Since taking my oath as a Washington attorney in November 2002, I have dedicated my time and efforts to establish a highly specialized elder law and care management company. This decision did not come about by chance or coincidence; rather, it was a deliberate decision I made before even going to law school. After all, who could better empathize with those who seek help caring for a loved one than a man who has walked the walk of caring for aged and incapacitated family members? This is my story . . .
In 1990, my wife, Jamie, and I visited her parents, Bill and Vivian, in Spokane, Washington. At the time, Bill was a resident of a long-term care facility. It was then and there that I was introduced to the shockingly ugly side of our nation’s elder care system. I am from India, so the concept of nursing homes was quite foreign to me, although I had heard stories of “old folks” homes in the United States, where the elderly were sent by family members and left to die. My experience in that facility came close to confirming the many stories I had been told. When Jamie and I walked into the nursing home, I could not believe my eyes. I saw elderly people in all sorts of desperate conditions. Jamie’s father was unkempt and in poor physical condition and health. When he saw Jamie, Bill broke into a wide grin and tried to say something, but he was unable to speak. The smell in the room was unbearable and Jamie asked the aides to change him. Afterwards, Jamie and I returned to Bill’s room, where she held his hand while tears streamed down her face. We stayed for a while, but eventually had to leave. When we started to go, Bill wanted to come with us. Seeing Bill like this broke Jamie’s heart, and it broke my spirit.
The drive back to Seattle was the quietest drive Jamie and I have ever had together. I remember telling her that if what I saw in Spokane was what retirement in the United States looked like, then I did not want to stay here. I would rather move back to India, where I remember seeing my grandparents take their last breaths while sleeping on the same pillows they had always slept on, surrounded by loved ones. What was the point of living in America, the land that boasts the highest standard of living, if we deliver the poorest quality of life to those who can no longer take care of themselves? In my heart, I knew that there had to be a better way.
Jamie and I moved Bill to a skilled nursing facility near our home and invited Vivian to live with us. The day I took my last law school exam was also the day that Bill took his last breath. At the nursing home, I spent that whole night with him holding his hand. Jamie could not be there with me since we had two young children at home. It was strange for me to witness the absence of Bill’s family members at this important time in his life; even so, I could understand why they were absent. Two of Bill’s daughters lived out of town and had made frequent visits to see him until the last few days, while another daughter found it too difficult to deal with the situation and thus chose not to stay. That being said, I was happy to have shared the time I had with Bill, even if I never really knew him as a whole person. I hope my presence comforted him during his last moments.
In applying the lessons I learned caring for Bill and Vivian and with the goal of using my legal training, health care knowledge, and business background, my staff and I have been able to provide our clients with the ability to create an atmosphere where their incapacitated family members can have the highest possible quality of life and to assist the family in dealing with the situation without being stressed or laden with guilt. We invite you to work with us in developing a plan for your loved one.