Family – Mom, Dad, Brother and Sister
Well, this is a post I’ve been musing about for years now. I said that this site was mostly for my kids and I would add, grandkids as well, I guess although they all think that I am dead. For someone like me who believes so strongly in the value of family it’s been very tough to end up like this. My birth family was like most people I think, and only kind of fell apart when my parents decided to move out West back in 1970. My brother and sister were young, but we had shared a lot of good times at the farm in Streetsville, mostly because we were in the middle of nowhere and only had each other to play with. I came “this close” to moving out West with them but I met my future wife and stayed in Brampton. That didn’t work out all that well but I didn’t know that at the time. I was truly in love and figured I would be married for the rest of my life. Didn’t happen.
My Dad was a tough disciplinarian who believed in that adage, “spare the rod, spoil the child” meaning that if you don’t discipline you will end up with spoiled brats. Despite how often I felt the pain of the strap I begrudgingly admit that my Dad was right. You need to learn that screwing up has consequences. My dumbest move has to be actually giving him an answer when he asked me, rhetorically, of course, “how many times do I need to tell you?” That one was particularly painful. Although my father was a very strict guy he failed to balance it off with any love. Not until he had had a complete nervous breakdown years after moving out West and I had moved out West to be with my mum for the years she might have left did he actually tell me he loved me. I had also never seen him cry until the day he got the phone call from the hospital telling him that my Mum’s cancer had not spread to her lymph nodes and she might live a little longer than expected originally. He fell apart crying like a baby at the news. It was a very emotional moment for all of us. Speaking of which he gave me the most emotional moment in my life when he died.
The day went like many others. I was at their place helping Dad and he had been bugging me all day to help move the boat anchor. The water level rose in the spring so the anchor, which was tied to a tire, had to be moved out for the boat to be anchored to it. Although it was late May, the water was still pretty cold so I was in no rush to move the anchor this particular day. Dad had been drinking all day as usual so he just kept bugging me to do it and I finally gave in. He got the tools and we headed out to the anchor. Although I had my wetsuit on I didn’t have my contacts so I left my glasses on the beach table, knowing that I could see well enough to work on the tire. As I was working on it Dad suddenly said he couldn’t do it anymore and was going to head in, which was fine with me because I really didn’t need him. I knew he was not that strong a swimmer and wasn’t all that comfortable when the water was over his head, which it actually wasn’t because I could touch bottom and so could he, but off he went.
The next thing I know Ans is screaming at me about Dad. I had had the tire up in front of me on an angle that I couldn’t see anything and of course I don’t have my glasses on so I’m pretty blind anyway. I lowered the tire and I could barely make out my Dad floating in the water. What came next was everybody’s worst nightmare – trying to run in the deep water, which you simply can’t do. It was like slow motion. As I got closer to him I realized that he was face down. Now my Dad weighs almost two hundred pounds, but somehow, I guess adrenaline, I managed to carry him out of the water and up to the grass, at least thirty or forty feet. I instantly regretted not taking that CPR course offered by the St. John’s Ambulance. I hollered at Ans to call 911 then started working on my Dad. I became very frustrated by the fact that every time I turned him on his side to clear water from his throat not a drop came out so I figured I was doing something very wrong. Luckily the EMS crew happened to be on the Westside when the 911 came in and they were there in something like four minutes. Soon as I saw them coming I breathed a sigh of relief thinking that they were going to take over, but the EMS tech said that I was doing fine and to keep going. After about twenty minutes they had a weak pulse but I knew that his brain had been starved of oxygen for too long so he was gone. Tragically he was.
My biggest regret with my Dad was that not three weeks earlier we had had a very bad three hour long argument, mostly about my brother. There were so many things that they never knew about him and I was tired of being compared to him. In their eyes he was a success and I was a failure. The saddest part was that when I told them about some of the horrible things he had done they didn’t believe me. Not exactly a great last memory of my Dad.
On to my Mum. There’s not a lot I can say about my mother. My last memories of her are all horrible because I cared for her when she had advanced Alzheimer’s, the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life. If she wasn’t throwing me out of the house ten times a day she was arguing with me about everything because she couldn’t remember squat. I tried to keep her as independent as possible but she just got worse and worse. There would be four bowls in the sink from her breakfast cereal and she would ask if I was ever going to feed her. I was trapped in the house only able to leave twice a week when her caregivers came for four hours so I could run errands and shop for food. It was not a great life. Sad as it is to say I was glad when she finally died because by then she had zero quality of life, thanks mostly to my sister. More later.
