It’s been a rough couple of months for me. In fact, I became kinda depressed, to the point where the tears sat just at the edge of flowing, All. Of. The. Time. I wanted to hole up in my craft room or curl up in my bed, not shower, not talk to anyone.
Then one evening, Superman and I went to a party to celebrate a sweet couple getting ready to marry. There I was catching up with a dear friend about our kids, life and taking care of our elderly parents, she- her mom and dad, me- my mom. As Claire spoke of the emotional weight and struggles she is going through, I realized that I was not alone. Let me repeat this…I was NOT ALONE! As daughters doing our very best to make decisions for our parents, there is this soup of emotions that when the ingredients of sadness, happiness, anger, guilt, relief, and frustration are added one by one, we can handle it….because we are strong women, don’t cha know. But if these extreme emotions are added too quickly, or extra ingredients like our own children’s issues, marital life, potentiality of moving ourselves are added to this sensitive soup recipe, it becomes a heavy, mucky mess resulting in thinking that we just can’t do this.
It turns out Claire and I are not the only ones going through this season of life. I continue to run into friends walking down this same road. We share. We encourage. We hug. This is hard people, really hard. I realized that there are lots of us who need some encouragement. This is not a scientific, researched list of tips on how to do it “perfectly”. This is a list of tips that I have gathered casually from friends in hopes that it will help someone else out too.
This is me and my dear momma about 50 years ago at Myrtle Beach. Today our roles have changed. I’m the caretaker and she is the one to be cared for. At 89 and 3/4 years of age, she is remarkably independent, bathes and dresses herself, knows and remembers all of her medications, makes her cup of coffee in the morning, (actually, a more accurate description would be that she makes herself a cup of sugar and a splash of coffee, but no matter what you call it, she does it on her own) and pours herself a glass of Chardonnay in the evening.
Honestly, she is in surprisingly wonderful health for her age. But at almost 90 years old, she has lost the vision in one eye and is rapidly losing the other due to glaucoma. Her hearing is shotty at best, her hands are riddled with arthritis and her feet are deformed with extreme bunions. She can tell you every last detail of history, but gets easily confused with what is happening today.
TIP #1 It all takes time
This is my childhood home, we kindly call 705. Someone has lived in this 5 bedroom home with my mom for almost 45 years. We, my siblings and I, have tried for years to persuade mom to move to an independent living/ retirement home where she could still have her independence, but have the care and attention she needed. Two sisters had lived with her at separate times and after a fall, resulting in a broken hip, my mom lived with another sister in Georgia for several months. We even paid for an in-home caregiver to come in for 4 hours a day, five days a week. Unfortunately, mom didn’t allow the lady to do anything, so we were really wasting our money.
At one moment in time, mom thought she would go ahead and move to an independent senior living facility. We looked at several places, she put money down, and we even put this house on the market! My sibs and I thought we were on a roll, “Yes! This is going to work!” Well, she changed her mind. It took us years to finally get to the point where she agreed to move, find a place and sell her home. It can be a slow process.
We read books on caring for our parents, did research on the internet, visited and talked to professionals, always trying to be one step ahead, prepared and ready for the next step. We thought we had all the information needed to move ahead, but if the parent is not ready, they aren’t ready. In our situation, we were able to allow mom the time to continue living in her long held home. Your situation may require immediate action with the parent kicking and screaming the whole way. Just know whatever your situation is, your decision is being made with information that you have at that moment, that is best for the parent, and not on feelings.
TIP #2 Just buy it, if they need it
Even though this house was her comfort zone, her loss of vision and unstable feet made even living here dangerous. She was falling a lot. The house and yard were too much for her take care of and too costly for one person. Knowing she was so unsteady on her feet, we encouraged her to use a cane or maybe even use a walker. “No, no, no”, she would say. “Those are for old people.” (Hmmm, ok.) Finally I got tired of holding my breath, as I would watch her teeter and zig zag down the driveway to check the mail, so I ordered her this pink walker. My sister, Annie said mom huffed and poo-pooed it when it was pulled from the box. But when Annie told her to give it a try…guess what?…SHE LIKED IT! Mom named it “Rosie”, which is better than the name of her cane…”That-Damn-Cane”. She was able to walk around her yard again and take a seat if she got tired. Whew!
