The phone call came while I was at work. This was never a good sign. Mom was upset, but I kept a calm outer facade as my heart pounded and I listened to her description of events over the last few weeks.
Dad had been getting physically abusive with her — again. They had always had a volatile relationship, both verbal and physical, but my thoughts on the matter fell on deaf and stubborn ears. Now the situation was more dangerous for Mom because she was no longer able to get out of his way quick enough.
A helpless feeling came over me as I tried to reassure her of my concern and possible plan of action. I told her to call the lady from church who came every other day to cook for them. I had been able to make this in-home care arrangement a few months earlier, which brought some relief to my worrying mind. “Call her and ask if she could drop by today, Mom. Tell her you’re out of toilet paper or something.”
This seemed to satisfy Mom and I hung up, already planning a trip home as soon as possible. Talking to my boss was easier than I anticipated. I was honest with him and he said to do what I felt I needed to do. Work the rest of the day was a loss as I imagined various scenarios, both past and future. What action could I take this time that would make a lasting difference? I loved them both, but I couldn’t stand by and let Mom be abused anymore.
Dad dealt with depression, but wouldn’t stay on an antidepressant. He also had OCD tendencies and this made for a bit of a paper-hoarding problem. They weren’t piled up to the ceiling, but they were always in the way. I worried that Mom and her walker would get tripped and she would fall and break a hip, or another vertebra. She had cracked some in a fall a few years before and now suffered from chronic pain.
After talking things over with my husband, I called Mom that evening. Things had calmed down, as they usually did. But, I told her she couldn’t stay there. “Mom, we are going to come at the end of our vacation week and you need to think about coming home with us.”
“I don’t know if I can leave your Dad. How would he take care of himself?”
“Don’t worry about that right now. We’ll figure out something. But don’t say anything to him about leaving, OK?”
“All right, I won’t. But what will I do?”
That was the big question. What would we all do? This was to be a huge move for everyone. Was I even thinking of all the implications? Would Mom insist on going home as she had years before? And what then? So began some of the most difficult years of my adult life. All I could do was pray at that moment.
Abuse is more common than we like to admit in elderly circles. We will examine some of the reasons, the different types of abuse, and the types of abusers and victims in the next column.
Patty Knittel is employed at Walla Walla University’s School of Nursing. An only child, she was caregiver for her aging parents, and writes about caregiving and other aging-related topics. She and her husband, Monty, live in Walla Walla. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.