Before the ravages of disease my Mum was the proverbial life of the party. She played the piano and the accordion, both by ear, and she could almost play anything you could hum. She was always ready for a party. When I first moved out West to be with her back in 1993 we went to the horse races, bingo, the show and I took her to the casino. She loved to gamble. She handled the cancer scare as good as anyone good. Several months after I started caring for her she told a neighbor, “well, I can’t remember shit, but I’m fat and happy”, so I figured I was doing my job okay, tough as it was.
One of my fondest pre-Alzheimer’s memories of my Mum is when I had a bunch of friends come over for a BBQ, with my parent’s consent. I told everyone to go to the small park just down the beach from my parent’s place, then walk over. I warned everybody about language, mostly because of the neighbors and to keep the noise down in the house. I took people skiing, tubing and knee-boarding and one time when I came back, primarily to go to the bathroom, I heard the stereo just blasting. I ran up to the house ready to give whoever did this proper hell, only to discover my mum dancing in the middle of the living room and my friends insisted that she had turned the stereo up. That was Mum. I miss her a lot.
On to my brother, Kevin and my sister, Wendy. Many people have asked me why I have nothing to do with them and haven’t even spoken to either one of them for many years. Although it’s hard to decide exactly who is worse, based on the rotten things they’ve done, the award goes to my brother. I could write a book on what he’s done to me and others, but I’ll just give a few examples.
Back when he showed up at our door in Brampton and moved in, much against my wife’s wishes, he said he got a job but he needed a motorcycle to get to it. He had no credit and no money so he needed me to sign for a loan for him, which, regrettably, I did. It was with the Bank of Montreal who at the time held our mortgage and was our only bank. Not all that long after he took off back out West, I believe to Red Deer. Of course the bank phoned me when he had missed three payments on the loan demanding the sixteen hundred dollars I had signed for, which was a lot of money way back then. Our credit rating was at risk, not to mention our mortgage, so we somehow managed to pay off his loan. He never even admitted sticking us with the loan, no doubt because he was so involved with drugs at the time he was living with us. I got a huge “I told you so” from my wife.
Years go by with nothing from him, then suddenly we get a call at one o’clock in the morning from him. He’s in holding at the airport suspected of smuggling in cocaine. Like a complete idiot he’s swallowed bags of cocaine and they are waiting for him to pass them. He’s charged with smuggling. I manage to get him a top notch criminal lawyer who tells us he’s facing ten years in prison, but through his amazing work he gets him off with six months in Milton. Not great because he was a nurse and now will lose his job because he can’t handle drugs anymore. We visit him almost every week until he’s released and goes back to Red Deer. The lawyer charges him four thousand dollars which is cheap considering what he was facing, but of course Kevin objects and refuses to pay him. Blow number two.
Out West he shows up at my door crying because his girlfriend at the time, Joanne, had thrown him out because he refused to stop smoking marijuana. He has worked with her on a mobile home park in Revelstoke adding additional homes, building decks and so on, but he has nothing showing his work. He doesn’t even have a chequing account. They had been together for some six years but he had left everything up to her. I knew her father would slap something on the mobile home park to cut Kevin out of the deal completely so, again, I found a good lawyer who immediately got an injunction preventing her father from doing anything with the park, which saved Kevin’s ass. She eventually managed to get him over a hundred thousand dollars that he did not deserve, despite the fact that he had no proof of anything. Naturally he argued with what the lawyer charged him but at least he paid her this time. With the new found wealth he bought a daycare, although he needed me to sign to get the mortgage.
How he managed to screw up the daycare would make for another novel, but a couple of highlights are me catching him smoking marijuana in the outside storage closet. I just freaked on him asking what would happen to his license if one of the parents caught him? Then he went overseas for his other business and my girlfriend at the time, Tracy, and I worked our butts off getting things sorted out with the daycare and Tracy took on the job as Manager. Before Kevin left to go overseas I had drafted an agreement for us to take over the daycare, one that he agreed to sign before he left, but he didn’t. After he came back Tracy came home and said I wouldn’t believe what Kevin had said. He had made the same agreement with her as he had promised me, cutting me out of the business completely and not paying me a dime for my six months of work at the daycare. The end was after he took five thousand dollars out of the payroll account, leaving us nothing to pay the staff and we had to close the daycare without notice to anyone. I was the guy at the door explaining to all the moms that we were closed now. No fun.
