Assisted Loving - Features - Atlanta Magazine

Assisted Loving

I always thought my parents were invincible until my dad fell and my mom was helpless to rescue him. It was then I discovered that the toughest thing anyone will ever have to do is to love their parents enough to move them from their home.

My father, Augustus Currie Monroe, has always had an extraordinary capacity to endure pain. When I was a child, we were loading the dishwasher together one evening and I heard a low moan. I looked over and saw that his thumb was impaled on a dishwasher prong, which had gone beneath the nail all the way up to the cuticle. He was stuck there. He slowly pulled his thumb off the prong, ran some water over it to wash off the blood, wrapped it up and kept loading the dishwasher. He didn’t say a word.

A couple of years ago, he had a huge red sack of fluid dangling from his elbow. He said the swelling was from a spider bite. My sister was so horrified when she saw it that she started to cry, begging him to go to a doctor.

“Daddy, please let somebody look at it,” she pleaded. But he refused to go. He said it would clear up and wouldn’t discuss it further. And whatever it was, it eventually did go away.

So it should have come as no surprise to my sister or me that Daddy refused to go to a doctor when his spine began to collapse.

Illustration by Jeffrey Smith

We knew something was wrong for a couple of years. As a younger man, Daddy stood six-foot-three and took outlandishly long strides when he walked. My mother, Winifred Black Monroe, was more than a foot shorter. When my sister and I were small, we all had to scramble to keep up with Daddy’s long legs, like chickens running after a rooster. His gait changed dramatically as he entered his 80s. He began to take tiny, splayfooted steps, almost shuffling, and he listed from side to side like Charlie Chaplin. I asked what was wrong. Sometimes he blamed his knee, sometimes his back. When I asked if he had seen a doctor, he said it would clear up.

My father, at 83, can be what we call “mule-headed.” He is as stubborn as the animals he plowed behind on a farm in the sand hills of eastern North Carolina during the Great Depression, which he still calls “Hoover Days.” When he doesn’t want to discuss an issue, he is a wall of silence, deaf and mute. He wouldn’t discuss his back problems and he wouldn’t discuss assisted living. He was a civil engineer and had carefully plotted out the end of his life: He would drop dead one day and that would be it.

That’s not the way it turned out. He had made many plans, but none of them included the scenario that found my sister and me scrambling crazily to get our father emergency medical care against his wishes and to rush my ailing mother into assisted living, even as she suspected we were treating her shabbily. We did it on the fly, under enormous stress. We found what so many of our contemporaries are discovering: The Greatest Generation is moving into walkers, diapers and assisted living, and they’re not going gently.

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  1. Joe McPartlin posted on 01/25/2012 09:28 PM
    Reading this article simply restores my faith in humanity. What a picture is portrayed here of love and devotion by the author, his sister and brother-in-law towards their aged parents. There are few who do not face this situation eventually. Amid all the political rancour about the availability and funding of healthcare, whether it is in the United States or here in Ireland, this close family group have gone about their responsibility without complaint but with quiet dignity and love. What a shining example in this grasping world.

    Joe McPartlin, Dublin, Ireland
  2. ellahaskin posted on 11/26/2012 03:13 PM
    What a great article. It's so hard to make the decision to send a parent into assisted living or a nursing home, but sometimes we just have to do what we feel is best. I know that when I was checking out assisted living in Atlanta GA for my parents I had a really tough time contemplating the fact that the care that I was giving them just wasn't enough anymore. Thank you so much for writing this piece. It really touched me.
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