When a fire broke out in the home John’s parents shared, his father managed to escape the fire while his mom, his dad’s caregiver, died in the fire.
For some reason, my father, who is 83, couldn’t get his chair to move. He was trying to drive it off the down ramp. It just completely stopped working. So he pulled himself out of the chair — wearing underwear and a T-shirt — and dragged himself down to the steps to the end of the house as the fire burned.
The toughest thing is that for a period of time afterward, my dad lost control of all his functions. He couldn’t do anything. It was almost like being a baby. He couldn’t clean himself. He couldn’t get up. He couldn’t roll over in bed — couldn’t sit up. He had limited mobility prior to this, and my mom — even though she was in her 80s — was his help and support system.
Mom had been active — but at some point, about a year and a half before the fire, she had tripped at church and had broken her hip, which meant that my sister Ivy, who lived nearby with my other sister Ruby, had to move in with them.
Long before the fire, all of us — our parents had five kids — took control of their care as a united front. My brother and I live in Atlanta, and Ivy and Ruby live in Virginia, which is about an hour from my parents’ home in North Carolina. My other sister lives in Connecticut.
And we all had set up a fund that, Ruby, the oldest who had been named after Mom, oversaw; those funds covered all of their expenses, from food to utilities, and we managed that.
But mom was super independent — we used to call her “the bionic woman,” and once she’d gotten back on her feet, after the hip break, she enjoyed her freedom and she enjoyed taking care of Dad.
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