Sometimes, they don’t realize how much happier their life could be if they just had that magnifying glass to read, the extra light on the table to see the paper or book, the colorful, rubber cover on the key to help identify the proper key to their home.
TIP #3 Keep things as positive as possibleThe time had come for mom to make the move out of her house. For our sanity, the sibs all decided it would be best if mom was not living in the house when we put the house on the market. As luck would have it, mom became concerned for Annie’s welfare and her quality of living, living there at 705 for the past two years. I jumped at the opportunity and asked mom where she would like to live if Annie moved. We talked about a few options, then came to the conclusion that moving to Spartanburg, an hour and half away, to my hometown, would be the best. I immediately visited several independent living places, then narrowed it down to two for mom to see. It was all too much for mom to take in. She only visited one place and she decided that would be it. Coming from a 5 bedroom house with an acre of a yard, I strongly felt that a two bedroom apartment with a screened porch would help ease mom into this new life. A few days before moving in, we had a “shower” for my mom. All six of her children came to 705, with no grandkids and celebrated the life we had there in that home. We brought gifts for her to open, like new kitchen towels, a coffee maker, and bath towels to help make this new and scary step feel like a fun adventure.
All of us kids did our best to talk about the positive things that would happen when she sold her house and moved to Spartanburg. We would acknowledge her concerns, but try to offset the negative with a positive.
The two days between the party and mom’s big move in day, Superman, my boys and I set her apartment up just like her home. Curtains were installed, her bedroom looked exactly like her bedroom at 705, her favorite pictures were hung, and her sitting chairs were ready on her new screened porch. Making those decisions about where everything should go, where to be hung or what to be done was taken out of the equation for her. All she had to do was move in.
Tip #4 Make the most of the little things
My momma is a feisty little thing. And in her mind she can go and go like she did when she was 50 years old. But in reality, her stamina is not like it used to be, of course. She doesn’t need elaborate outings or fancy meals. She needs a little bit of my time. Here we enjoyed a game of Phase 10, in which she kicked my fanny. Yesterday, when I visited her, she wanted to “go to Publix, take her time and walk up and down all of the aisles looking at all the good stuff. ” Okie dokie! I had her push the cart to keep her steady and off we went! We didn’t make it down every aisle because her energy was waning, but she loved it! She thought it was the best day ever! We go to the library, get ice cream, have a pedicure, just simple things.
Tip #5 You can not be the source of their happiness
My mother tells me one of her biggest problems is that she is bored. I get it. She can’t just run out shopping whenever she wants, but the living facility where she lives has lots of things she could do IF she chose to do them. She told me that she actually thought about going down to play BINGO, but then thought…naw, maybe next time. I suggested that she invite her table mates over for a glass of lemonade and sit on her porch. “No, that wouldn’t work. One can’t hear thunder and the other one speaks so Southern that I barely understand her.” Well, there you go.
I can’t be personally responsible for my mom making friends. She has the opportunities to get out of her apartment, but she has to choose to leave it. This is hard for me, because I want her to live a joyful life. She wants to be independent and making her own decisions. So here you are little lady! I can encourage her and love her, but I can’t make her make friends.
Tip #6 Listen
We live in such an immediate world where everything is done quickly and almost instantaneously. In the rush of my daily life, I want to get in and out of the grocery store as fast as possible. Sometimes I’d rather text than get into a lengthy conversation. After spinning into the parking lot, rushing upstairs to see mom, I have to put on the brakes…sometimes the brakes screech to a halt. It takes a few seconds longer for her to pull together her thoughts. She stabs at the door until her key finds the lock. The long walk down the hall to the elevator is achingly slow. We meet Superman for dinner. And he and I listen. We listen to the same stories we’ve heard for years. We listen to her thoughts on this person and that one. We listen. Don’t we all just want to be heard?
