At age 95, my father was being asked to make a huge and upsetting change – leaving his familiar, comfortable home for the unknown of an assisted-living residence.
‘I feel old, but I’m up!” When I overheard my father say that, I thought, “Maybe he’ll be OK with this, after all.”
He was about to move from the apartment he’d lived in for 26 years to an assisted-living residence. For two months, he had resisted the move every step of the way, but he finally agreed to “give it a try.”
He was being asked, at age 95, to make a huge and upsetting change – leaving his familiar, comfortable home for the unknown. When he finally agreed to “do whatever you think is best” and signed the rental agreement for a one-bedroom apartment with many services, I began packing his things for the movers. I took small furniture and household items over to his new apartment and told him how it would look, all the services he would have, how safe he would feel and how relieved I would be. He sat and watched, saying he never could have handled all the details. On moving day, he was subdued but cooperative, admiring how deftly the movers handled the heavy items.
When we arrived at the assisted-living residence, the staff were as warm, welcoming and efficient as one could hope. Their timing was perfect. Marlene, the all-purpose receptionist, greeted him. In the elevator and by the mailboxes were posters reading: “Welcome Alfred Scheible in Apartment 219. Do stop by and get acquainted with the newest member of our family.” The morning paper had been left on the shelf outside his door. His name was by the door. Inside, there was a pretty plant and a lovely card from the director.
My father sat in his favorite chair and watched while the movers brought in the rest of his bedroom and living room furniture. There was a knock at the door and the head chef, Mike, came in bearing a basket of fruit and cookies. He told my father he would cook him anything he liked if he didn’t like the two choices offered at every meal.
We went down for lunch in the attractive, restaurant-style dining room. My father chose grilled chicken and fruit, with a brownie sundae for dessert. We sat with a couple who had lived there for two years; the wife was friendly and easy to talk to, while her husband, who has Parkinson’s disease, was quiet, focused on eating without assistance. My father said little but smiled and ate every bit. This is going well, I thought.
Once we were in the elevator, his fears took hold. He said he wished he could have talked more, engaged in conversation to “make a contribution,” but that he can’t do that like he once did. I reassured him that he did fine. Back in his apartment, the attentiveness continued. A congenial maintenance man came up with tools to install his curtain rods. The nurse dropped by to get information on his medications – he no longer remembers what pills to take, so having medication management morning and evening is one of the much-needed services he will get. The social worker dropped by to say hello.
By mid-afternoon, my father looked exhausted. He said several times what a nice place it was, and I left him to run errands. But right before I left, he told me I might as well take a certain painting he liked “back home” so I wouldn’t “have to take down” so many things. When I came back two hours later, he was in a panic. He said he wanted to go home. He didn’t seem to understand that he had moved. He said he had watched the movers carry all his furniture and been impressed at their speed and skill, but he didn’t really realize it meant he wouldn’t be going back “home.”
Uh-oh, I thought, this is going to be harder than I realized. He struggled to pull himself together, and at dinner he ate well. We went through his bedtime routines and I told him I’d be back for breakfast. At 8 the next morning, when I came back, I asked him how he’d been during the night.
“Lonely,” he said in a little voice, choking up on the words. He sat on the edge of bed and got teary, so I put my arm around him and we talked. I said I knew it was really tough, but it would get easier. And I thanked him, again, for making the move.
“I’ll do better,” he said. And he has. He is still confused and scared, but one of the biggest helps has been the other residents. They know what it’s like, this forced move to an “old folks home,” even if it is one that seems like a hotel or college dorm. They come up to him and tell him, “It takes time, but you’ll like it here. The other people are very nice.”
Some of them have physical problems; others, some memory loss.
What they all have is courage.
To contact Sue Scheible, call 617-786-7044, write to her at The Patriot Ledger, P.O. Box 699159, Quincy, MA 02269, or e-mail email@example.com.