Today's post starts with a blog entry from somewhere else, Claire at Living Freedom. The story, in short, is about a neighbor passing away and finding out that his house, simply put, was a disaster - after they had to break into his house to find the body. The full title is "What good neighbors should (or shouldn't) do"; I commend it to your attention.
The question that Claire puts forward, in its simplest form (and far more elegantly than I ever could), is how involved should we be as neighbors? What are limits to looking out for one another? How much do we involve ourselves in the lives of others, and when do we push? In this particular case, there were some serious ramifications (think a bad version of "Hoarders") but to the outside world no-one suspected that this was the case at all.
(She has pictures here. It was bad. Really bad.)
This is, rather sadly, a timely subject for me, given all that has gone on with my parents this year. My sister and I have asked, more than once "Should we have acted sooner?"
Should I have noticed more that he was talking out loud to himself for periods of time and asked into that instead of just associating it with my own habit of thinking through things? When my mom was exhibiting Sundowner's syndrome pretty significantly, should we have acted to move her somewhere earlier (yes, I know, it was the height of The Plague Panic, but still)? Should we have pushed for in-house help (my father would have refused it, but still again)? Should we have pushed harder in October to relocate them?
Would it have made a difference?
The candid answer, of course, is "I do not know". Yes, undoubtedly my mother would have probably done better in some ways (we undoubtedly would have still had the four month "Merry-Go-Round of Memory Care Homes" experience again), but we would have had to push my father to move as well, and I do not think he would have been willing (We had to basically push the discussion for him to agree to moving at all in January, one of the conversations I hope never to have to have again with any living person. I am not a confrontational person by nature, and confronting my parents with my sister went against every basic instinct I have). And then he would have been at The Ranch alone - would that have precipitated what happened, have made the decline more apparent, or allowed him a space to recover? Or would he simply have collapsed here with no-one around?
(I was the one that found my maternal grandfather when he had passed. It is a story for another day, but finding the deceased - even the recently deceased - is another experience I would not wish to repeat.)
How much was my father masking his own symptoms? When I was up here, were there things that I missed in their daily habits? This is a common occurrence from what I understand, as habits and knowing where things are can gloss over real gaps.
Over the time I came up here between July and December of last year, their circle of going out and where they went got smaller and smaller. Their drives (they drove almost every day over the last two years; it was one of the things my mother loved to do and my father liked driving) got shorter and shorter. I got a hint of things in December, when my father basically turned the driving over to me.
This is all retrospect of course: the reality of his collapse and then his verified stroke a month later was beyond any sort of prediction that we could have made; how does one predict such things when there is no previous evidence of such? Would moving him earlier merely have meant he would have been unhappier longer (We had hoped he would be able to get more involved socially at the first assisted living location, but that did not happen. Likely the first time because his collapse was coming; likely the second because he had residual damage and was not himself)?
Somehow all of these imponderables do not ameliorate what is a lingering sense of guilt that I should have done more. I can tell myself I did all I could and endeavor to be more willing to act going forward, but somehow that does not move the needle of my feelings.
Of course, at this point this is a discussion only for my mind. My mother will not remember and my father, even if he does, can no longer communicate effectively what his opinion might be. I can neither find forgiveness nor condemnation, only the vast grey of Limbo's fields, where those things that can never be undone but only pondered reside.