My wife Doreen informed me recently that my father, Bill, is getting worse. It’s been nearly a year since my mother Molly passed away, leaving my father alone in our care. We take turns watching to allow each other to get some sleep. Despite the Alzheimer's, he still recognizes me but his recognition of my wife has been getting worse.
In the Spring of 2020, my mother fell, and probably fell again and again. One of those falls led to a fracture in her back, a hospital stay and her remaining days in a wheelchair.
Due to her fear of COVID-19, we brought my mother home rather than send her to rehab for recovery. My wife waited hand and foot on my parents, and I assisted when I could. I assumed the additional role of “medical power of attorney” for my father, meaning he was no longer competent to answer any questions about his medical care.
At the request of my mother, my wife requested absentee ballots for my parents for last year’s election. My parents were regular Republican voters, although they had voted for George McGovern in 1972. Watergate bothered them, even if it did not bother Lynyrd Skynyrd.
Bill’s mind, that once read Homer aloud to me as a child, reveled in James Joyce, solved the mystery of The Sign of Four, is (and was) gone. He cannot even remember the score of the football game he is watching. But with my assistance, he filled out his ballot for Donald Trump. He knew who Trump was, even if he didn’t know who was president before him.
My mother, too, cast her ballot for Trump. And so I gathered their absentee ballots, and the ballots of my immediate family, and made sure they were cast well in advance of the election.
The Racine County Sheriff’s department would probably accuse me of ballot harvesting.
Unlike the Republicans that are now outraged by what happened in one nursing home — and we’ll never know for whom those votes were cast — the question of how to cast ballots for those on the edge is very personal to me. I wondered if my father should cast a ballot given his mental state, but finally justified it by saying to myself that he had voted all of his life and could at least identify the candidate for whom he had voted, even if Trump was the first Republican presidential candidate in my life that I could never support.
We also were confronted with the very real fear that those in our care would be exposed to COVID-19. There was no circumstance that would convince us to take them to vote in person and risk exposure.
But so many within the Republican Party who dismissed COVID-19 because it’s just old people dying are now the same ones outraged that more old people weren’t exposed to the disease to vote.
I don’t know how those conversations went in the Racine nursing home when it came time to fill out the ballots. I can only speculate that the caregivers must have had the same qualms I did about some of the votes being cast. We will never know for sure, nor will we ever know for whom those residents voted.
We can, however, express our sadness that those families have so little trust in the caregivers for their aged and infirm loved ones that they felt the need to contact the Sheriff’s Department. My parents at least had me.
A little over a month after the election, my mother passed away in a local hospital. She told my wife in one of their last conversations, “Don’t tell Jamie that I voted for Trump,” forgetting that I already knew and actually cast her ballot for her.
My father continues on, forgetting he had been at the hospital to say goodbye to my mother when she died, forgetting that she won’t be coming home, forgetting what year it is, or even where he lives. But my father may live to another Election Day, and we’ll have the hard choice of whether to help him fill out a ballot.
Meanwhile, Republicans will have to find a lot more nursing homes with untrusting families of residents if the party still hopes to overturn the 2020 presidential election. Thirty-eight absentee ballots. Tens of thousands to go.