Life with Pop: Lessons on Caring for an Aging Parent

Life with Pop: Lessons on Caring for an Aging Parent

by Janis Abrahms Spring Ph. D., Michael Spring


View All Available Formats & Editions


From bestselling author and clinical psychologist Janis Abrahms Spring comes a refreshingly honest and tender portrait of a devoted daughter caring for her father through his final years of life

After her mother died, Janis Abrahms Spring "inherited" her father-Pop- and set off on an all-consuming five-year mission to make his days as rich and comfortable as possible. This is their story, overflowing with humor, insight, and love. In beautifully crafted vignettes, spring brings their deepening relationship to life-both the joy and the imposition, the happiness and the heartaches.

From her unique perspective as a clinical psychologist, Spring explores the emotional and practical complexities of parenting a parent. Inspiring, deeply moving, and frank, Life with Pop is an ultimately comforting meditation on a universal experience, as well as a book with profound lessons on how to grow old gracefully.

Related collections and offers

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781583333952
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 05/04/2010
Pages: 240
Product dimensions: 5.40(w) x 8.20(h) x 0.80(d)
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

Janis Abrahms Spring, Ph.D., is a nationally acclaimed psychologist and bestselling author. Her first book, After the Affair was a finalist for “Best First Book” and “Best Relationship Book,” Books for a Better Life Awards. Her second book, How Can I Forgive You? was a finalist for “Best Psychology Book,” Books for a Better Life Award. Dr. Spring is a Diplomate in Clinical Psychology, a recipient of the Connecticut Psychological Association’s Award for Distinguished Contribution to the Practice of Psychology, and has served as a clinical supervisor in the Department of Psychology at Yale University.

Dr. Spring trains hundreds of therapists each year. She is a popular media guest on programs such as NPR, Good Morning America, Anderson Cooper 360, and the CBS Early Show, and she presents regularly at such public venues as The Smithsonian Institute, The 92nd Street Y, Omega Institute, and Kripalu Institute. She and her husband live in Westport, Connecticut, and have four sons.

Michael Spring, her husband, is former publisher of Frommer’s Travel Guides at John Wiley and Sons, and co-author of After the Affair and How Can I Forgive You? He has a B.A. from Haverford College and an M.A. in English Literature from Columbia University.

Michael Spring is former publisher of Frommer’s Travel Guides at John Wiley and Sons, and co-author of After the Affair and How Can I Forgive You? He has a B.A. from Haverford College and an M.A. in English Literature from Columbia University.

Read an Excerpt

Home Care

December 10, 2000

Dad is back in Florida I tried to keep him in Connecticut near me, but he insisted on returning to his Delray Beach condo. Who can blame him? If he can’t live with me, he wants to be back in the sun. Why subject old bones to a howling New England winter? Why give up a bathing suit for boots and gloves?

Dad is making a life for himself. He retired his golf clubs a few months ago but still likes to putt on the clubhouse green. He drives during daylight hours, ambles about haltingly without a cane, walks the water in the pool, plays bridge with the guys in the men’s lounge, and eats enthusiastically—God bless his appetite.

There are times, though, when he simply can’t function alone. He would love to go to the movies at night but, as they say, a man needs a wife to drive him. Who will manage the late-night emergencies, never mind the laundry and medication? His apartment is on the second floor, reached by a steep flight of concrete steps, the color of flamingos. How long before he slips and falls?

I contact a home-care agency and arrange for an aide to spend a few hours every afternoon with Dad, running errands, fixing him dinner, but she never shows up. Her replacement talks Dad’s ear off, so I let her go. I dismiss the next one, too, when she tries to hit him up for a loan. The fourth arranges to have her young children dropped off at Dad’s apartment after school—Dad loves life, but not that much. The fifth spends her day in Dad’s kitchen, reading the Bible. She reminds Dad that Jesus loves him, praise the Lord.

