By ROB COOMBS
I have had the sad misfortune of actually knowing the individuals involved in a most despicable experience where a cowardly son and daughter, under the pretense of taking their aging mother out to her favorite restaurant for a birthday celebration, took her, instead, to a nursing home, dumped her there as quickly as possible and drove away.
This woman, fully aware of the injustice and indecency of what had happened, was left defenseless, at least in her mind, to do anything about it. Relieved of their responsibility, the son and daughter rarely visited. Sadly, she never saw her home, her yard, her furniture, her neighbors again. Understandably, her emotional death came within weeks after her placement in that facility. Unfortunately, her physical death took a few years longer.
Please understand this story is not meant as an indictment of nursing home facilities. There are many, many nursing homes that provide high-quality care simply not available or accessible at home. Certainly, this was true of the nursing home where this poor woman was left to die. The tragedy is not in where she went, but when and how she arrived.
I am convinced that there are ways that a senior parent and adult children can work through this transition without inflicting unnecessary pain. Advice from a dear friend who is a senior citizen, and my own experience, tell me that there are several things that can be done that will actually make this transition easier.
Some words of advice to the aging parent:
1. Talk openly concerning your wishes in the event that you are no longer able to care for yourself. Open communication is a gift to your entire family who may hesitate to initiate such a sensitive topic.
2. While healthy, take the necessary steps to make your life more manageable. This may mean ridding yourself of possessions you no longer need and moving to a smaller home, a condominium, or perhaps an assisted living facility. Also, if your children are receptive, this also may be a time to consider moving closer to family members. What you choose is not as important as making the choice yourself. The more choices you have in determining where and how you’ll live will directly affect your happiness in your later years.
3. Don’t wait until it is too late. Move before relocation and drastic change in lifestyle are necessary and unavoidable. As my friend of 80 years tells me, “I’ve heard too many people of my generation declare, ‘I’m going to stay in my house just as long as I possibly can.’ What shortsighted thinking! They should be researching options for moving – perhaps near to (but I would hope not in with) children, a town or city with easy access to stores, doctors, post office, library, hospital and activities they enjoy doing; a home with few or no stairs (though stairs may not be presenting a problem at this particular moment), or to a residence with an elevator and easy upkeep inside and out. Seniors should be encouraged to make a move while they can still drive, get out and about, find and make new friends, and not be a burden on their children. Life is good in places other than where you have lived for many, many years. There are friends to make, activities to participate in, places to explore. The Dr. Seuss book "Oh, The Places You’ll Go" is as appropriate for seniors as for young adults.
Some words of advice to the adult children (I’ll use the pronouns her and she as there are about 6 women alive for every man living after age 65, but please understand that the following comments are equally applicable to men.):
1. Openly communicate with your parent. If your parent approaches you, please don’t dismiss her. Certainly it is understandable that such a topic is painful. By openly communicating you will actually reduce the pain.
2. Encourage your parent to live at a level that maximizes her potential. Whatever she is able to do, encourage her to do it. The more independent, the more involved, the more active she is, the better the overall quality of her life.
3. Don’t wait until too late. Encourage your parents to make the appropriate moves while they can, before they are either overwhelmed with responsibilities and can no longer manage those responsibilities.
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