How do you tell your father that he is going to have to move out of the place he has called home for many years into the next level of care? How do you understand the role reversal when, for most of your life, your parents have been the ones to nurture, educate, teach, guide, provide for and protect you? When your father tells you every time you call, “Everything’s fine! Life goes on whether we like it or not,” how do you tell him, “Yes, life goes on, and you will be just fine, Dad.”
This scenario plays out every day in our country as millions of baby boomers are now caring for their parents. To complicate matters, many adult children live far away from their parents and have to coordinate care from a distance. Last month my three siblings and I decided that my father was no longer able to care for himself in his “cottage” in a continuing care facility. A day was chosen when two social workers at Peter Becker Community and my three siblings would break the news to my father. I would participate by speakerphone.
I have a pit in my stomach. So do my siblings. I adore my father and don’t want to see him hurt. He loves his cottage so much. He has bird feeders outside and loves to watch the birds. He rides his bike around the facility. The sun room is a warm, cheery place for him to spend the day. What if he resists? What if he starts crying? What if he begs to stay, promising to take his meds and eat three meals a day when we all know he simply can’t do it anymore?
Kate (Social worker): Hi, Gerry. We’re all here this morning to talk to you because we think you need more care.
Dad: Uh oh.
Kate: Did you know that you are not always taking your meds?
Dad: I am not aware of not taking meds.
Kate: And you are not eating.
Dad: I do eat.
Gerry Jr. (son): I don’t think you are eating, Dad.
Jenny (daughter): Dad, you have not used cereal and milk for breakfast for many weeks now.
Dad: There is no food here.
Randy (son): We had to throw it out because it spoiled, Dad.
Kate: I am concerned, Gerry. Making sure you have three meals is important for your health.
Randy: Do you remember when you fainted three times at church over the past year and we had to take you to the hospital?
Dad: Was that what it was?
Laura (social worker): You did not eat or drink before you went to church, so you were dehydrated and your blood pressure dropped. You were also on your bike one day and did not know how to get home. It was dark, and you did not have a light. I have multiple reasons to be concerned.
Gerry: And we don’t want you riding your bike to the café when it’s zero degrees. I call you every day to make sure that you go there for lunch, but I worry when it’s snowy and cold. Unfortunately, that has been your only option for lunch.
Jenny: We all take turns taking you out for dinner, but we can’t be here all the time. Sometimes it’s very difficult to make sure that you are eating.
Kate: I’d like you to join me in the main building, Gerry. I have a two room apartment for you at Ridgewood. Your medications will be taken care of, all your meals will be provided and there are lots of activities. In addition, we have a closet right next to your apartment where you can store your bike. When it’s warm out, you can ride again.
Dad: Are you saying you would like me to move?
Kate: Yes, I would like you to move. It will be your own apartment in Ridgewood.
Dad: I thought this morning, “Something is going to happen today.”
Laughter all around.
Kate: Living in Ridgewood will assure your safety. Plus, you’ll still be able to have independence and do the things you enjoy. There’s even an exercise room down the hall. And your children won’t have to worry about you.
Jenny: And you can still have your TV. We’ll make sure CNN is always on!
A tear drops onto my phone.
Laura: You will be on the first floor, Gerry, close to the dining room.
Gerry: You can still come to our house on Tuesday night to see five of your great-grandchildren.
Randy: And I’ll still take you to church, only now I won’t have to worry anymore that you haven’t eaten beforehand.
Kate: We’re going to move you tomorrow because these apartments do not become available very often.
Dad: Well, I had already thought about moving.
Sigh of relief. Thank you, Jesus.
Laura: You keep your cards close to your chest!
Dad: I didn’t know if I would like it.
Kate: It will make your life so much easier, and you’ll have your own space. We still want you to be you.
YES! This is actually going to work!
Kate: We have entertainment every Wednesday evening. Choirs and other musical groups come in. I know how much you love music, Gerry.
Dad: You know my wife and I were the first ones to build a cottage here at Peter Becker. We got in on the ground floor. We have always loved it here.
Randy: At that time you bought a long term care policy, which helped when Mom was in the Alzheimers unit. Now that policy will help pay for your care.
Dad: I feel better already! (Laughs) What can I say?
Kate: You can always say yes.
Dad: How can I say no? (Laughs)
Laura: Do you want to see your new apartment now? Put your shoes on and let’s go!
I talk to my Dad alone before they leave.
Laurie: Dad, I love you. I am so glad you are going to move. You won’t regret it at all. You’ll have more interaction with people, you’ll love the meals and you can still ride your bike! Remember how you always say, “Life goes on?” Well, your new life is going to be awesome! My only regret is that when I come to visit, I won’t be sleeping in your spare room in my favorite sofa bed! I’ll miss your sun room, too, but I can’t wait to see your new digs!
Dad: When are you coming?
Laurie: Probably not till the summer. We’ll still go golfing, okay?
Dad: Yeah, sure!
I am too choked up to continue, so I say goodbye. It is so difficult to live hundreds of miles away. I thank God that my parents gave all they had to take care of me, keep me safe and give me a good education. Most of all, they told me about the love of Jesus, lived out their faith and instilled in me the habit of going to worship every week and being part of a community of faith.
I thank God for my siblings, who always demonstrated grace and never resented me because I could not pull my weight in caring for my parents. I thank God for my father, who knew in his heart that it was time to move. Every time I called he was cheerful, never complained and always found an occasion to say, “Oh well, life goes on.”
I also thank God for care communities all over the country like Peter Becker Community in Harleysville, Pennsylvania. I am especially grateful for faith-based retirement communities where our loved ones can continue to worship, be nurtured in a grace-filled, spiritual environment and continue to become all that God created them to be. Thank you, God, for always walking with us as life goes on.