Freedom isn’t just a word

Folksblogen is stopped, stalled, parked. The point is we are not moving.

We are back in Amherstburg. Still in Amherstburg. Not sure when we are leaving.

We are not reporting on a new place but rather on something more important and central to this journey: the concept of freedom. Specifically, the state of being free or at liberty rather than in confinement or under physical restraint; in a word, independent.

Freedom is something a lot of us take for granted. Us included.

When you are appointed executor and power of attorney in a will you should be very clear about the responsibilities attached to this title. Julie’s father appointed her executor / power of attorney of his will. He was assessed as having early Alzheimer’s Disease and it was recommended by two doctors and a provincial assessor that he be moved into assisted living by March 2016. Because of these recommendations we made the quick trip back to Ontario from BC in the middle of winter to make this happen. We moved him into a Memory Care unit in a Retirement Home on February 6th only because the Retirement Home deemed him to be unsuitable for regular assisted retirement living. We rejected the idea of his moving here at first because he is still very aware of everything that is going on, has very good communication and language, and can charm the pants off anyone. In our minds he should still be living independently. The problem with places like this is that it always comes down to liability. The new management doesn’t want to take a chance on him. So, instead he is a unit which houses 23 residents in varying stages of Dementia or Alzheimer’s Disease, most of them middle to late. Dad’s cognitive abilities are the highest in the unit. Most of the residents, and some are endearingly sweet and funny, are at least 10 years older, pushing walkers and incapable of carrying on a conversation. Dad finds this very upsetting. It is also a locked unit. Residents must be chaperoned to leave.

Imagine living independently for most of your life, working, providing for your family, serving your town, first as a councilor, then as deputy reeve and finally as mayor for 14 years. At the age of 76 your driver’s license is taken away quickly followed by being moved against your will into a locked Memory Care unit at a Retirement Residence. Who in their right mind would be okay with that? Neither of us would. Regardless of why. Dad’s position is that he would rather die than live out his days in this prison. We understand and empathize completely. Yet, we cannot come up with an alternative that works for everyone. It is painful for all involved.

This situation got us to thinking about what is most important, to us, what we would find hardest to live without. Aside from losing a loved one we agree loss of independence or freedom would be the ultimate desolation. We find it hard to imagine not being able to choose where to live, how to spend our time, who we can spend it with, what time we might like to eat, what we would like to eat, where we can go and for how long, not being able to just take our dog out for a walk anytime without a chaperone. Heck, we get it…that is prison. Imagine becoming a prisoner when you have done nothing wrong. Your brain simply begins to stop functioning the way it once did or should. Your short term memory is practically non-existent. And you are being punished for something completely out of your control. It is not fair. Not even a little. And the only ones who have anything to gain from this situation are the corporations that own these retirement facilities. They eagerly take the hard earned money saved over a lifetime of scrimping from these unsuspecting recipients of a very cruel disease. Again, not fair. And we, the family, are told this is the only option for keeping our loved one safe. That is, unless we are willing to give ourselves over to their full time care! To stop living our lives. And this, we are selfishly unwilling to do.

We have spent a total of 5 months in the past year taking care of dad off and on and hired caregivers in our absence which enabled him to continue living at home. Unfortunately, it was not enough. And so, here we are. No one is happy. We try to console ourselves knowing dad is safe, well cared for by wonderful nurses, eating good and healthy meals three times a day, his diabetes is controlled and he has more human interaction and stimulation than he would have living at home. And the biggest consolation is that the retirement home made a huge exception allowing his beloved dog, MacDuff, to live there with him. In 3 weeks MacDuff has made such a difference to residents and staff throughout the building. As the only canine resident he is something of a celebrity. It is not an ideal living situation for him either. He is accustomed to being able to run around all day in his fenced yard whereas now he must always be on leash and walked by hurried nurses chaperoning dad. While we’re staying in Amherstburg we take him on more satisfying walks which he enjoys thoroughly. Despite the pros dad is unhappy. He is mourning the loss of his independence. We understand.

We clearly don’t have the answer as to how to improve the situation. We do know with every ounce of our beings that we need to live our lives to the fullest while we can and for as long as we are free and independent. We will no longer take freedom for granted.