Home companion Number Six is bright and friendly but cooks an early dinner and leaves by five. I give her Mom’s recipes, but she ignores them. Dad sits in his kitchen alone, nibbling on salted cod with hot pepper, cold and soggy because he can’t operate the microwave. He’s used to cold borscht with sour cream, or brisket with steamed broccoli— tastes as foreign to his caregiver as hers are to him.

Dad is becoming more and more isolated, walled up in his apartment, wed to his new bride, the TV. When I call, I often catch him napping.

Who am I kidding? Dad needs to get a life. This one’s not working.

Independent Living

February 8, 2001

Maybe a compromise can be reached. Maybe Dad can stay in Florida in a supportive adult community and I can be a loving, involved daughter, managing the details from Connecticut fourteen hundred miles away. Mike and I fly south to scope out the options.

The first place we visit, an independent-living facility, is too independent for Dad. The residents are healthy and vigorous, and scurry from activity to activity—yoga, digital photography, mutual-fund investing. They discuss Philip Roth in a book club and learn how to roll a credible maki sushi in cooking class. They do their own wash. Dad couldn’t even walk from the lobby to his apartment.

Our next stop, an assisted-living facility, is too assisted. Residents shuffle breathlessly down the corridors, clutching walkers, or sit diapered on outdoor patios in wheelchairs pushed by hired hands. The level of care is much higher here, but death lurks in every corner. The director, itching for a sale, pounces on our hesitation. “Just don’t wait too long,” she admonishes us. “Children often make that mistake, then they’re hit with a crisis and there ’s no place for their parents to go. Most good facilities have a waiting list several months long.”

She smells blood, the viper.

When Mom was hospitalized, I put down a deposit on an apartment in Summerwood, an independent-living facility in West Hartford, Connecticut, that would be opening soon. Dad knows the neighborhood intimately: we lived only minutes away. Dad could drive around, find his old barber, even shop at the Crown, an incomparable kosher supermarket right up the street. He has a few old friends who still live in town, the beginnings of a social life. Michael’s sister, Sue, lives nearby. Most important, Michael and I live only an hour and fifteen minutes away.

I press Dad to try Summerwood for six months, promising not to sell his condo, perhaps just to rent it. If the cold gets to him, we’ll figure out how to get him back south. With great reluctance, he puts himself in my hands.

In bringing Dad north, my life takes on a new focus. I give it a name. I call it, fondly, Pop, the Project.


February 28, 2001

Summerwood is a compact, cedar-shingled, three-story building set comfortably back from a quiet suburban road. A circular driveway cuts through a mottled lawn landscaped with young hydrangea bushes and old trees. A few residents huddle on an open porch, kibitzing, waiting for spring.

“I’m here to check out my father’s new apartment,” I tell the receptionist.

“Does he like Frank Sinatra?” she asks with a cheerful informality.

“I’m hoping to play oldies-but-goodies on Sunday afternoons.”

On the counter in front of her is a card for residents to sign. It says: “Wishing you sweet memories of your husband.”

I’ve chosen a one-bedroom unit on the top floor, just off the elevator, an easy walk for Dad. The laundry room is only steps away. Who knows? He may learn to wash his shirts and socks someday.

Sunshine floods the apartment: a bright, empty space waiting to be filled. The walls are soft cream, the color of Dad’s temperament—calm, unimposing. The bathroom has an oversize door for a wheelchair and a huge open shower. A single bed is all he needs now. Propped up on pillows, he can peer out the window at the tops of trees and enjoy the changing seasons. He can also look down at the parking lot and see me coming to visit him, bearing turkey pastrami and half-sour pickles.

Summerwood opened only a month ago but is already three-quarters full: about sixty residents have moved in, mostly women, and mostly Jewish, though not necessarily religious, ranging from their midseventies to nearly a hundred.

A few share space with an ailing partner, but most live alone, their partners dead or living out their final days in nursing homes nearby.

Summerwood seems too good to be true. Except for the Sabbath, there are activities every day of the week: ceramics, painting, aerobics, bridge. The University of Hartford is right down the street, hosting concerts and cultural events, free to the elderly. Only minutes away is the Jewish Community Center with its exercise room and men’s club. Not that Dad is going to play racquetball, but with help he could walk the shallow end of the indoor pool.

