I have come to the conclusion that the answer to this question is different, case to case. I can think of examples for every possible scenario. I can only give what has happened for our family.
My parents moved numerous times in their lives. They were tied to a general area but not to a particular house. Each time they moved they practiced parting with things. They practiced flexibility. Some people are not that way. I have always been a bit surprised by their flexibility because I have seen the opposite happen with my grandparents. They were not as comfortable with change and they stayed in the home they were familiar with until it was impossible to do so.
Mom has jokingly said that she looked forward to nursing home social life, playing bingo and cards, etc… so I know that she has thought about the subject way before she had to. Watching others go through decisions about caretaking made her lean in the direction of not wanting to be a burden on her children. We have all had to reassure her that we are all “burdens” to each other if we want to view it that way, and that every burden, planned for and accepted cheerfully, has corresponding joys and rewards. For mom, this means she can know she is loved and can depend on us. For us, this means that we trust mom to make a decision for herself, and that we will do everything we can to make it happen.
Mom was not afraid to put her name on the waiting list, but I think we were all surprised when it was announced that she was next in line for an apartment. This announcement came at a time when Mom was struggling with her feelings of loneliness and isolation, the shortened days and long dark nights, the winter cold. There were people she could reach out to, frequent phone calls and my brother and his family checking in on her, but even with all this there were sometimes days at a time when she was not face to face with anyone. She became very clear about one thing – she no longer wanted to live alone. Maybe it was not a coincidence that there would soon be a place for her in a warm, secure building with people to see and be with any time she wanted. When you are a praying person, you examine “coincidences” in a whole different light. And that’s what Mom has done. She says she owes it to herself to find out if this is right for her, and why not do it while she is young enough to enjoy the many perks?
Meanwhile, my brothers and I are battling winter with Mom in any way we can. I am so happy that I am free to visit her in Wisconsin for an extended time. Since I have been here, the apartment has come open and I will get to help with the move. We are having fun getting ready. Wait ’till you see what Mom is doing! Clue – a lot of red paint is involved.
Our family is having a new experience this winter – I call it a learning experience because I’ve been made to see that we approached it with some bias, some presumptions that need to be adjusted. Although mom is the central figure in this experience, we are all involved and affected. Over Thanksgiving we had discussions with Mom and each other. It is a blessing to have a close family that wants to work together and communicate.
My personal bias was the idea that someday, when Mom needed help, I would be her primary caretaker. I enjoy my mother and the idea of living with her has never been hard to bear. I have looked forward to that time. However, there were many details about “that time” that were not defined or even thought about.
How will we know when “that time” comes? Who decides? Is it based on physical need? Financial need? Emotional need? Safety need? Where will “that time” take place? What if “that time” comes when it’s inconvenient?
All of these questions and more came into play this last year. It was a shock to me when my forward- thinking brother and my mom announced that they had put her name on the list for an assisted living apartment. She had already told me that she didn’t want to winter with my husband and I in sunny Florida. Travel wasn’t easy for her and she didn’t have many friends of her own there. She felt isolated and in the way. But assisted living?! She had a small but very comfortable condo in a safe community near my brother and his family. She had lived alone there for the two years since Dad had died. What was going on?
Mom had gotten on the list along with lots of others because there was a shortage of apartments in the facility of choice. It was a “just in case” move so she wouldn’t find herself in need in the future. I wasn’t the only one who balked at this idea. Other family members were concerned and even voiced the common sentiment “once you go to a nursing home, it’s all downhill from there”. Fortunately, nothing happened quickly. I think it was by God’s design that we were given several months to process this idea.
Our first lesson was learning the meaning of assisted living. The term has been around for a number of years but even with my background in nursing, I had not paid much attention to it. I did not know how common these facilities had become and the variety of levels of assistance available. The facility Mom is interested in is connected to a hospital, but really consists of apartments, fully equipped, like any apartment building. They are small but very nice. Residents move in with their own furnishings and come and go as they please. Mom can bring her own car if she wants to.
As some of this information comes my way I want to share it with my family and with others who are also considering assisted living for themselves or those they love. Since Mom is moving this coming Friday, I will be posting over the next few days in hopes that following her journey will help others understand and feel informed about assisted living.