when things  are rough, it is family we turn to, it is family who console each other and it is family who will help pick up the pieces.

In this life we are blessed with gifts from God that come in the form of family.  Some family we are born to, some we are adopted into (such as with my husband and Al), and some we choose from close friends who become as close as family.  These gifts are not to be taken lightly, for in the merest span of a moment, they can be taken from us forever, leaving behind the regrets of things unsaid, moments not shared, and memories left uncreated.  Take care of those you love now, while you have the chance.  Do not leave it to strangers who pretend to be angels, when they are in actuality vampires hiding their fangs from the unsuspecting.  It is to us, those who love them, to extend the respect to our seniors to take care of them ourselves, or at least VERY closely supervise those we have hired to assist in caring for them for us. 

God Bless You and those you love. May you feel the peace that comes with having family.

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