I have always had a soft spot in my heart for seniors and veterans, particularly disabled veterans. My wife Melody and I are primary caregivers for three seniors in their 80s. Not long ago, we thought with our children gone and being grandparents ourselves, we’d be able to just sit back and spoil our grandkids. How wrong we were!
In early 2012, Melody’s mother suffered a debilitating stroke. After several months of recovery in the hospital, she was released and Melody went to care for her. In early 2013, it was decided she needed to come live with us. To accommodate her, we moved from our home in Austin to our current home near Dripping Springs, a one story with no steps that she can navigate with her walker. Although the move was rather frantic due to the timing, both Melody and I had wanted her to come live with us for several years.
Her husband, Melody’s step-father who raised her, served 30 years in the Navy. During his time in the Navy (1942-1972), he served many years in naval shipyards as an engineer. In those days the use of asbestos was very common on Navy ships and he was frequently exposed to asbestos dust. Shortly after turning 70, he was diagnosed with mesothelioma, asbestos-induced lung cancer. He died within five months of being diagnosed with mesothelioma, leaving Melody’s mother a widow. Being a fellow Naval officer, I grew very close to him and promised him on his deathbed that I would take care of her for him.
In early 2016, my father was rushed to the hospital with a medical emergency. He hasn’t been out of managed care since. In July 2016, I moved my parents to be closer to us so we could help them. At first, my father was at Stonebridge, a nursing home on Circle Drive near Hwy. 290, while my mother moved into Legacy Oaks Assisted Living. We were later able to relocate her to Ledgestone Assisted Living when it first opened then in late December we were able to move my Dad into the Memory Care unit at Ledgestone so my parents could be in the same facility. I have visited my parents almost every day since they moved here. I walk with my father 4-5 times a week. He spends most of his day in a wheelchair, but is able to walk with a walker. Although he often struggles, I’m afraid if I stop working with him, he will lose his ability to walk.
Being surrounded by the daily challenges that confront our three parents was an eye-opening experience for us. While we are determined to love and care for them, at times we feel a bit overwhelmed.
To prepare for the situation, I spent many hours coming up to speed in Elder Law, Veterans’ benefits, and Estate Planning. Being a lifelong learner and an experienced attorney, I enjoyed the challenge of learning new areas of law that had rapidly become so relevant and personal. I soon realized that many of the legal issues my parents were facing are fairly typical for many members of our senior population.
The old adage that growing old isn’t for sissies is so true. I notice that I’m not able to run as fast, jump as high or lift as much weight as I could in my younger days. Dealing with decreasing physical capabilities, increasing medical needs, and complicated, often complex legal issues can be overwhelming for seniors and their family members and friends trying to help them.
Realizing that so many seniors need help with a wide variety of legal challenges I decided to change the focus of my law practice several years ago to address those needs. I derive a great deal of satisfaction being able to help seniors, their families and friends plan for the future and face end-of-life decisions with dignity and respect.
I also became an active member of Caregiving Café, a volunteer group that meets several times a month in southwest Travis and northwest Hays counties. Caregiving Café is a place for caregivers to meet, talk, laugh, cry, and share resources. The group was founded and is led by Lynn Greenblatt, who is a primary caregiver for her husband. I find that I get at least as much as I am able to give at Caregiving Café. I can’t describe how gratifying it feels to be able to help another caregiver that is struggling.
Today’s seniors were the heart and soul of our country for many decades. They are our fathers, mothers, aunts, uncles, and grandparents. I believe we owe our seniors more than words can describe. In many cases, we are who and what we are today because of their guidance, support, and sacrifices. They should be loved and respected, not treated like they are disposable… at least not on my watch.