Updated: Oct 24, 2018
Charles, a former client, called me. He was crying.
Charles said he’d been placed in a nursing home by his family. He is still married. His wife was in agreement, and his oldest daughter helped make the arrangements.
“I had a stroke a few years ago and it took out my left side,” he said, halting as he tried to get his breath through the phone. “I haven’t been a problem. I can get up, get to the bathroom, make myself meals, and my pension plus my social security pays for the trailer park fees for my wife and I.”
“I spoke to my doctor and she said she didn’t feel that the move was necessary, and seemed to disagree with my kids and my wife that I move in there to, as they said, “get the care I need.” My doctor said that I would get more nursing attention, but that she didn’t feel it was medically necessary.”
He took another breath and said, “I’ve been told by my daughter that they are going to pay for the home, that their mother “would be happier” living with them, and that they would come to visit. So far, I haven’t seen any of my children. My son called to check on me, but when I tried to find out why this happened, he said he had “no idea” and that his older sister didn’t speak to him.”
I found out where Charles was staying and went to visit him.
“Tell me why this happened,” he said, “and help me get back home, please.” I told him that I’d tried to call his daughter and left messages but she didn’t respond. “Well, would you stay with me for a while?”
We sat out on the patio of the nursing home. It was enclosed, and there was an unoccupied corner of the room.
“Can they do this?” he said. “I don’t remember signing anything. Maybe I did, I don’t know.” I told him I’d call a friend of mine at Adult Protective Services to see what they could find out.
“Thanks,” he said, “because I’m really scared.”
“I haven’t lived my life well,” Charles said, beginning to cry. “I worked hard, came home, but had an awful temper. It’s gotten better, though. My son says that I used to get mad, but now I cry instead.”
“I get more depressed, more anxious, but I really try not to bother anybody with it. I have always been a little moody, but I honestly try to keep to myself. I don’t do nearly as much with my wife but she’s in better shape than I am, and she drives to hang out with her friends nearly every day. Most of the time, I’m left alone.”
“My kids call only on Father’s Day and my birthday. I try to call them at least once a week, but they don’t answer. We talk about once a month. The conversations are short. I don’t know much about their lives anymore. I ask, I really do. But they don’t say much.”
“My wife told me this day would come. We argue, I guess. She said that the way I treated the kids would come back to me.”
“I guess it has. And here I am. I supposed I earned this.”
I stayed with Charles for four hours. We played cards, watched TV, and I told him I’d see him in a few days.
When I came back, they told me that Charles had a heart attack. He was in the cardiac care unit at the local hospital.
When I arrived, the nurse told me where he was. I asked if he’d had any visitors. The nurse looked at the log and said, “None.”
Charles was weak. He looked up to see me. I held his hand.
He breathed heavily. “I’ve…been…thinking.” I said it was OK if he didn’t want to talk.
He took about fifteen minutes to say the following sentences:
“I’m sorry I made them feel tolerated instead of loved. That was how I was raised. My father had a horrible temper, and my mother was terribly depressed. My older brothers and sisters took care of me and, as I got older, they saw me as a bother, just like my parents.”
“I tried to love them the best I could. I’m sorry I made them feel tolerated like my family made me feel.”
“Please tell them that. Please, please. Please tell my wife that, too.”
Two days later, Charles fell into a coma. The following day, he died. Alone.
He didn’t have an obituary. His was a line in the Death notices, marking his birth and his death.
I knew, from the time as being his therapist, that Charles could be temperamental. His wife came to a few of the sessions and told me how challenging it could be to live with him. His moods could quickly turn to anger, and although his medication had improved his demeanor, he was still prone to bouts of depression and longs periods of silence followed by unsustained and intermittent ease and even pleasantness. He had a few friends, not many sustained much contact. Once he retired, they stopped calling.
I knew that he was frustrated, but I also realized how sad he’d been, and how much regret he’d had for having been the person his children and his wife had to, using his words, “tolerate.”
I wanted to find out why his wife and children made this decision. I tried several times to get some further insight into Charles, how they saw him, and why they kept such distance from him in his last few years. I hoped to find out their feelings, and how their hurt and pain throughout their life resulted in taking such a drastic step in his last weeks of life.
His wife and children never returned my calls.