Relationships

The Night My 77-Year-Old Father Was Taken to Jail

The scenario I'd feared since his release from a psychiatric hospital became reality when he attacked my mother

My father at my wedding

I was just getting ready to take a shower when my cell phone rang. I considered letting it go to voicemail, but it was mom's number and my gut told me I should answer.

"He attacked me!" she hysterically screamed. "I'm in the ER!"

And then she was gone. I could not tell if she had hung up or we had gotten disconnected. I frantically tried to call her back, to no avail.

My husband walked into the room, immediately sensing my alarm.

"What is it?" he asked.

"Dad hurt Mom. She's in the ER."

His face registered deep sadness, but not surprise.

"How badly is she hurt?"

"I don't know!" I shrieked. "She hung up!"

"Go," he said.

The hospital was more than 30 minutes away. I made it there in less than 20. Stepping through the sliding glass doors into the ER waiting room, I immediately saw him. His back was to me, and he didn't turn when the doors opened. Sitting in a chair, he looked small, frail.

"Hi, Dad," I said softly. "How's Mom?"

"I don't know," he said, standing up to greet me with some difficulty. "She's been back there a long time and nobody has come to talk to me. She must really be sick. I'm worried."

I felt as if I'd been stabbed in the gut. I wanted to sink to the floor and sob. I wanted to scoop him up and take him away. I wanted this to not be happening.

"I'll go back and see what I can find out," I told him calmly and then leaned over and gave him a hug.

"Oh, good. Thank you," he said, relieved.

"I love you," I said, before turning to walk away.

I stepped over to the registration desk and asked to be directed to my mom. Looking over my shoulder as I entered the double doors, I could see he was seated again. He looked so bewildered. It was heartbreaking. I hated to leave him there alone.

As soon as Mom saw me, she lowered the ice pack from her forehead and began to cry. I was shocked by the sight of her face. It was worse than I had expected.

"Are you OK?" I asked.

"I am now that you're here."

"Why is Dad in the waiting room?"

"He brought me. We couldn't stop the bleeding …"

She went on to tell me how Dad had been frantic about their finances. Her voice was shaky, filled with a mixture of sorrow and disbelief. He'd spent hours looking things over, growing flustered and indignant. Finally, Dad accused Mom of embezzling funds from him. He threw a fit, and the nearest thing to him at that moment, a tin full of freshly baked chocolate chip cookies.

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For most of their nearly 52-year marriage, my mom had managed the finances. But after retirement, my dad decided he wanted to take over. It's impossible to pinpoint exactly when he lost the ability to handle the task. After his official diagnosis of vascular dementia a few months earlier, my mom had attempted to assume control. My dad was resistant. Hostile. It had become a source of significant conflict.

The scenario I had feared since his release from a psychiatric hospital became reality. My mom had done her best to care for him at home. But as the disease progressed, I'd worried more and more about them. And here we were.

After what seemed an eternity, two police officers entered the room. They told us that they understood the situation, but insisted they had no choice but to arrest my father and take him downtown to the city jail for booking. Due to my mom's age (over 65), the charge would be felony battery.

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My mother cried out in horror and anguish and frantically began trying to recant her story of how she had been injured. I stepped into an empty, adjacent room and texted my husband:

They are going to arrest him.

He instantly responded:

Holy shit. What can I do?

I don't know.

I felt sick to my stomach. The room began to spin. The "flight or fight" response was definitely kicking in, and I wanted to do the latter. But I knew I had to hold it together.

I took a deep breath and stepped back into Mom's room. One officer was heading to the waiting area to arrest Dad. The other sat in a chair at the foot of Mom's hospital bed. He walked us through what was about to happen. Dad would be taken downtown and booked. The following day, he would be arraigned. The time of his arraignment was dependent on the time of his booking. If they "got him in" before midnight, he would be arraigned in the morning. If later, it would be the afternoon. We could be present, and it was recommended we go. Before leaving the room, he advised us to get a lawyer and wished us luck.

We walked out to the parking lot in shock, my mom having been officially discharged before the police had arrived. I planned to drive her home, then return to my house to shower and pack an overnight bag so I could stay with her. She insisted she could drive home. She lives just a few minutes away and it would save me an hour of driving, so I didn't protest. I told her I'd be at her house as soon as I could.

My husband was waiting at the door to the garage when I arrived home. It was nearly midnight. I desperately explained how I needed to pack. Figure out what time Dad would be arraigned the next day. Find a lawyer. But first, I needed a shower.

As the warm water began to wash over me, the emotions I had been working so hard to keep under control came rushing out. I sank to my knees, my body shaking violently and sobbed. When I turned off the water and pulled back the shower curtain, my husband was waiting with a towel. He wrapped me up in it and pulled me toward him.

"He's all alone," I said and burst out crying again. "He doesn't understand what's happening. He must be so scared! We have to get him out of there!"

"We will," said my husband, holding me tight.

It would not be easy. Dad spent 12 days in jail before being declared incompetent to stand trial. He was then transferred to a psychiatric hospital, and eventually to a memory care facility, where he spent the remainder of his days.

He never went home again.

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