Getting there wasn't easy. Back in El Salvador, Mom had quit her job as an accountant when Mae, the youngest, was born. Then Dad lost his job. A former accountant and car salesman, he heard bakers were needed in the United States and asked a friend who owned a bakery to teach him the trade. Then we all moved to California, Mom and Dad leaving their extended families behind.
Within a year, Dad was working as a French chef—Dad, who had never even cooked an egg! We failed to understand his sacrifice, but we still rave about his French toast. Here we were, an immigrant family, eating escargot and coq au vin.
Life in the United States was normal until Dad retired and Mom, then 65, was laid off.
Things are falling apart. Dad fails his driver's test. For a while he drives without a license. Mom tells us, and we have a talk with him. He's upset. The United States won't give him a break now that he's old, he says. He doesn't understand it's the law. Then Mom flunks the driver's test, too. Both refuse to retake it; they're embarrassed.
Dad has his gall bladder removed and, after weeks in the hospital, is sent to a nursing facility. Dad loses the use of his legs, and I'm outraged that all the Latinos and other ethnic patients are placed in back rooms. We plan to move him out as soon as possible. With each day at the nursing home, Dad's spirit is shriveling along with his body. Jaime and I visit several assisted-living centers.
To introduce the issue, we hold a family meeting. Mom cries and tells us she has "criado cuervos para que le comieran los ojos" (raised crows that are gouging out her eyes).
Finally, my brother-in-law suggests hiring a lawyer who speaks Spanish and knows about elders and retirement. Mom meets with the attorney and walks out of the meeting a different person. She agrees to finalize their wills and think about assisted living.
We look for a place where Mom and Dad can be together, a place that is affordable, safe, and culturally sensitive. Then Jaime finds the safe haven where they now live. It's right around the corner from his home. We're all relieved.