Heading south…



After Dad had been in Michigan well over a year, he started having some problems. He’d been doing great. Still “preaching and teaching” at the prison, driving himself to church, going out for breakfast everyday, (no never on Sunday’s, are ‘ya nuts?) but I noticed a couple of troubling things. Even with these clues, I sorta had blinders on cause I didn’t want see things going wrong. Guess I was in denial of having my only aging parent with a host of new health issues.

Dad celebrating his last Christmas w/us. 2007

He had bought a new PT Cruiser months before. We had to order the car because, get this, Dad didn’t know how to drive an AUTOMATIC. Gospel truth. We had test driven one. I had him and the car in an empty parking lot, him watching my foot go from accelerator to brake, back and forth numerous times. No siree, he could not get the hang of it. So the dealer found one a couple hundred miles away with a clutch and zippy manual 5-speed. Oh Dad. Well, he had driven some sort of stick for over 75 years. I wasn’t really surprised that it was too late for him to change, or learn something as complicated as an automatic transmission.

He called one day and said something was wrong with the car. John and I walked up the hill to the parking lot of his building. We were 50 feet from the car when John piped up, “I can smell it, he tore out the clutch.” Dad kept his car in the underground heated garage. It was a sharp turn, plus a steep hill, (the steep driveway was heated so it never iced up) but afforded Dad the luxury (and me not worrying) of him never having to scrape his windshield or walk across a slippery parking lot. We had the car towed to the dealer. They put in a new clutch under warranty-yeah that might have been a questionable call.

Dad loved his Cruiser…

A month later his building manager stopped me and said Dad’s car had hopped the curb that day when driving out of the garage. The car was hung up, but he kept trying to drive off the curb. That didn’t sound like him. Couple weeks later I stopped at his apartment, which he kept neat as a pin, except for random sermons lying around in varying degrees of completion, or awaiting my new proof reading duties. The place was a cluttered mess. Piles of clothes on his bed, more stacked in the bathroom. It had only been a day or 2 since I had been there. What happened? Looking around I noticed his billfold on the floor behind the door of the bathroom. Must have lost it and had been trying to find it. Holy Hannah, he’d be mortified. Out for breakfast and no money. I jumped in the car and made a mad dash for the restaurant. Creature of habit, he went to the same place every morning. Restaurant was closed on Sunday, won his heart and business right then and there. I didn’t make a big deal out of showing up out of the blue. Said I had stopped at his place and spotted his billfold, thought he might need it. He was nonchalant about having no money with him. Sort of assumed someone at his table (met with a different group of folks almost everyday, my social little butterfly) would pick up his whopping tab of coffee-one-egg-over-hard-whole-wheat-toast.

A usual sight at Dad’s. Sermons partially done…

After we got back to the apartment he said something even more troubling. He had driven out to the prison at 5 a.m. that morning when he couldn’t find his billfold. (Wonder what the guards thought of that?) Dad assumed he had left it in the locker he used when he was there the day before for his weekly bible study.

Not a month later Dad was on his way to the prison, which was about 5 miles away from his apartment. It’s only 2 turns, he knew the way there and back really well. I’m doing my Parish Visiting thing when I get a call from my local police department. Dad was on the Causeway about 2 miles from his apartment, swerving, driving erratically. No accidents, but he’d come close with a mom and her kids before she got him to stop, so she called 911. He couldn’t remember my name, and the cops couldn’t find his driver’s license. When he opened his car door, dollar bills were flying all over. Cops found his address on his registration, and drove him back to his apartment. Once there they noticed the list on the fridge with emergency numbers and called me.

When I arrived one of the policemen was explaining to Dad that he could no longer drive. Then he hacked off the corner of his license, which they had finally found in between the front seats. They had also called an ambulance because Dad really didn’t know what was going on, but he did know me. (My name I’m not so sure about that day) He had suffered a stroke and spent several days in the hospital. It was painfully clear that living in his spiffy apartment was no longer an option. Sarah, the hospital social worker was a big help. Plus as parish visitor, I knew the places I was comfortable with him moving into, and the ones I didn’t think were all that great. We decided on Village at the Oaks, about 10 minutes away. A new independent-assisted living facility. His doctor, Sarah and I thought Dad should be able to manage independent living with some physical therapy. While he was in the hospital, John and I moved all his stuff to his new digs. It would take Dad several weeks to get his groove back. Physical therapy helped plus he started using a nifty little walker for balance issues. He tended to walk too fast with his head down. If he met so one in the hallway, he would jerk his head up, losing his balance.

The Village was big,140 apartments. He was pretty mixed up at first. The ever-present wandering aides were quick to rescue him, remind him of meal times, activities, show him to the dining room, elevator or his apartment. He had a terrible time getting used to a shower. I kid you not. Refer you back to the straight-stick-car-issue. Showers were a new-fangled invention for him. I used a permanent pen to mark where the dial should be approximately for the right temperature. Sigh. For the time being things were back in sync, but it wouldn’t last long…




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