I have become my father. I don’t mean I’m short-tempered, overly particular about petty things or obsessed with finding cheap gasoline, although these are all traits he passed on to me. I mean I can’t walk.
Unlike my father, my condition is temporary — I fractured my ankle on an ill-advised descent down an icy hill on cross-country skis, landing me with a space-age boot and crutches. My father, on the other hand, begrudgingly used a walker for the last years of his life, as his balance became more and more tenuous and his legs progressively weakened from normal pressure hydrocephalus and spinal stenosis. In other words, he was old. And, like 12 million adults in the United States age 65 or older, he lived alone.
It pained me to watch my father struggle. I tried hard to understand his frustrations, even when he was at his most belligerent, and did my best to alleviate them. I moved across the country to care for him after my mother died and, while we lived more than two hours apart, I regularly spent weekends with him, drove him to and from Florida each winter, and spent countless nights on the phone with his medical alert company or with paramedics each time he was unable to lift himself out of his chair late at night or, worse, took a fall. read more