Dementia: Sleepless nights and worry filled days

From our September 2017 issue

By Gilbert De Mey – Holland, Man.

Claudette Sandecki’s February 2016 column about the courage and devotion she gave her husband enabling him to stay home until his final day touched me, as my mother too, spent many sleepless nights and worry filled days.

It all began around 1978 when dad started down the long road of dementia when they lived in Brownsville, Texas.

It was our parents’ wish to move close to the Manitoba border to be close to their children. Angele, my sister, and I drove down to Texas and took them to a seniors’ apartment in St. John, North Dakota.

Perhaps dad would be able to drive their car again as the traffic was not so dense there, but that was not the case. We had to disallow him to drive. Mother was always the navigator, but never drove. This was a big blow to dad as his car was his idol.

We got him to believe that my sister’s car was giving trouble, so their car was given to her willingly. She was very faithful and drove from their farm at Belmont to St. John twice a week.

My wife and I would drive down every second week and stay overnight. After a year it was decided to move them to Killarney, Man. This was a larger town across the border in Manitoba.

Arrangements had been made at the custom offices at the border, and when we arrived with our parents’ furniture and personal belongings, USA customs let us through.

Canada customs, ‘a new one,’ checked their passports which showed their dual citizenship. Then dad’s medical card was shown that he had progressing dementia and soon could have to be admitted to a care home. Manitoba could be saddled with a large medical bill, so he could not allow us to cross.

We explained that we were their children and wanted them in Canada with us. A house had been purchased in Killarney for them. Realizing this sad situation, the officer told us to move over and wait in a building.

He must have got on the phone to an immigration office and after what seemed like eternity to mother, he came in and said we could cross into Manitoba. There was one catch: the children must post a bond of $80,000 at the immigration office in Brandon, Man., however, within a week, we could move their furniture to their house in Killarney.

It must have been hard on mother – all this moving around.

Dad was no help, only a burden. He had to find his way around the house and to the shopping mall where he could talk to retired people. Soon he could not find his way home, but he always had friends who took him home.

Mother worried as he had to cross a railway track and a busy street.

The Killarney house was sold and a house near Pelican Lake was bought in Ninette. They used to go fishing years ago and I could go with them, but this did not last long, as dad had a few mini strokes and was forced to use a wheelchair.

It became a struggle for mother doing this heavy lifting when my sister or the home care lady was not present. We could see mother was getting run down so we needed to get dad into a care home soon.

There was an opening in Rolla, North Dakota, but it would cost $100 per day. This upset mother deeply. The money in her bank account would be drained in a few years. (Oh, don’t worry madam, we will leave you with $4,000 to pay his funeral expenses then after this his care in the home will be free.)

This never became an issue as dad’s frail body contracted pneumonia and he died after five months of care. Now, mother could rest up, her earthly wedding vows being fulfilled. Mother seemed to have recovered well, and was able to live in peace in her house in Ninette.

She was covered by Manitoba medical and was receiving her old age pension. Her devoted daughter lived close-by and life seemed wonderful for almost two years.

She died unexpectedly at night from a massive heart attack. Sad, yes, but it was her wish not to be a burden to her family. She always gave more in life than she received.