Sunday, 19 September 2021

There comes the time

 I was recently up in Jo'burg for my dear friend's marriage celebration. I spent a lovely day and two nights in Parys and then two nights either side of the wedding before returning home.

While upcountry, I visited a bunch of friends who are of a similar age to me. We're in - or approaching - the 'time to deal with parents' age group. 

My dad hasn't been well for the past few years. Physically he is in really decent shape but mentally not so. He isn't in a good space at the moment and I'd really prefer him to be closer to me. He needs company and he needs stuff to do and things to keep him busy.

We drove down together from JHB on Monday and Tuesday. I am really glad that we did this together.

Gariep Dam - my dad's first time stopping here.

Gariep Dam wall

Pretty flowers along the road in the Karoo.

We stayed over in Colesberg and drove through the Meiringspoort Pass - another first for my dad.

Meiringspoort Pass

The weather was great here in George on Wednesday. In the afternoon we drove the Outeniqua Pass and then took the dogs for a walk.

Looking out from the Outeniqua Pass to the old Montagu Pass

He's not so good at this selfie thing.

Thursday was a cold and raining day. My mom kept my dad busy with some stuff at home, between his numerous and lengthy rests / naps, which has been his habit for much of the year. 

Friday afternoon cleared up a bit and so we took the dogs to the beach at Kaaimans River.

Dogs enjoyed playing at the beach.

Dad enjoyed the outing but was really feeling the cold - and it isn't even as cold here as it is on the highveld!

The problems my friends are experiencing have a common theme:

1. A parent who is ill or somehow compromised.

2. A parent who has passed on and the other is still around and at a loose end.

3. A parent who is vegetating with little to do and no company while my friend/s have to be at work, run their homes, raise their children and just cannot spend enough time with said parent.

4. A parent who refuses to consider moving closer or moving into a more suitable environment.

5. An elderly parent who should not be driving but refuses to give up the keys.

6. A very grumpy, pain-in-the ass parent who is difficult to be around, and is nasty to their spouse / children / other family.

What my friends see is that their parents have:

1. Too little company and interactions from other people, especially now in the-time-of-covid.

2. Too little to do in the way of activities and hobbies.

3. Trapped where they live because moving and dealing with their accumulated stuff is overwhelming - easier to just stay put.

4. Ongoing and worsening medical issues - whether physical or mental - as one ages.

I brought up two words to my dad that some maturing parents seem to fight against - retirement village (RV). This is like living in a complex but, unlike a complex with a more youthful demographic, the other residents are there in the day and they have time. They're not shooting off to the office nor raising a young family. This means that there is company and interaction.

RVs also may offer a bunch of facilities for medical and specialised care, physical activities, scheduled excursions, entertainment, bus services, cleaning services, a library and an on-site kitchen/dining room where meals can be ordered/booked on request. And all of this on your doorstep. You have independence but you can also choose what you need / want from the offering and you don't have to attend sing-along groups or aqua-aerobics if you don't want to.

My friend's parents made the decision when they retired to move into an RV that offered what they needed. This works really well for them. They're looking at an RV down here.

The thing is, one has to make a good decision early on for when you're not going to be so good at making good decisions.

My dad doesn't want to be a burden on me and is very tied to his house in JHB where he had decided years ago he would live until he dies (he saw one retirement village in Benoni many years ago and thinks that all are the same). The problem is that things change. I've moved, my mom has moved, his sister is about to move, his brother plans to immigrate to SA to retire. We're all going to be down this way - within a few hours of each other. My dad will be even more alone in JHB - far from all of us - and thus he is a bigger worry and stress on me being far away because there is little I can do for him.

The problem really is when a parent doesn't make good decisions for themselves and the repercussion of this on their children. 

I saw my dad care for his mother after she moved here from Paris. She made the decision to move while she was still able to. She was fine for a while and then she began a steady decline. He knows the drill. 

The difficulty is probably knowing yourself when the time is right. For me, the time is right when your children say, "The time has come". It is then for the parent to say ok.
(Yes, there are situations with children that make bad decisions for their parents, even moving them away - but I like to think that more have the right intention and decision.)

From my side, I know that I can't make my dad to anything he doesn't want to do. I don't even know how to and I'm unlikely to have much success either. The alternative for me and my friends is to keep tabs from afar and leave our parents be until the situation is such that we have to step in. This is not very nice either for the children. No-one wants to have to 'step in'. 

From my side, I'm going to investigate retirement options down here - and there are many in and very close to George. Always good to know what the options are and to work on the enticement angle. Not much else I can do right now.

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