Tip #7 Find a tribe. Don’t do this alone.
I am so blessed with a large loving family. I know that I can call any these folks for support. They have all been there help Annie pack up 705, move mom to Spartanburg, to call mom regularly, to be that shoulder I sometimes need to cry on. I have a a beautiful tribe of friends that allow me to vent and ask for prayers. In my depression I really just wanted to cut myself off from the world. It felt easier that way. But when I made myself go to that party, go play tennis, go to breakfast club, I was renewed. When I picked up the phone and talked to a sister, I felt relief for that moment.
Tip #8 Be ready for change and change againSo momma has been in her assisted living apartment three months now. It has not been easy. We assumed her long term care insurance would pay the bulk of her rent, cause they told us she met the requirements. Now three months later, she, in fact,does not qualify. So we go back to the drawing board. She needs a less expensive place to live. Maybe it is a one bedroom in the same facility or maybe it means moving her to a completely new place. This happens. We’ve talked to friends who have moved their parent several times. Two weeks ago, this thought completely overwhelmed me. Today, I realize that it isn’t because I didn’t do something right, it’s just something that happens. Our parent’s needs change. They need to be in the right place whether it is for their health needs, mental needs or financial needs. Sometimes the facility isn’t all that it was cracked up to be. Which brings me to….
Tip #9 No decison is going to be perfectJust in Spartanburg, I bet there are at the very least 20 different senior living options. Is any one of them perfect? What if mom lived with us? What if mom had her own apartment or condo and a caretaker lived with her? What if she lived at the facility with the saltwater pool? There are so many options to choose from. When mom became very discouraged with the place she is living, I became overwhelmed with doubt in my decision to move her there. My sweet sister had to remind me that we all made this decision with the information that we were given and with the knowledge we had of mom’s abilities. There are going to be bad days. Reminding myself that I have to look at the big picture, has helped so much. Yes, this facility has people working there who probably shouldn’t be in the senior care business. But that doesn’t mean that everyone is a bad apple. There are people there who care and love their job. My job is to stay on top of things and be my mom’s advocate. She and every other residents deserves to be treated with respect and care.
Tip #9 Your parent is not your life. Find a hobby.Whether your parent lives with you or is in a senior living facility, you must live your life. I’m not sure how I could it without an escape. Three of my sisters have lived with my mother for months and years. It was hard. Oh so hard. Though I have some frustrating moments with my mom, I get to come home. Is that mean to say? I pray not. I pray that it just honest. Because honestly I have lost my temper. There I said it. I was at the end of my rope. I had no more patience. But I got to come home. I was able to give myself a break. Even if your parent lives with you, I believe with all my heart that you need a break too. These three embroidery hoops is where I escaped to. When I finally said yes to tennis, I felt so rejuvenated from the exercise and company of good friends. A day or two away from your mom or dad is not going to cause permanent damage. In fact it may give everyone involved a better appreciation for each other.
Tip #10 Lean on God
You and I were not made to take on this hard season alone. We don’t have all the answers and we don’t have to. We only have to take next right step. That next right step maybe is to get a shower. Maybe it is to call our mom. Maybe it is to choose not to visit that day. Maybe the next right step is to pray. Amber the next right step is to do what he calls us to do in that moment. Take it one step at a time, my friend. It is ok to have to go in a different direction or to start again. You are going to mess up, say the wrong thing, do the wrong thing and make the wrong decision. Everyone does. You are forgiven. This is not a contest. First and foremost you are expected to love. Love your parent the best way you can and know that is enough.
Friend, we can do this together. If you have any tips for me, PLEASE tell me!!
Thanks for stopping by!