Who will sit by my hospital bed?

After a busy day of playing music for a funeral—lovingly arranged by the deceased’s grown children and grandchildren, having lunch with a friend in her 30s who has no interest in marriage or children—“I honestly don’t like kids”—and playing the piano for a Saturday evening Mass at which my three singers were all older women whose lives are completely wrapped around their offspring, I received a text message that upended my life.

My father fell on March 25 and broke his leg. It was a bad break, above the knee on the same leg where he broke his hip three years ago. When I first got the text from my brother that Dad was in the ER getting x-rayed, I hoped it was for something minor like a broken finger. No such luck. It was a bad break, requiring surgery, and Dad is less than a month away from turning 95. We don’t know whether it will heal properly. He expects to return to living on his own in the house where we grew up, but that seems unlikely at the moment. Thank God he had his cell phone in his pocket, or he might still be lying on the kitchen floor.

I spent the last week in San Jose, California, mostly sitting by his hospital bed listening to him talk and interacting with doctors, nurses and aides. My brother was there for the first three days, but he had to go home and back to work. My schedule is a bit more flexible. I was the one helping Dad transition from the hospital to a care home where he will continue to recover and work with physical therapists to get moving again. Right now he’s pretty much confined to his bed. While I was there, I could fetch the phone, the urinal, his glasses. I could run out to get help when no one responded to his call button (all too often).

When not with Dad, I was at the house, cleaning years of gunk off every surface, collecting the mail, paying bills and answering phone calls, emails and texts. It’s a house full of memories. Many of my mother’s things are still there, although she has been gone almost 15 years. In the mornings, I sat in her chair by the front window and wrote. In the warm afternoons, I sat in the back yard in the patio that my father built, looking at the lawn he planted and the sidewalk he put in around 1950. I don’t know what’s going to happen to the house now, but I’m anxious to take care of it. Hard to do when I have my own house 700 miles away in Oregon.

I’m the daughter. It’s my job to drop everything to help my father when he falls. Walking up and down the halls of the care home, I see other daughters and sons doing the same thing. One can’t help but wonder who will do this for me. My brother, yes. If he’s alive and able. My friends? Maybe, but not to the extent that my brother and I have been doing. My niece and nephew? I don’t see them helping their grandfather; would they really help me?

I pray that I will never be in Dad’s situation. Nursing homes are not fun. Hospitals are not fun. If I do wind up in such a place, I hope I will have enough money to pay for extraordinary care. I may have to depend on the kindness of strangers.

It helps to have children, but as everyone says, even if you have kids, you can’t count on them to help. Even if they want to, they may live far away like my brother and I do. Today as I type this, Dad is at the mercy of the staff at the care home because we both had to go back to work. We just pray the professionals are kind and efficient and know what they’re doing.

Dad was doing the dishes when he fell, breaking his leg and hitting his head on the wall on the way down. Here in our community, a young woman named Tracy Mason was driving to work early one morning last month when a truck slammed head-on into her car. Almost every part of her is broken. She has lost part of her vision, is struggling to keep her left leg. One minute she was having an ordinary day; the next she was helpless in a hospital bed in Portland. Everything can change in an instant.

If you don’t have children, start cultivating relationships with friends and family members. Arrange the paperwork so they can help you if something happens. And make sure you have good insurance. Then enjoy today as it is, however it is. If you are able to walk, talk and take care of yourself, life is good.

Thank you for your patience with this slightly off-topic post. It has been a long week and a half. If you’re into praying, I’d welcome your prayers for my dad and for Tracy.

As always, I welcome your comments.




Being childless does not mean you’ll end up alone

When you reach a certain age, your parents get old and need help. Unless they die young, it’s going to happen. When my mother was dying in 2002, she had my father. I traveled back and forth from Oregon to San Jose to help, and I was at her side with Dad when she died. My brother and I helped plan her funeral, but Dad was the main caregiver.

For 11 years, my father has lived alone. He has two kids, but my brother lives three hours away, near Yosemite, and I’m 13 hours away on the Oregon coast. When Dad broke his wrist, I didn’t even know about it until after his surgery was over. He took care of himself afterwards. Ditto for his cataract surgery and getting a Pacemaker to keep his heart beating. He’s a strong and independent man. But now his heart is failing, and I have dropped everything t help mim. He may or may not have open heart surgery soon. Right now, he’s pretty good sitting down, but if he does anything, even walking across the yard, he turns white and struggles for breath. He needs help, so I’m here. My brother comes on weekends. We’ll be here for whatever happens.

But you and I, dear reader, don’t have children. Who will help when our health fails? Yes, we have all heard that people who do have kids can’t count on them. We know about old people in nursing homes whose children never come around but in most families, the children are there to help their parents.

So what do we do? Looking at a future alone can be frightening. My stepchildren won’t be around if I go to the hospital or get too weak to buy my own groceries and wash my own clothes. If i have money, I can hire someone to help, but that’s not the same.

Perhaps there are clues in what’s happening now. While I’m away, my friends in Oregon are taking care of things up there. Jo is tending my dog. Mary Lee and Jessie are filling in for me with music at church. Pat, who is my emergency contact with my doctors, is collecting my mail and sending the bills and other important things to me. She’s the one who drove me to the hospital and sat with me before my cataract surgery and the one who drove me to Albany in the dark when my husband died. Other friends brought food, cleaned my house and made sure I wasn’t alone.

You can’t count on children, but you can count on friends, as well as siblings, cousins and other relatives. And your spouse, of course if you have one. If you feel like no one will be around in a crisis, make some connections now, and agree to be there for each other when things get tough.

It might be nice to have children to take care of us, but there’s a world of other people to turn to if we just look around.

What do you think? Do you worry about ending up alone with no one to help? I look forward to your comments

NOTE: I don’t have an Internet connection at my Dad’s house, so I may not be able to approve your comments until I can steal away to a coffee shop or wherever I can find WiFi, but I will get to them, and I look forward to reading what you have to say.