Daddy Frank and Milton: The Friend Who Changed His Life
Depression Meets Its Match
This is the story of Frank, an 89 year-old man whose life was completely changed by one small but incredibly significant thing that his daughter did for him. Frank has progressive macular degeneration and is now legally blind. Being blind makes the challenges of aging considerably more daunting. Many of the things Frank loved - fixing things, making things, etc. were no longer possible. His daughter lived far away from Frank, but visited every 4-6 weeks. Every time she left, it was bitter sweet - she enjoyed the visits, but hated to leave her dad alone. She struggled for ways to curb his sadness and depression. None of the various things she tried worked. Every time she left to come back to California, she left with a heavy heart.
Close to Home
Frank isn't actually one of our clients. Frank is my wife Lisa's father, whom she has called "Daddy Frank" ever since her mother married him when she was 6 years old. She called him "Mr. Frank" when they were dating, but when Frank and her mom got married, naturally he became Daddy Frank. Frank lives 3,000 miles away in Louisiana. Lisa is an only child and therefore the sole family member taking care of her father. Due to his blindness and declining health, Lisa coordinates most aspects of his life - paying bills, filling insurance claims, coordinating caregivers, and going to doctors visits. But the one thing she couldn't effectively fix was his mood - more specifically his depression. And his depression was starting to cause a downward slide in his physical health.
One day during a visit, Lisa was cleaning out a closet and came upon a bird cage that had once been a prominent part of her life growing up. Their family always had several birds. Canaries were her father's favorite. He loved listening to them sing, especially in the morning. The lightbulb went off for Lisa. She had to get her Dad a canary.
Milton Becomes More Than a Beloved Pet
Lisa knew that her father would enjoy the canary, but she had no idea how it would dramatically change his mental health and ultimately how that improvement would lead to improvements in his physical health. It was a small thing, but it made a HUGE impact.
Frank named his canary Milton. Every morning, he is greeted with Milton peeping for Frank to lift his overnight cover so he can come alive and sing. Sometimes Milton doesn't wait and just starts singing with his cage cover on, gently waking Frank up with his sweet sounds. Milton sings throughout the day and provides companionship to Frank. Suddenly, Frank wasn't alone anymore. He now has a constant companion and something that he can take care of.
Lisa calls her dad every day to check in from California. Conversations regarding his depression and loneliness have given way to stories about Milton, his caregivers and all of the things going on in his life. In essence he is living again. And while she still recognizes the aging in his voice, his personality has returned. Milton not only changed Daddy Frank's life, he's also changed Lisa's as well. It gives her great joy to once again hear enthusiasm in her father's voice.
What Might Change Your Aging Loved One's Life?
Its often the small things in life that make a difference. For Frank it was a bird but for others it may be something else. So we encourage you to talk with your parents, go through their closet, see what's missing in their life - things given up many years ago that just might bring joy back into their life. I can't guarantee it, but there's a good chance it will have a greater impact than you might imagine.