We never thought of retiring. We never talked about retiring. Sometimes life blindsides you and you cope best you can. So it was for us.
It was midnight when the phone rang. His father’s wife was calling from Apache Juntion where they spent the winter. She was leaving for a visit in Texas and he was not going. Would we come get him and have him with us for two weeks? We took the next afternoon off, drove to get him. It was a nightmare from then on. He was a man we didn’t know. Once so quiet, so gentle, so gracious. Here was a man arrogant, loud, combative, cruel. Finally a neurologist told us there was no help, no respite centers, no care homes, no nursing centers willing to take in such behavior. The doctor hinted it might be alzheimers. He wandered, he spent the night trying to open doors so he could take his empty suitcase and go home. He abused the dog-that was it. My husband retired five years early and watched over him. No one got any sleep. It was a hard lesson learned well.
Soon after, it was my Mother. Living alone in Minnesota at 92, she was frail and fiercely independent. Minnesota in the winter can be harsh, cold, icy, deep snow, dreary days. We went home twice a year. We’d find the refrigerator full of spoiled food. We’d clean it out and arrange for a deli to deliver meals daily. She wouldn’t let them in. We returned once to find the house locked and no answer. But we could see her asleep in her chair. My husband cut a screen, broke the porch window, and found the house full of gas. We put in an electric stove. We arranged for a church volunteer we’d known for years to come visit. She refused to answer the door.
We tried to have her come home to Tucson with us. We had the room, we had flower gardens and a vegetable garden. She enjoyed gardening. She always had dogs and now we had two. The answer was always NO.
One day my sister called to say she found Mother sitting in her chair, suitcase on her lap, waiting for the airport to pick her up. I told her put her on the first first class, non-stop plane, tell the flight attendant to walk her off the plane and I would meet her. All was well until she decided the night she arrived she‘d go home in the morning. We agreed it was a good idea, and may the Lord forgive me, I lost the ticket. We were grateful for the lesson my husband’s father’s stay taught us. I retired five years early. The nightmare was not so traumatic. We’d learned the path.
Now our third nightmare….retired from a job I loved, but not retired, my neighbors needed us. She was totally bed bound, and he was changing. We bought the groceries, took him to church, took him to the police court to pay for his driving accidents, picked him up east, across town, to be met with “what are you doing here?” She’d call in the middle of the night, “he’s not here. The front door is open. I can feel the cold air”. We would go walking up and down and find him, suitcase in hand, going to visit his mother in Illinois. One day, having returned him lost from across town he offered me $100.00. No way. Helping each other is what friends are for. “What can I do for you?” I stood silent, scared, Did I dare? I asked myself. A long silence-“your car keys” A long silence. And he tossed them to me. A year later the nightmare was over. We were retired.
Now my husband, who cared for his father, my mother, our neighbors-now it was his turn to be cared for. Physical therapy five times a week, multiple surgeries, daily nurse to check the vital signs and medications, and physical help to help dress and bath, a volunteer for daily visits so I could nap for two hours. He could manipulate a wheel chair and the walls of our home prove it. We listened to classical music. We studied old photographs. We sat and remembered the past. It was good and we were lucky.
Too soon I was truly retired and alone. Too weary to volunteer as a sensible person would. Too physically fragile to be dependable. I felt and feel useless. I didn’t plan to retire. And I do not like it. I do not enjoy it. I cope, reminding myself daily of St Francis-“Accept what you cannot change”. I try