Breaking up is hard to do. Make a date. Play a part.

I haven't been through the process of 'breaking up' with anybody for a really long time.  It seems like forever.  To me breaking up means something was probably pretty good for some amount of time and then one of the couple finds somebody else.  I guess it's a rule of substitution. 

Then there's the breaking up of a marriage.  Never done that.  But that's got to be terrible, even when it's good.  And if kids are involved -blech!

Last year I found myself in the position of breaking folks.  I say my folks because I now consider my step-mom a 'folk'.  It wasn't that way for a really long time.  Like a jealous woman, I rather resented my dad taking a new wife so quickly after my mom passed on.  #2 is a very nice lady and the marriage between her and my dad was perfect.  It was at least when it took place.

Debbie, my step-sister (who is an awesome person and a wonderful side-benefit of our parent's union), and I have become quite close because circumstances have dictated we work together.  If anybody has to go through this type of management of others' lives, then having a logical, fun, direct, fun, smart, fun buddy is the way to do it.  In my opinion, this has been the grace of God.

We were talking very recently, like today, and have agreed that from the outside they married for all the wrong reasons.  But from their perspective those were all the right reasons.  He wanted a replacement wife: a good looking woman, cook, companion, and a type of maid with a sense of humor.  She wanted a good looking guy, who had similar spiritual roots, some money, and despite not being social, a sense of humor and charm, and some status.  They each got what they wanted and a whole lot more than they expected.

Well, pooh happens, and life is not the fairy tale each expected in their later years.  When she had some physical issues and could not return to their home, we guided (forced) them into assisted living.  Not easy for my dad, but much better for my step-mom since the pressures and burdens of performing most of the tasks he required of her were shifted to 'assisted.'  All good.

Being told it would take a year for my dad to adjust was daunting to me.  Hhhmmm.  Change does not come easily, especially forced change.  We didn't even get to nine months.  Despite the assistance in living, his demands were still strong on his wife, and it became obvious he was bringing her down with him.  

Last August, after doing some homework I flew to Southern California to do some exploratory work about other housing alternatives for him.  Working with The California Registry, a referral agency for private licensed-home care, I made arrangements to see five home care properties.  It didn't take long for me to see those were not the next step.  Maybe a few steps away.  But not the next one.

I returned to where they lived and met with the director of the facility and my step-mom.  I told them what I'd been up to all day.  I had a plane to catch and was looking for ideas.  The director suggested a possible solution.  There was a studio apartment on the lower level that might work for my dad.  Then my step-mom could take her time and find one that suited her, with the help of her daughter.

I looked at the apartment and signed up for it.  He was moved the next day.

The big question was "Why has my wife left me?"  "No dad, she didn't leave you.  She needs some peace in her life and can't take your demands anymore."  Quickly, more words came.  "You are going to have dates now!  Dates for occasional meals, dates for you to read to her (she's legally blind), dates to walk the dog around the grounds." 

Three days later his wife moved into her own top floor apartment and started getting uninterrupted sleep. And so it's been since last August.

These situations are traumatic for the lead players. The supporting cast (family) feels it too.  And the support personnel at the facility really gets it when my dad is stubborn and grumpy and just plain rude. And the script is repeated with various re-writes throughout the facility.

By a nice coincidence I had the chance to spend some face time with the facility director, and the director of the adjacent "Recollections" unit.  I'm a little unclear of the title "Recollections" since this is for the patients with severe dementia and Alzheimers.  It only takes a bit of perspective to make what seems tough, look not so bad.

They told me of a husband and wife.  He lives in the assisted living side and she is in "Recollections".  He gets up in the morning and with love and a sense of humor says to the staff that he wonders who he will be that day.  A husband, a brother, an uncle, a stranger.  Whoever his wife thinks he is that day, he plays the part right along with her. Not too long ago the moment she was in required her to prep for her prom, including dressing the part.  And he went right along with it, playing the role of her date, all in character.  What love and dedication.

After my chat with the directors, I went out and cried.  I cried for that man and his wife. I cried for my dad and his wife.  I cried out of guilt because the issues we are facing are gentle in comparison.

Just 30 minutes earlier I had walked with my dad to his apartment after sitting with him during his fabulous dinner in the smaller dining room where he claims a table for four all to himself.  He doesn't want to talk to anybody.  He says he hates the place because all he sees is crippled old people using walkers and wheelchairs.  Umm, dude.  But those complaints are fading a bit.  And he does admit the food is good.  During his dinner I answered the same questions several times.  It's not worth thinking for a moment that I should say I just told him.  It just doesn't matter.

When we got to his apartment door he opened it, turned to me and simply said "Thanks for coming.  Bye." And he closed the door.  Summarily dismissed.  I shrugged and smiled as I walked away.  What else was there to do?

Live richly,  marilyn


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  2. Beautifully written sister! I have to laugh / cry / think while reading this....remembering some of the highlights:

    "I've seen you on google earth - quit driving the damn car! "

    To a note on the refrigerator, "Jesus will be
    here in the morning"

    To watching my mom have a melt down knowing that the stroke and blindness had changed her lifestyle forever in one sweep of the seconds hand.

    To watching their home , sell for asking price, within days, while you and your faithful friends undo a house filled with 10 yrs worth of living , all within the space of a weekend!

    Watching and being a part of this perfectly disfunctional relationship of our parents, for whatever reasons they chose to live the rest of their lives together - I have found the sister I always wanted - someone who makes me laugh and with whom I can share my deepest thoughts / ideas with, who will not think I'm ready for "recollections"! Love you M.


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