|The view from Dad's new assisted living residence. Beautiful!|
Fifteen years ago, my husband and I agreed that we should move down from Virginia to live close enough to my parents to help them as needed. I got a job in the outskirts of Orlando, so that's where we looked for a home. Having lived in the DC-MD-VA area for over a decade, we really didn't think that the 60 mile distance between our house and Mom and Dad's condo was far at all.
Seemed like an ideal situation, and Mom and Dad were many years away from really needing our help. Even up through his 89th year, Dad worked part-time as a doctor who filled in for vacationing physicians. In his home he took care of my Mom who suffered from (and eventually died from) Alzheimers, as well as his older sister and brother-in-law until they died. But by 2008 after his sister, her husband, and then my mother were gone, we knew it was just a matter of time before he would need more day-to-day care.
And here's where, in my inexperience, I thought the answer to providing him the support he needed was so simple.
2008: "Dad, while the market is good, let's buy a bigger home with a separate apartment for you. You can have your independence, yet we're right there to help you as needed and you can be with us as much or as little as you'd like." Initially, he agreed. We scoured the surrounding area for the perfect home and found it. Our house was in great shape to sell, the perfect home we found could accommodate all of us with minimal renovations, and the price and location was right. After much discussion, he said he really didn't feel he was ready for any assistance and he really couldn't (or didn't want to) project down the road into what his future self might need. As far as my husband and I were concerned, it seemed like the perfect solution, but the decision was ultimately his. So we let it go.
Although he was still steady on his feet, was walking daily, taking in an occasional swim, and even playing in a seniors golf league, it was clear that his days were more lonely and he was beginning to show some early signs of Parkinson's Disease.
2009: "Dad, there's a great new apartment complex that opened up within walking distance to us. You could walk down to have dinner with us, and I could help with your laundry and cleaning ..." Another simple, practical solution. He gave it some consideration, but he didn't feel he was ready to move and said he would be fine.
But this at least got him to thinking about his next steps, and he even stayed at an independent/assisted living residence near my sister to test it out. He liked it a lot. He loved that the residence had a water view, cocktail hour, was in the countryside that he enjoyed. He evaluated his finances and determined it was within his budget. We were incredibly impressed with his ability to start thinking about and planning for the future. He initiated the conversation about residence living, and he assured us he would know when it was time to make that move.
2010: "Dad, why don't you consider moving up there now, while you're still healthy enough to enjoy it?" Seemed to make sense to us. He was now at the point where some daily assistance would not only have been welcome but would have also given us all a great deal of peace of mind. He was still feeling well enough to enjoy the social ammenities, and we were confident that he could still enjoy drives around the countryside and nearby seaside towns. Once again, he said, "No, I'll know when it's time." There was nothing we could say to convince him otherwise.
These were all simple, realistic, practical suggestions that my sister, brother, and I made to my Dad. Yet we were not in a position to tell him what to do. He's a well-educated man who's been doing quite well on his own longer than any of us had been alive. We could give advice, but who were we to push him into a decision he wasn't ready for?
A year later it was clear to all of us, including friends and neighbors, that it was time for him to move. It was getting dangerous for him to live alone. We'd hold our breath as we'd watch him lose his balance (but refuse to use a cane). Our eyes would tear up as we'd watch him struggle to cut a piece of meet (but refuse our help). We'd cringe at the thought of him behind the wheel of his car (but refuse to give up driving).
Friends -- both his and ours -- would be filled with advice: "You need to just tell him it's time to move."
(Really? You seriously think it's that simple? Don't you think we've tried to get him to the point of moving for years?)
So for months we would struggle with our own sadness watching Dad age, overwhelming guilt over our feeble attempts to manipulate conversations with him to get him to the right decision, frustration at our lack of success in getting him to move, exhaustion from the drive back and forth to his condo (rushing back in time to deal with our own young family), and weariness from having the same "when are you going to get him to move?" conversation over and over again with his friends and neighbors.
By the first of this year, he finally said he was ready. But at this point he was so weak, easily tired, and a little confused by end of day that the whole process of getting him moved was incredibly sad. It was a daily, tearful struggle for all of us as we helped him make the final decision of where, when, and how.
I came away from this determined that I would not make the same mistake. I would make this process easier on my children when the time comes (and if I'm granted the opportunity to live to old age). I would not be as stubborn. I would listen to their advice and try to let go of the control. I would accept care when they thought it best if only to give them some peace of mind ...
... hahahaha ... who am I kidding?
I know full well that no major life changes are that simple. My entrance into the final phase of my life will be equally as heart-wrenching and difficult for my children as it was for me with my Dad. If I'm expecting anything to be simple, it's to simply accept the fact that this move into the last phase life is a process that I believe is necessary for each of us to go through ... both the parent and child ... to prepare our hearts and minds for what's to come.
And that's a story for another day.