A recent news story on a Philadelphia television station that was shared on Facebook, showed a wonderful story about an elderly couple, married for decades, being reunited, staying together in the same nursing home in their twilight years. To the average person, you may not think this is that big of a deal, that it should be fairly easy to accomplish if both people need to be in a nursing home. Now, I am not talking about an assisted living community, or retirement home. To get two spouses together in the same nursing homes in their twilight years, is in fact, quite a difficult thing to accomplish. While it is the right thing to do, policies and procedures usually do not allow any room for exceptions, and even if it means splitting up two people who have been together for decades… as in 40 and 50 years, and to die alone, so be it.
I got to experience this first hand when my father was in the final stages of lung cancer. He and my stepmother had been together for over 40 years. But his declining health, along with her own health care needs from being left with permanent injuries from an auto accident, looked to finally be bringing their time together, to an end.
My brother and I had discovered the pending situation following initial lung surgery that my father had. At some point during the surgery and recovery, he suffered a stroke. Long story short, the hospital had informed us, that he would not be able to go home without someone to care for him until his recovery, since his wife was unable to care for him. So there we were, needing to find someone long term to care for my stepmother, but also having to find some facility to take care of my father. It took a lot of effort working with county workers, who were already involved with my stepmother’s care, but care at home was arranged for my father so that they could remain with each other.
But when the cancer spread, and became more aggressive, his next trip back to the hospital would be his last. Cancer cells spreading to his brain made it impossible for him to be on his own anymore.
Immediately my brother and I tried to figure out what to do. No matter what, we wanted our parents (his mother and my father) to be together again. But there were two main factors working against us. Number one was the fact that each had their own level of care, and it was impossible trying to find a facility that would handle both assisted needs, and skilled care. The best we had found was a complex that had several buildings on its campus, one building for assisted care, and another for skilled. They would be able to spend time with each other during the day at least. But I was not going to give up. This was not good enough.
So we contacted the county for assistance again, and this time we found a facility that would handle both levels of care. But now there was a different hitch. My father a long time ago had done what he thought was the right thing, and purchased additional health insurance to supplement their medicare. And it would be that supplemental insurance that would prevent his admission to the nursing home that would accept both of their needs.
With my father heading toward hospice level care, and my stepmother already admitted to the home, my brother and I made the decision to cancel my father’s supplemental insurance which was keeping him from being admitted, and had the potential to keep him from ever seeing his wife again.
Twenty four hours later, we got the news, the home would accept my father. Both he and my stepmother would be together again.
His admission did not go off without a hitch however. Upon my arrival before my dad, the administrator had given me a good news/bad news scenario. The home had gone so far as to arrange for the two of them to be in the same room with each other, which actually went beyond what we could have hoped. But my stepmother had made a decision, she did not want to be in the same room. My dad had a habit of watching television all night long, and loud, and my stepmother in the time that my father had been hospitalized had become accustomed to silence while sleeping. We laughed about the situation, because unfortunately he was expecting to be in her room. He blew her reluctance off, saying she was just mad and would get over it in a day.
The next day, the “old goat” as my stepmother referred to my father, had pushed the empty bed in his room that was meant for my stepmother, against his bed, making his own “king” sized bed. When questioned by the staff what he was doing, “my wife is going to be sleeping with me tonight.” We all laughed uncomfortably because we were pretty sure that… well… he meant “sleep”. After all, I know I have heard of some stories of “romantic rendezvous” in nursing homes.
They never did go into the same room with each other. But they did have meals, play games, and listened to music with each other, just as they did for over 40 years.
This is the final photo of my father and stepmother. Because of the efforts of my brother and I, county workers, and so many more, we were able to accomplish the “right thing”. He would pass shortly after this photo was taken, but as if a Hollywood movie script, in the end, they were together, as he had been her caregiver for so long, it was her turn to be there for him.
If there was anything good to have come from this situation…