It was time. But it was hard. Last week my sweet 91 year old mother- in- law went to assisted living. It’s been a week of transition for her. Leaving her home of over 50 years was very hard. Mom is very friendly but she was never one to jump head on into new social situations. She always had dad to cushion the way for her. And this isn’t just a new social situation this is a new way of life for her. At 91.
For the last four years she and dad have been under the care of their sons. One son left his job to work full time as their caretaker and another two filled in part time. The rest of the six boys helped as needed. It was a good situation but one that went on for much longer than anyone thought. We lost dad last December and since then mom’s needs have gotten to the point where assisted living seemed like the best thing for her to get the care she needs. But it has been so hard to watch this sweet lady struggle with the change.
I wanted to help to make this move easier for her. I have been laid up much of the summer with my own health issues so I wasn’t going to be able to be there for her like i wanted to be. So I decided I could help by getting some pretty things to put in her room. Had I been feeling really well I had visions of creating a room worthy of HGTV. So it was better that I wasn’t feeling well because what a person needs when they move at 91 are things around them that are familiar – not to walk into a room that looks nothing like home.
I ended up getting pretty curtains for her room and some nice bath towels along with some pretty bath accessories. Mom was getting a hospital bed that she really did not want. But I asked her what color sheets might she want for her bedding and she said pink. “I have always wanted pink sheets.” She told me.
So pink it is – along with a pink quilt and some gray sheets just to change it up some. It makes for a pretty hospital bed.
It is amazing how homey a couple sets of inexpensive curtains can make a room feel. Everyone walks in and likes her curtains -which makes pitiful laid up old me feel pretty good.
I wish it was easier for her though. She is going though a very hard transition period and my heart hurts for her. I know she feels alone but since she moved in last week she has had a huge number of visitors and I know that has been great for her..and her sons get to be her sons again not her caretakers which is so important during this time I think. But the hole in her heart at losing all she knew and also the hole left from dads passing will take a long time to mend. And it might never mend all the way but her ability to cope in her new home might become easier. At least we hope.
Bedford Court is a very nice place. Independent living through nursing care exists there. When I first visited I was impressed at the decor and the kindness of staff. It is also very clean. I liked that so much care was put into the comfort there. In the assisted living area it is very nice – they have a bistro and nice dining room that has a club appeal with its blue tablecloths and heavy curtains. But there is a din of sadness that no pretty decor can cover. This is the place the indicates end of life. As much as you try to pretty it up there is that underlying air and mom knows this and I know this – pretty curtains or not. But its what you do when you want to help heal someones heart. You try to point out all the good things and they are good things but it doesn’t erase that this is the last phase of life.
You won’t miss people in wheelchairs stopped mid-roll in the middle of the hall – faces blank or they have fallen asleep. Each time I come I see the same clutch of men parked by a giant TV in the living room area- watching loud western after western – never talking to one and other. There is a wonderful social director and her sweet pit bull mix Bindy who tries to gather the residents for some social time. I sense that it isn’t always an easy job. They certainly have a lot of things to do but mom just doesn’t feel like going to any of the events. I see the need – it can stave off depression that can come with isolation.
Despite the realities of the place I actually like visiting Bedford Court. I haven’t been able to go as much as I have wanted but I have always loved older people (I hope I like them when I am one of them!). I was very close to my grandmother growing up and in my early 20’s I worked for a dentist that had mostly older patients. I really loved that job-I became so fond of many patients. Then I became very close to my in-laws. Mom and I might be far apart in years but our hearts are close.
I want mom to meet people and make friends. She has a low voice from Parkinson’s and her dining companions are hard of hearing. It makes for interesting and loud conversation during meals. I asked mom if she liked the ladies she was sitting with and she said “they cant hear me”. I can sense this is frustrating for her- it just complicates the endeavor to connect with others. I feel that sadness. Even in her room we have to shut off the radiator unit if we want to hear her. I don’t now who designed those rooms but they didn’t do a great job of placing the rad. I talked her into putting a fan in her room so the air can still circulate when the rad is off.
I decided to ask mom’s dining companions about their lives- ok Kevin had to ask so they could hear. Moms tables mates Jean – 97, and Talley 93, (which makes mom the youngster of her table) – both have led interesting lives. Both have lived in different areas of the country and world.
Jean – who has the cutest smile ever – was a military wife – they moved 26 times did she say? She said they would just get settled in some new place and she and her husband would say to each other “where to next?” They didn’t like to be any place too long. I asked her how she ended up in Maryland at Bedford Court- and it was just the last place they were living – so Bedford worked for her. She seems not be get to phased by things….I just liked her the first time I saw her. I would like to take their picture.
Talley who is very hard of hearing (she wore her hearing aides just so she could hear mom)is very confident. She is a good person to have with mom. She will talk mom can listen. Talley has a daughter who lives on the Delaware shore. I saw her on moms first day eating in the dining room so I asked Talley a little about her. I found myself enjoying the conversation I didn’t realize mom had finished her meal and was ready to go back to her room.
There is so much older people can teach us. I keep using that phrase on my own kids when I try to share my vast wisdom with them- they just roll their eyes but someday they will get it and I hope they get lucky to have older people they can be close to throughout their lives. I have been given such a gift having had that.
Sometimes it is easy to put older people at a distance maybe because we can become impatient with them or maybe really its because they are a picture of our future selves- but that is if we are lucky to live that long. It makes me think hard how I would like my older years to be if I make it that far. Would I want to be in Bedford Court? At this moment I can honestly say no but it opens up thinking about the possibilities.
I see what is happening with my mother in law. There will never be a time where I am ready to say goodbye to her. There are not words to explain what she has meant to me in my life. But she has given so much to so many – more than we can ever give back. I am just glad there is a sea of people who love her and who want to make her transition to this next phase of her life as comfortable as possible.
We will love her through it.