Each time I think of my mother in-law, Mary, in her assisted living facility, I feel sad.
While today she is in a safe, nurturing environment and is surrounded by people she now calls her friends, I wish the journey we traveled to get her there hadn’t been one filled with anger, anxiety and frustration.
Previously, Mary lived in an up-and-down duplex that her husband built at the New Jersey shore. After her husband died, Mary spent winters living with my husband and me in Westlake.
For several years, in March, one of us would accompany her back to New Jersey, get her house set up and arrange for someone to give her rides and help with yardwork. All would be well for about a month after her return. We’d talk a few times a week and she’d be in good spirits.
But not long after she would decline rapidly—her nutrition became poor, she would complain of loneliness, and she would stay in her bedroom all day watching television and drinking.
At about month two we would call her and get no answer. We’d call neighbors or the fire and rescue squad to check on her. Invariably, Mary would have fallen, unable to get up or call for help.
Each time she had broken a bone, which required hospitalization, then rehab and then some home care, which she hated.
It was a battle to keep caregivers because we would hire them and she would send them home, even though she was unable to care for herself.
Each November, when we came to New Jersey to bring her back to stay with us for the winter, we could see her health had deteriorated. It took us the entire winter to bring her back to health, but then each March, she begged to go home.
We broached the subject of assisted living but she would have none of it. Her house was her home, a place of comfort. Even though all of the neighbors were new and she had no connection to any of them—and not being able to drive was problematic—she wanted to stay.
She valued her independence, the right to get up when she wanted to, stay in her room if she wanted to and take a drink when she wanted to. It was her opinion that assisted living would allow her none of that. So we continued our routine, knowing that Mary staying in her home alone presented a dangerous situation.
The following spring, after we brought up the subject of assisted living, the same pattern played itself out, but this time Mary broke bones in her leg, arm and hand. Instead of going from hospital to rehab to home, we found a facility that offered rehab as well as assisted living.
When Mary’s rehab time was up, we discussed with her a move to the assisted living section, to her own room with some of her things from home. At first she seemed open, but once she saw her bed, dresser and lamp in the room, she was furious. Who went into her house and took her things? She wanted to go home “right now!”
For weeks and weeks, we tried to use logic to convince Mary that staying in the facility was for her own safety and comfort. She was very angry at us.
Even though she seems happy there today, the experience put a strain on our relationship and caused Mary to distrust us, which makes me sad.
I only wish I had read David Solie’s book “How to Say It to Seniors: Closing the Communication Gap with our Elders” before we had to deal with this experience. Reading this book forever changed the way I see and speak to seniors.
I am very excited to note that David Solie will be the featured speaker at the Council on Aging’s televised program at 1 p.m. Wed., Feb. 6 in the boardroom of the T.O. Civic Arts Plaza.
There will be a free meet-the speaker reception from noon to 12:45 p.m. catered by the chefs at Atria Hillcrest Senior Living. Seating is limited for the reception, so call (805) 381-7362 or email email@example.com reservations.