Over the last several weeks I have been home, in Minnesota, where my mother lives.
In November she was taken to the hospital after she fell and pushed her Life Alert button. With four daughters living far away, she recovered at home alone, but she didn’t sound like she was getting better. Two days after my sister arrived, she got Mom back to the hospital. I arrived the next day. A third sister came the next week.
During the next two weeks we met with doctors, sat with our mom, and had the difficult conversation with her about moving from her condominium to assisted living. She had been thinking the same thought. I told her, “There will be no secrets from you.” We kept the promise.
We researched the new assisted-living options, visited them, chose one for Mom and put money down on an apartment in a care facility that was her first choice. Our Christmas miracle: an available apartment with a lovely view. We continued to meet with doctors, managed to have our mom placed in the transitional care unit (same place as assisted living) for physical and occupational therapy; we found the moving company to move her selected belongings to her new assisted-living apartment. We shopped for and purchased a few more diminutive pieces of needed furniture for her new space. We arranged delivery and set up. We changed her phone service. We opened a safe deposit box and placed her best jewelry in it. We contacted her favorite charity and donated her car to them. We disposed of her old medications – at her doctor’s request – at a location that accepts them. And we laughed - a lot.
We consulted our mom at each step. I took photos of her prints, photos that hung on the walls at her condo and some furniture; I showed them to her and asked her what she wanted to take with her. I carried a measuring tape everywhere and documented space and items, matching accordingly. I had a floor plan of the new apartment. We took imaginary trips through her condo to ask about items, “The plate that is on the wall next to the kitchen?” “No.” “The print of Florence?” “Yes.” The big mirror? The little nightstand?
On Sunday, we pushed her in her wheel chair from the transitional care area to her new apartment. When we opened the door, she saw her old furniture and a mix of new pieces. The television was set to the Christmas music channel and a poinsettia and some gifts sat on the floor. A Christmas stocking hung on a door handle. We celebrated Christmas with a few housewarming gifts and laughter. We had food and a little orientation tour, showing her where we had placed her things. We took her back to her transitional care unit.
“Consider the apartment your starter home. Write down what you may still want and what items you want to go back to the condo,” I told her. We will return in a month to arrange for the sale of her condo and sharing of her remaining items. We wanted her to live in her new setting for a few weeks first.
Hours later my sister and I caught our flights out of town. Mom moved in on Tuesday and is adjusting to her new life of dependency and a new home, with new neighbors.
We are all exhausted and yet our mom was a dream parent throughout the process. She has a long-term care policy that will pay well for her care. She had a notebook with all needed documents, well-organized. And she is a quintessential minimalist – no clutter, no unneeded belongings or fluff. She did not resist the obvious: she could no longer live alone. She never once, not once, complained. Strong faith in God sustains her.
She knows she was shopping, driving, doing her laundry and cooking and suddenly she collapsed and cannot recover to the level she was at six weeks ago. She has adjusted and continues to find ways to be independent.
Lessons learned: do what you can to make this process easier for loved ones. Make a plan now, get rid of unneeded belongings and know the options for senior living in your community. While my sisters and I worked wildly, we also had a wonderful parent and friends who supported us.
Our best Christmas gift? Knowing our mom is now safe, content. And she is still, one phone call, one plane ride, near.