Dad gets transportation to medical appointments and access to a daytime nurse. Aides are available for hourly hire to bathe him and dispense medications. If he pushes the emergency button on his necklace, someone will come running. If he doesn’t show up for meals, someone will find out why.

Summerwood serves two kosher meals a day, breakfast and dinner. Dad is far from kosher, but at least he’ll recognize the food, and he can order a tuna fish on rye for lunch in the second-floor café if he’s willing to fork over five bucks.

On the carpet by the window I place a hearty, two-foot Kentia palm plant. This will give the apartment some life. It will also give Dad something to care for and occupy his mind other than his aches and pains. We’ll see whether he remembers to water it.

All things considered, the apartment looks great—cozy, familiar, manageable, fresh. I’ll do my best to make it his home. I feel an optimism, a sense of control I haven’t felt since Mom got sick. Maybe it’s going to work out. Maybe there’s a chance it will be okay.

The Hardware Store

March 1, 2001

I’m off to the local hardware store to buy a paper-towel dispenser. “It’s for my elderly father’s new apartment,” I explain to the salesclerk.

“Will it go into drywall, wood, or plasterboard?” he asks.

“You’re kidding,” I respond, rolling my eyes. Who has time for this? Dad is coming north in ten days.

He catches my impatience: “After all the time your father has given you, you don’t have five minutes to get this right?”

I can’t figure out if this guy is an insensitive bastard or just a bit gruff. Maybe he has an aging relative of his own. Or maybe he’s trying to help me and I’m too sensitive.

I decide to trust his motives and open myself to him. “My mother died, and I’m moving my dad into an independent living home.”

His face softens. “That’s hard,” he says. “Really hard.”

He doesn’t ask, “Why isn’t your father moving in with you?” but I imagine that’s what he’s thinking. That’s what I’m thinking.

I pick up a few lightbulbs, a wastebasket, some plastic liners. This is the easy part. Checking things off lists, managing details.

“Just remember,” he calls out as I walk toward the door.

“What will help your father most is if you visit him once in a while.”

His wisdom shakes me. I should give him my job as a clinical psychologist, as a grieving, guilt-ridden daughter.

Guilt and Sorrow

“My mother is a sick, old woman who doesn’t have much to live for,” Sally tells me in an e-mail. “She drags herself around with emphysema, sucking in the air. I manage her care—she’s in an assisted-living facility—but I constantly feel I’m not doing enough. I’m an expert in guilt, but sometimes I wonder if I’m masking other feelings—like grief.”

“Yes,” I write back, assuming my most professional voice, “for someone like you, the dedicated child, guilt is the easier emotion, the stronger suit. You know it all too well. It’s a welcome distraction from grief, which is less familiar, less comfortable. With guilt, you’re the hammer, in control, competently pounding away at your perceived deficiencies. With grief, you’re the anvil, helpless to fend off the blows of time.”

“I wouldn’t mind a good cry,” Sally admits. “It would feel good.”

“You’ve been so busy nursing your mother, maybe you haven’t had the time or strength to grieve. You may worry that if you open the floodgates, you’ll drown. But if you can’t know sadness, you can’t know love.”

