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Elder care comes home for writer with mother, stepfather moving to Lawton

Just when you think you might have a thing or two figured out, something happens to assure you that you don't really have a clue.

A few weeks back I helped move both my mother and my stepfather here to Lawton, where they went to two different places, due to the type of care that they require. Mom's doing great in assisted living, but Jim has gone to a nursing home and the challenges are many.

At 89, Jim has a whopping case of dementia and is understandably confused as to how the heck he ended up here in Southwest Oklahoma. We did our best to prepare him, and he was basically on board, but he keeps forgetting or rewriting what's really going on.

It's my first experience with elder care, and by golly I'm getting a good dose of it. Experience, that is.

It's early in the game for me, but it seems that dealing with an elderly person with dementia is much like caring for a little baby. They need so much care, are so helpless and so dependent on you and others … it's total vulnerability. They don't always act right, and you can't really hold it against them. My heart goes out to them as they struggle to exist and persist under the situation that's been dealt them by fate.

From an outside point of view, it's good to have a sense of humor. I often find myself jabbering just to keep the conversation rolling, and once I said "I wonder why you've been so stiff and sore lately." He considered carefully, then said, "Well, I don't know why I hadn't thought of it before, but I THINK I'm 95 years old."

He's 89, but he has a point.

Yesterday he wheeled past the nurse, waved and told her, "Today's my last day! I'm finally retiring."

That same day, I found him in the main room watching the Bedlam game. Which is kind of crazy, since he doesn't watch TV. When someone asked him how he likes it here, he replied he was only here to see the game, then he's going back to Texas.

On the drive up here from San Antonio, it was a long ride in the ambulance. He had seemed to be looking forward to coming to Lawton, but when we stopped in Decatur for a minute, we asked if he was ready to go to Lawton. He said, "GO to Lawton? I thought we were COMING FROM Lawton!"

God bless him.

He has bad days, too. Really bad days, when he's ornery, belligerent, or too sleepy to get out of bed, or full of despair, weeping for unspoken sorrows he feels deep in his soul. Other times all he knows is he's confused but he doesn't know why.

Most days the priority is simply to make sure he's well fed, clean and comfortable. And that he knows he has people nearby who love him.

As heartbreaking as it is to witness, it's strangely enriching (for me, not for him), and I pray that I'm up for the task to do it well. Whatever "it" is.

There's a special place in heaven for the people who work in elder care … especially the ones who do it because they want to and have a passion for it. Challenges abound when looking for the right place for your elderly loved one, but a staff with very high standards makes all the difference.

And just as it is when your kids are little, family involvement makes a huge difference. The parallels are quite interesting.

So apparently there is still uncharted territory I'm intended to explore, and I'm just getting my feet wet. Wish me well!

The Lawton Constitution

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