Paul Batura: Comedian Tim Conway’s decline in a nursing home reminds me of my father’s final days

Reports Wednesday that family members of legendary comedian Tim Conway have reached an amicable agreement concerning his care are welcome news – a peaceful conclusion to a contentious battle that’s been brewing since at least last year.

Sadly, the 85-year-old star of the famed “Carol Burnett Show” in the 1970s and countless other popular productions is suffering from dementia. News that his wife Charlene and daughter Kelly were feuding first hit the tabloids last summer.

Court documents suggest that Tim Conway’s daughter was concerned her stepmother was planning to move the comedian out of one skilled nursing facility to an inferior one. In response, Kelly stepped in and requested authority over her dad’s health care.

‘CAROL BURNETT’ STAR TIM CONWAY ‘UNABLE TO MAKE HIS OWN HEALTH CARE DECISIONS’ AS FAMILY SETTLES DISPUTE

Fox News reported Wednesday that Conway’s wife and daughter have settled their differences over his care.

It’s jarring to think of Tim Conway diminished in his comedic genius – let alone incapable of making his own decisions.

For those of us old enough to remember him in his prime, Conway is forever young, the agile actor who feigned ineptness as Ensign Parker on “McHale’s Navy” in the 1960s, or the star of one of his brilliant skits – like the bumbling dentist or the mumbling “oldest man in the world.”

Conway’s decline is a reminder that winter eventually comes to every life, unless we’re cut down when we’re young.

The graying of the population means there are more and more Tim Conways – individuals who need help and who are hoping they can rely on the people they once cared for themselves.

As our loved ones live longer, the demand for eldercare increases exponentially, stressing not only the system itself but those who are left to care and provide comfort.

My own father, who was proudly self-sufficient, pleaded with us to never put him in a nursing home. In fact, I can still see the haunted, scared look in his eyes when he broached the topic.

In my father’s mind, nursing homes were cold, austere environments where individuals are rejected and neglected. Thankfully, that’s not always the case, of course, and there are many excellent skilled-care facilities in the United States staffed by competent and loving health care professionals.

At the same time, there is no denying the fact that many people in nursing homes are ignored – all too often by their own families and friends.

My dad’s final days were spent in our home, though his care became more difficult toward the end. Each morning, I would rouse him from bed, get him to the bathroom, and wash, shave, change his bandages and dress him. It was exhausting and emotional – a very trying season that took the measure of our entire family.

But looking back now, it was also one of the most tender of all times, a reversal of roles and a poignant reminder of just how fragile and dependent we all are one another.

Not everyone is in a position to provide that type of care to a loved one. I credit my wife and my family and my employer, Focus on the Family, with their flexibility and understanding attitude. Without these cooperative forces, I would have had no choice but to find alternative care for my father.

The graying of the population means there are more and more Tim Conways – individuals who need help and who are hoping they can rely on the people they once cared for themselves.

Steve Harvey, another comedian, once talked about caring for his own mother in her later years. He said if one mother could take care of four kids, couldn’t four adult kids figure out how to take care of one mother?

Our hearts break for those like Tim Conway – as well as their families – who often bear the brunt of their declining condition.

Perhaps you and your family are currently walking this long road. If you are, keep going. If you’re not, and you’re a person of faith, say a prayer for those who are. And if you’re able to do so, pay a visit to a nursing home. Pull up a chair and have a chat.

Caring for an aging loved one is no laughing matter, but Tim Conway’s lasting legacy as a comedian is secure, and his own words still teach.

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“I enjoy life because I enjoy making other people enjoy it,” he once said.

In other words, worry less about yourself and more about others. In the end, that’s not a bad goal for any of us.

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