I often blog about light-hearted topics, but today (after much internal debate), I thought I'd blog about something more personal on the off-chance that it might help someone else.
My father died in March. He was 90. He'd served in the military, been a teacher, and then for most of his life a lawyer operating his own practice. He was a self-motivated, independent businessman who owned houses in three states as well as a 20-unit apartment complex. Dad loved family and never missed spending a holiday with one of his kids or grandkids. He had six children, 12 grandchildren, and 14 great/great-great grandchildren. Dad was a bit of a ladies man, having been married three times (and separated often, because...you know...he liked the ladies). If he was a character in one of my books, he'd be more likely to hang out with the ladies than the guys, would never have met a stranger, and have a booming, infectious laugh. He also had dementia for the last decade.
About 10 years ago, I began to notice Dad's memory was going. I'd take him to the doctor or to a grandchild's basketball game. On the drive home, he'd recount the events to me as if I hadn't been there. He began to forget names and how to navigate to places. I chalked it up to old age. Then in 2012, he got really sick and spent two weeks in two different hospitals, followed by a 6-week stay in a rehabilitation facility. Since I was already his power of attorney, I dove into the stack of bills (for those 3 homes) on his kitchen table. He was behind three months on some bills and had paid other bills three months out. There was also a notice from his accountant that he'd overpaid his tax bill by $40,000. I "assumed" he was doing things in ramshackle fashion in order to keep up with his busy lifestyle. I organized all his bills and began paying them online. Please note: these are all signs of old age AND dementia (toss a coin as to which one any doctor might attribute it to).
Within a year's time, Marie had convinced Dad that three members of our family had abused him and that he was better off not seeing any family members anymore. None. At least, not without her permission and supervision. She told me that she had "dirt" on me and my husband that could send us to prison. Funny how she told me this while Mr. Curtis was working at a public school on the brink of bankruptcy and looking for a new job.
I was replaced as his power of attorney by an attorney who was an acquaintance. I tried calling and emailing, but this attorney said that Dad did not have dementia and was very clear about how he wanted to live. I tried calling social services, but Marie was a volunteer there and they told me she wasn't the type of person to lie. I consulted with a lawyer, who advised me that proving an adult is under the influence of another adult and has dementia is a crap-shoot and liable to cost $50,000 or more. He said these cases get ugly and she seemed like the kind that would go for the throat. Given I had three kids in college to support and a husband in the public eye (looking for work and vulnerable to accusations of abuse of anyone), I chose my family over the fight for my dad. After all, I couldn't prove he had dementia and he'd always been an independent guy who liked to be with the woman he liked to be with. Maybe I was wrong.
Over the next four years, my father's calls were screened. Family would arrange for visits and when
One of my sisters was probably not considered a threat by Marie. She managed to arrange visits 1-2 times a year. During those visits, he'd softly cry when she said goodbye and say he wanted his family back. Marie would always say everyone was welcome to come visit. In March, my sister was visiting when Dad took a turn for the worse and was hospitalized. The family rallied and most of the 32 family members were able to see him in the days before he died.
Marie tried one last time to banish me. I walked into Dad's hospital room and laid my hand on his foot while the nurse was trying to get him to swallow his pills. She went out to get something and Marie turned to me and said, "Melinda, last night your dad signed a document that said he no longer wanted to see his family. There was no coercion." I stood my ground, because I'd had a long talk with his power of attorney, who had no idea that family was not being allowed to visit (fyi: isolating a senior is a crime - in my mind, so should lax powers of attorney). I reported her statement to the attorney, who checked with the hospital. No such document had been filed. And since one of Dad's diagnoses was dementia, it would have been illegal at that point. Do you know what he said to me? If Marie does anything like that again, she's gone.
Sadly, in the 10 days Dad was in the hospital, the doctors treated family as if we were only there at the end for money. On his dying day, the hospital staff told the family they had to leave for an hour to give Dad's caregivers a chance to say goodbye (despite his granddaughter and great-granddaughter arriving at that time - the caregivers were given precedence). As we began the chore of going through Dad's possessions, neighbors would stop by and tell my husband and my sister-in-law how good the caregivers were to Dad and how uncaring the family was (perhaps if we showed them the bed restraints and photos of the marks on Dad's arms, they might have changed their tune).
My sister-in-law is a chaplain with a sheriff's office. She and my brother are spearheading an investigation. Police detectives in three different counties are interested in pursuing the case. Sadly, they tell them that they are seeing cases like this more and more frequently - not just from friends or caregivers isolating the elderly, but from a relative isolating them from the rest of the family. It's a drawn out process, but if you have documentation and witnesses, you can prove abuse and people like Marie cannot inherit anything from the estate (yes, Dad left Marie $30,000).
I'm not telling this story to get your sympathy. I'm telling this story because the laws need to change. I'm telling this story because you need to watch out for your parents AND you need to tell your children about this. Prepare them to be aware of the warning signs of dementia so that you won't be taken advantage of.