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Take My Father...Please!

How To Survive
Caring For Aging Parents

by Jacqueline Marcell
Eldercare / Alzheimer's Speaker, Author, Radio Host, Caregiver Advocate

Liar Liar, Pants on Fire

Dad had not tried to drive since his foot "slipped" off the brake taking us on Mr. Toad's Wild Ride in the carport. Once I was gone, however, he started telling Ariana that he wanted to drive again. I told her to keep the car keys with her at all times and to just evade his pleas with distractions. One day she saw him going out the back door with his jacket on. "Where ya going, Jake?" she called after him.

"Ohhh, I'm gonna take a little ride. Please give me my keys and please move your car."

"Umm, it's a bit too dangerous for you to drive because you don' t see that well, but I'd be happy to take you wherever you' d like to go."

"I'm the boss here and I say move your car right now!"

"Well, I' m sorry. I know it must be very hard on you, but I can' t let you hurt yourself or some innocent person now can I?"

"Goddamn it! I was driving Model T's before your grandmother was born. You work for me and you do what I say, or else," he yelled, inches from her face, pounding his fists on the kitchen table again. (It's really amazing that it's not concave by now.) Ariana didn't flinch' she' d learned my mother's technique already.

Later that day - Ariana came back from the store, threw her purse in her room and got Mom up to go to the pottie. Dad sprinted out of bed, doing the ten-yard shuffle racing into her room. Ariana' s little Gary yelled, "Mommy, Mommy, he took the keys out of your purse!"

"Jaaake," she said to her other child, "give me the car keys. It's too dangerous for you to drive. Where would you like to go? Come on, let's go out for a nice ride. I' d be happy to take you if you give me the keys."

His wrinkled nose started to grow. "I don't have 'em." She tried every which way to persuade him into giving her the keys on his own. No luck all day. Nope, he just didn' t have them. I tried to talk some sense into him.

"Oh Dad, I'm sorry you can't drive anymore. I know how much you love driving, but we can't risk an accident. What if you hurt someone? Wouldn't you feel just awful? Please give Ariana the car keys."

"I don't know where they are' I swear to God."

"If you won't give her the keys on your own, you're forcing me to have to get them away from you forcefully. You don't want to go through that do you?" He went into a rambling rage calling me every nasty name he could think of and then hung up on me. Yeah, yeah, I know' I'm a bitch, I' m a sleazy whore again. Gee, no new terms of endearment?

Mom got so upset with his screaming rampage she passed out at the table, headfirst, right into her mashed potatoes. Ariana rushed to the phone, but Dad physically blocked her attempt to reach it with his outstretched arms and wouldn' t let her call 911.

"You let her go," he commanded. "That's what she wants!" She must have just fainted because she came to quickly and Ariana asked her if she wanted to go to the hospital.

"No! I just want to go to my bed and go to sleep, and I hope I don't wake up to this living hellhole." My poor Mom.

When I checked my answering machine that evening my father had left me several nasty messages saying that if I took his car keys away he'd, "Put a curse on me - so help me God!" Perfect, a new Creedence Clearwater theme song for the week: "I put a spell on you." Ummm, gee, could you possibly remove the existing curse, prior to putting on the new curse, Mr. Hocus Pocus Voodoo Maniac?

I told Ariana to wait until he went to sleep and then she could find the keys. She was up all night trying to find them and then called me exasperated when nothing turned up. "Did you check in his shoes?"

"Jackie, I swear to you, I have looked absolutely everywhere and they are not here," she said in total exhaustion.

"Hmmm, they' re on his body then, I'm sure of it. Did you check inside little Napoleon's jacket? He kept his hand in there for a reason."

"Yesss, I patted him down and they aren't in his pockets. I can't imagine what he did with them." Hmmm, tricky little dictator.

The next morning clever Boris Badenov tried to get her to go to the store for some milk for his cereal. "Not until you give me your car keys, Jake. I'm not moving my car out of the way."

"I told you, I swear I don't know where they are. I wouldn't lie to you. Maybe you lost them." ("Yeah, that's the ticket!")

Ariana called again with a brilliant plan. "Once I finally get the keys away from him, I'll get a copy made and then I'll go buy The Club and put that on his steering wheel. That way he can keep his darn keys and he still won't be able to go anywhere."

"Wow, I'm ashamed I didn't think of that myself, Ms. Einstein-ela. You're a phenomenon! Maybe try asking Mom where he hid them."

Ariana got Mom up and took her in the back bathroom and tried to get her to rat on Dad, and for the first time ever Mom was mean to Ariana. "He's a good driver and that's our car and you can't have it. And you can't have my dining room set either!"