Table of Contents

Days of Awe, October 3, 2005 1

A Good Woman Dies, October 21, 2000 3

Self-forgiveness 6

The Funeral, October 24, 2000 8

Home Care, December 10, 2000 11

Independent Living, February 8, 2001 13

Summerwood, February 28, 2001 14

The Hardware Store, March 1, 2001 17

Guilt and Sorrow 18

Shall We Dance?, March 18, 2001 19

A Fraternity of Men, April 24, 2001 21

"Last Night, When We Were Young," April 25, 2001 24

Elizabeth Park, May 25, 2001 26

Name-calling, May 30, 2001 27

A Perfect Fit, June 10, 2001 28

The Responsible Child 29

Transitions, July 8 and 15, 2001 32

The Podiatrist, July 16 and 20, 2001 36

Estee, August 9, 2001 38

The Pill Dispenser, September 30, 2001 40

Who Wants to Treat a Medicare Patient? 43

Remembering Mom, October 18, 2001 45

Money Secrets, December 6, 2001 46

The Lost Watch, January 5, 2002 49

Prunes, January 19, 2002 51

Harold, February 22 and 29, 2002 52

To Be of Use, April 8, 2002 54

Why I Visit Dad, May 30, 2002 56

Generations 57

People Skills, June 19, 2002 59

Sophie, July 8, 2002 61

Choices, September 10, 2002 63

The Driving Test, October 18-19, 2002 64

An Apple for Ruth, December 8, 2002 66

The Dream, February 18-21, 2003 69

Locked in the Car, April 30, 2003 73

Too Tired to Bother, June 15, 2003 74

A Great Bagel, July 25, 2003 75

An Act of Kindness, September 1, 2003 77

The Pee Bottle, October 20-24, 2003 80

A Good Poop, November 12, 2003 82

It's My Turn, February 3, 2004 83

Ingratitude 84

Valentine's Day, February 14, 2004 87

Baby Steps, March 15, 2004 88

A Nice Fruit Salad, April 28, 2004 90

Engagement Party, May 7, 2004 91

Muriel, May 14, 2004 93

A Trip to Goodspeed, May 16, 2004 95

Shavuot, May 24, 2004 96

Private Parts, May 24, 2004 98

The Gift, May 26, 2004 100

Five More Years, June 4, 2004 101

Robin 102

The Emergency Room, June 21, 2004 104

The Lesson, July 20, 2004 106

The Walker, August 10, 2004 107

Early Alzheimer's, September 5-6, 2004 109

More Secrets, September 25, 2004 111

Car Talk, October 30, 2004 113

Dial-a-Ride, December 1 and 4, 2004 115

The Birthday Party, December 18, 2004 118

Forgiveness, December 20, 2004 121

Forgiveness Redux 123

Who Are You?, January 12, 2005 124

A Taste of Mortality, January 17, 2005 126

Time Flies, January 18, 2005 127

Life and Death, January 19, 2005 129

A Day in the Madhouse, January 26, 2005 130

Glue Pudding, February 13, 2005 133

The Empty Chair, March 13-15, 2005 134

Like an Animal, April 3-4, 2005 136

Elder Abuse 139

A Day in the Park, April 15, 2005 142

Human Touch, April 30, 2005 143

Replacing Mom, May 1, 2005 147

A Sense of Humor, May 7, 2005 149

Karma, May 24, 2005 150

OCD, June 3, 2005 153

The Fight, June 11, 2005 156

Short-term Memory Loss, July 16, 2005 158

The Caretaker, July 27, 2005 159

Rome, Shmome, August 1, 2005 162

Compassion Fatigue, August 11, 2005 164

Meryl 166

Diaper Dependence, August 20, 2005 168

The Language of Love, August 26, 2005 169

Silence Is Golden, September 7, 2005 169

Tillie, September 8, 2005 172

Another Day, Another Crisis, September 23-24, 2005 174

The J-tube, September 25, 2005 177

Pop, the Book, September 26, 2005 179

Terry Schiavo, September 26, 2005 180

Sibling Rivalry, September 27, 2005 182

More Sibling Rivalry 183

DNR, September 27, 2005 188

Human Errors, September 27-28, 2005 189

Unspoken Words, September 28, 2005 190

The D Word, September 29, 2005 191

Indecision, September 30, 2005 194

Joan 196

The Shame of Money, October 1, 2005 201

The Consultation, October 3, 2005 202

Hospice, October 5, 2005 207

A Visit from Sister Sue, October 6, 2005 209

Regret 211

A Good Man Dies, October 7, 2005 213

On Growing Old, October 16, 2005 214

Days of Awe, October 3, 2005 219

Customer Reviews