I mentioned that he was a nurse, so I have to add one more. As I explained earlier, after my Dad died I had no choice but to move in and care for my Mum. My life was over other than when the caregivers gave me a break twice a week. Neither my brother or my sister did a thing to give me any time off or help in any way. I had made arrangements to go out and stay the night with my girlfriend at the time, Sylvia. Kevin and his wife showed up late at around eight o’clock so Sylvia and I were late to the event we were going to. We then got back to her place pretty early in the morning and hit the sack. At around seven o’clock my cell starts ringing over and over and I finally have to answer it. It’s Kevin freaking out, telling me I have to come home right away because he can’t take dealing with Mum. Okay, she has Alzheimer’s, but he’s a friggin nurse, but he can’t take care of her? Home I go, only to discover that he didn’t give her the meds she needs every night, so, of course, she’s freaking out, mostly at where the heck am I? Kevin and Susan beat a hasty retreat and that is the only time in all the time I cared for her that Kevin ever offered to help.
There’s so much more that I could write about my brother, all of it bad. I honestly can’t say a good word about him. Today I don’t even know if he is still alive but I don’t really care.
On to my darling sister, Wendy. We were apart for more than twenty years but we did reconnect after I moved out West. Although Mum and Dad went south to Yuma every winter I did go up to Revelstoke quite a bit in the winter to go snowmobiling with her hubby, Ron. When Mum and Dad were here we went up a lot on weekends. Played a whole lot of cards and usually had a good time. Dad often helped Ron with things around the house, mostly because Ron was pretty useless. He figured he could fix anything with a good hammer and that was about it. Wendy was a lot like Mum in that she was always ready to party.
After Dad died they would usually come down to take Mum to the casino, which she enjoyed. It was the one thing she could always do pretty well so it just reinforced Wendy’s opinion, as had frustrated the hell out of my Dad, that she didn’t really have Alzheimer’s. Before he died my Dad had encouraged Wendy to watch a video about how to care for someone with Alzheimer’s, but she refused. She even refused to speak at his memorial as did my useless brother. Neither one of them helped with anything, leaving everything up to me and my friends. One thing I did forget was to have someone videotape the memorial so we could show it to Mum when she had forgotten everything. I was not going to make the same mistake when we dealt with Dad’s ashes. I had been talking to one of their neighbors who had a houseboat that he often took out at night with lights all around. I had explained that it was illegal to put ashes in the lake so we needed to do it quietly and at night and he agreed. I talked to one of my friends who had a video camera and they agreed to come and tape it for Mum so she could remember.
I came home Sunday after a rare night out on Saturday and they left. I was in the shed for something and saw that the urn was gone. I called Wendy and she said that they had got tired of waiting and had disposed of his ashes the night before. She didn’t give a damn that I wasn’t there. He was my Dad too! So there went the plan to video it for Mum, thanks to my ignorant sister.
The first time she really offered to help with Mum was at Christmas, Mum’s first without Dad. I had made plans with Sylvie to have Christmas dinner with her and spend Boxing day with friends. Wendy and Ron were coming down Christmas Eve night and staying for a few days. We decided that we would open gifts on Christmas Eve when Mum was more likely to be okay.
First Wendy calls to tell me that they are coming down two days early so we are going to have our Christmas long before Christmas Eve or Day. I wasn’t crazy about that but went along. After they arrived and as we are opening presents on what is clearly not Christmas she says they need to get to bed early because they are leaving for a week in Vegas the next morning. There went my Christmas. I barely got a break from caring for Mum and all my plans were destroyed, all thanks to Wendy.
After Dad died it was decided to take their place off the market, mostly because Mum was dealing with enough without leaving her home. I also wanted to do some much needed renovations to get the place ready to sell anyway. I knew how hard it was to get someone into the scarce care facilities in the Okanagan so I started what became a daily chore of calling people and applying for care anywhere. At this point Mum was classified as I believe a four on a scale to seven as far as her Alzheimer’s was concerned. That didn’t help me to get any consideration for her as far as getting her into a facility, but I kept at it. One day, just after I got home and one of her caregivers had left, the phone rang. As I came in the door and had picked up the phone Mum started her usual tirade against me, throwing me out yet again among other things. I had no idea who was on the phone and kept trying to answer over Mum’s yelling. I finally got her name so I stopped trying to talk. After a few minutes when Mum finally stopped yelling at me I could talk. Laura, the caregiver and the one who had just tested Mum yet again, was blown away by what she heard. She said I must be really struggling being attacked so viciously and being thrown out of the house. I told her no, that I was used to it and Mum had thrown me out at least forty times already. She promised me that she would upgrade Mum’s classification to an emergency level to get her into proper care as soon as possible.