Ariana called again. "Jackie, I found the baby monitor covered with a blanket so I couldn't hear them last night. It appears he's brainwashed her all night because now, she sounds just like him! You won't believe the words coming out of your mother. Here, you try to talk to her."

"Hi, Mom. You know' Dad's eyes aren't good enough to drive anymore. You don't want him to accidentally hurt someone do you?"

"No, of course not, honey, but Dad's never had an accident and that's our car and he's a good driver. And I can drive too. And that's my Mustang out there and I can still drive her if I want. And that's my dining room set and nobody's gettin' it!" Aaaawl-righty-then.

Ariana took Mom to the kitchen table and waited for Dad to get up. All of a sudden she heard "clink, clink, clink" as he walked to the table. "Jaaake, what's that clinking noise I hear?"

"I don't hear nothin'." Uh, General Stockdale, turn up your hearing aid. Dad refused to wear his hearing aid, so, he really didn't hear nothin'.

"Jaaaake, lift up your pant leg, on the double!" He finally complied, and there, masking - tapped to his calf, were the car keys. "Okay, so you lied to me, huh? You've had the keys all along. I'm very disappointed in you, Jake. Are you going to hand them over?"

"NO, they're mine!"

"Okay, then I'm not going to speak to you today." She made breakfast and fed Mom her last few bites and didn't acknowledge him.

Eventually he couldn't stand it. "You' re a traitor. You're supposed to be on my team. You called Jackie and tattled on me."

"Jake, there are no teams or sides here. We're all working together to keep you and Mariel together in your own home as long as possible. You've lied to me for days about the keys - you had them all along."

"I don't give a goddamn about the keys. You're a traitor!" he yelled across the kitchen table as he pounded his fists.

"And you're a liar."

"Traitor, traitor, traitor!" he chanted, as he pounded the table.



"LIAR!" Nah-nah-nah-nah-nahhhh. Poor Ariana realized that she was starting to lose it. She retreated into the "cone of silence" and ignored him for hours. Finally he gave up. "OK! Will this make you happy?" he said as he untaped the keys from his leg, which by then was losing all circulation.

"Yes, very happy indeed. Thank you very much. You will not be getting dessert tonight for lying to me." (Major exhaling required here.)

Then...he started harping that he had to have his eyes tested again. We learned that if we just ignored these demands, usually by the next day he would forget all about them. This time he wouldn' t let up and made us absolutely miserable for days on end. Back to the optometrist, Dr. Cei. I had Ariana call ahead and explain the critical situation. Even if his eyes were somehow better, he still shouldn' t be driving with the bad hearing, memory loss and slow reflexes. (But that's just me.)

Next door to Dr. Cei's was the hairdresser who colored Mom's hair, so she made appointments for the same time. Dad insisted that Ariana stay with Mom during her hair treatment while he went next door to have his eyes tested again. In about a half hour he came back to the beauty salon wearing a big smile. "Guess what? I have great news - my eyes are much better and I can drive!"

"Reeeally? That's great," Ariana told him, as she smelled a skunk. "Stay here with Mom and I'll go get a written report from Dr. Cei." Ariana said that Dad sounded just like an elderly Mr. Bill getting smashed. "No, no, no, nooooooo."

Dr. Cei protested, "I never said that. His eyes are terrible. He barely has any vision left out of one eye and the other one isn't much better. I told him his eyes were quite bad and he should not drive at all."

Ariana walked back to the beauty shop to find Sorry Cyclops with his head down like a bratty schoolboy waiting for his detention. "What am I going to do with you?" she scolded one-eyed Jake.

"Well...it was worth a try," he sighed heavily in the agony of defeat. "I'm a very good driver," said Rainman.

A few days later he called me practically crying. "Dr. Cei doesn't know anything. I know I can still drive. Why are you doing this to me?"

"Ohhh Dad, tell you what - Ariana will take you to the DMV and you can take the eye test. If you pass it you can drive home, no questions asked, okay?" (And be sure to drive past the grassy knoll.)

I had Ariana talk to a supervisor at the DMV and if by some fluke Mr. Magoo passed the eye test, they'd make him take the written test too. She had it all lined up and they were dressed and ready to walk out the door when suddenly he had a change of heart.

"Awhhh, you just take us wherever we want to go, Ariana. I don't really feel like driving anymore."

Oh-kay, all together now: Let's inhale and hold it' aaand breathe out. Aaand another deep inhale in...and hold it...aaand out. Aaand in again' and hold it...that's right, continue hyperventilating until you just don't give a - you know what!


Midsummer's Nightmare at the Alamo

Late one night my father leaned over my bed, softly rocking me back and forth, and waking me up at four o' clock in the morning. "Are those two guys still here?" he whispered.

"Huh? Oh, Dad, I think you've been dreaming. I'm sure there's no one else in the house." He looked so lost so I got up to walk him back to their bedroom, just as he had walked me back to mine after I had seen the Bogeyman so many years before.

"Yes they were! They were sitting with me right there at the kitchen table and I even gave one of them a cookie' see for yourself."

"Oh, I think you probably just had a really vivid dream. I know they can seem so real sometimes, huh?" I said as I put my arm around him. "So then...what did they look like?" I asked, practicing my psychoanalysis.

"Well, one had on a coons-skin hat!" he said, surprising himself.

"You mean like Davy Crockett?" I was thinking that I' d check the TV Guide in the morning and see if ol' Davy had been on the tube.

"Yeah, and the other guy was from the government - maybe even the FBI!"

"Oh-oh, not J. Edgar Hoover in drag I hope."

No...I'm not sure who he was or what he wanted."

I was diagnosing: Okay, he's contrasting the free-spirited Davy with an authority figure. It's obvious that he's in emotional conflict with a deep-seated desire for' Thank you, Dr. Freudeline.

"Well, let's go see if Mom saw them. She'll tell us if they were real or if you just had a vivid dream." We walked into their bedroom and when I turned on the light he got very excited.

"There! There's one of those guys right there," he said, pointing to Mom in their bed, who's looking at him, arms crossed, shaking her head, "tisk-ing" up a storm in complete disbelief.

"Are you sure about that? Let's get a little closer so you can see who it is better," I said as I led him over to Mom's side of the bed.

"Oh, that's no guy, that' s my wife. Well then...where'd that guy go?" I thought I'd die when Mom piped up indignantly, "Well...he most certainly isn't in here with me!"

"Mommy, there were two guys right here - I know what I saw." She rolled her eyes. "Next he'll be telling us he saw Harvey with the Easter Bunny." I put him to bed, kissed him goodnight and tried to calm his fears. He held onto me like a frightened child, begging me to believe him with such a tortured look, I couldn't bear to leave him.

Instant replay: I'm nine - my new white Persian cat had gotten out and I was so afraid something would happen to him. As Dad leaned over my bed at midnight, I held onto him and begged him to let me go look for my cat. After hearing my case, I was so grateful when he said we could go look for him.

I remember Mom saying, ' Oh, for heaven sakes you two, it' 's dark outside, you can't find him. He'll come home when he's good and ready.' Dad whispered to me that we'd go take a look anyway, and that Mom just didn't understand how important it was to me. He bundled me up, gave me a flashlight, and we went outside waking up all the neighbors calling, "Cindy, come here, Cindy!" (We thought Cindy was a girl when we first got him. We had to officially change his name to "Cinderfella" for formal affairs.)

Dad said, "I've got an idea. Let's open the kitchen window and turn on the electric can opener like we're opening him a can of food. Maybe he'll hear it and come home to eat.' Wow, what a great idea - my daddy was a genius. I'm sure the cat was evaluating. Let's see: sex? ... food? ... sex? ... food? Hmmm. Finally, we saw him take a big leap over the fence as he came running home and I was so overjoyed that my cat was safe. We quickly locked the doors together and I saw my dad's face beaming that I was so grateful to him. He was my hero.

It had been many years since I remembered that feeling of being so relieved that he had believed me. Now it was like it was yesterday. The tables were now turned as I leaned over my father' s bed and the love in my heart overflowed.

"Okay then, Dad, let' s get up and look for them, just in case." I helped him up and took him on a thorough search of the house, turning on all the lights and giving him a flashlight.

Mom shook her head as she "tisked" us. "Oh, for heaven sakes you two' there's no one else in the house."

"We'll just make sure that Davy and J. Edgar left, okay? Mom doesn't really understand how important it is to you," I whispered.

He looked at me so relieved. "Thanks, honey. You know, I think they must have left now, but they were here. Please, you gotta believe me, sweetheart."

"You know - I think you're absolutely right, Dad. I think there is a cookie missing here. It looks like those guys are gone now though, and nothing else seems to be missing. They must have been nice guys, not thieves or anything. Let's lock all the doors together so you know that no one can get in the house and you can sleep better, okay?"

"Okay, yeah, that's good," he whispered. I finally got him back into bed and kissed him goodnight as Mom shook her head.

I went back to my bed and intensely studied the texture of the ceiling as tears streamed down the sides of my face and clogged my ears. I'd have never guessed that I'd have to be my parents' parent, and wasn't it amazing that I was an absolute natural at it... but then again - I had very good teachers.


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