Not much changed as far as my usual daily routine of calling anyone and everyone, writing letters and emails, trying to get her in anywhere that could give her the care she so desperately needed. I have to admit that my unwavering patience with things was starting to fade and I was praying for a care facility. At one point I managed to get through to the Director of the Emergency Services, the guy who places people in care facilities. After I explained that Mum had been on emergency status for several months he told me that he had three hundred and fifty people on emergency status and asked what I wanted him to do? I knew that the only hope I had was to keep pestering people and that someone would die somewhere so Mum could get in. Finally I got a call from a facility that was more than qualified to deal with Alzheimer’s patients. They told me to bring Mum in but they told me I had to lie to her about where we were going and have no contact with her for a minimum of a week. When we got there I was dismayed by all the bars, fences and security. It looked like a prison but I realized that you can’t just let people with Dementia or Alzheimer’s wander outside. I left quickly. The next few days were just terrible because Mum would call and leave heart-breaking messages apologizing for being bad and begging me to come and get her. I cried after every message and felt so incredibly guilty. I had listed the house again so I knew she had to stay in the care facility. I started getting calls from the administrator, telling me how well Mum was doing. They had managed to move her to a shared room with a lady she really got along well with. Mum had started participating in some of the activities they had, like art and playing cards. Each day got a little better and I felt less guilty because I knew she was where she needed to be to get the qualified care.
Next thing I know I get a call from the administrator telling me that my sister is there and taking Mum out of the facility. She warns me that if Mum leaves she will go back to the bottom of the list as far getting back in. I talk to Wendy and tell her to tell the administrator that they are just taking Mum up to Revelstoke for a visit and she will be back. I tell her not to take any of Mum’s things except a few clothes. She says that Mum does not belong in a horrible place like this and she is taking her to Revelstoke. I remember every single word I said to her, telling her that if she took Mum out of the facility it had taken me months to get her into I would no longer be responsible for Mum’s care. Whatever happened would now be entirely on Wendy and she agreed. I knew at the time that she didn’t have a clue what she was getting into, mostly because of her denial that Mum even had Alzheimer’s.
It so happened that Wendy had told me where she was putting Mum in Revelstoke. I researched it on the internet and first learned that it was an “assisted living” facility, which is not what Mum needed at all. Second I learned that it was for sale, with a note that the residents could be relocated easily. Yeah, right. Next I get a call from the facility telling me that Mum cannot stay there because she is driving them nuts. Her room is on an upper floor and she is constantly hollering at them that she can’t change the TV. They go up and discover she is using the phone. Next she’s hollering that she can’t call Wendy. They go up and she’s trying to call using the TV remote. Why Wendy ever gave her the number for the store is beyond me and only shows how clueless she was about Alzheimer’s. Mum would never remember that she had called her and would just keep calling. Then I get yet another call telling me that Mum has been found wandering around the streets of Revelstoke in the dead of winter with no coat on. Luckily someone saw her and knew she was Wendy’s mum so they took her to the store. The facility had had enough so Mum had to go. Wendy now learned what I had been going through for months so Mum ended up in the hospital.
My friend and I went up to Revelstoke for Mother’s Day. When I saw my mother I nearly died. She was just a big head on a scrawny little body, shuffling along like someone a hundred years old. She sat by me at the table and kept asking me who everybody was, sadly including Wendy. It broke my heart and I knew that it was the last time I would ever see my mother. She only got worse when the cancer returned and had spread to her brain. She was eighty-four, far too old for any operation so it was just a matter of time. She died in the fall but I was so upset with my sister that I couldn’t even go to the memorial they held for her in Kelowna. I knew that Wendy had killed our mother and I could never forgive her so it was better that I stayed away.
Apparently she sold the business and has moved to Kelowna. I can only hope that if I get back there I never run into her, unless it’s with a car.