Oh Well, Life Goes On

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.”

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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!

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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.

Blessings,
Laurie

25 thoughts on “Oh Well, Life Goes On

  1. Thank you for your honesty in this post! I spent my Sunday trying to console a parent that wanted me to get rid of the delusional people that are taking over her world.

  2. Thank you for sharing once again, Laurie … May I share a comment from my own experience … After my father died (1979) my mother’s greatest hope was to move to Clark Home (yes, I know that’s the old name!), of which she had once been a member of the Board. After a few months of holding this hope, her doctor told us her days were now limited, perhaps a week or so. It was about a week later that an opening developed at Clark, and she took it. I drove her over from her home to GR, and as she walked into the building, under her own strength, her statement was, “Home, at last.” Our family was so grateful that her hope could be fulfilled, and that she received such excellent care for the final few months before she gained her full healing. I trust that your father will find the same excellent care and caring in his new home.

    • Warn us to have a box of tissues near by. I can’t count the number of times I have sat with families having this same conversation when I was was a Parish Nurse. I have told both sides: It is the greatest gift a parent can give their adult children, making this move with grace as your Dad has done. A gift in knowing their parent will be cared for; and it is also the greatest gift adult children can give their parents in having this difficult conversation, to maintain the parents dignity, to speak with love (as you and your siblings have done). Thank you Laurie for sharing your story. Love, Wendy

    • Thanks for sharing,Laurie. This was beautiful. Only those who have been there can truly understand this situation. Thank you for your witness.
      George

  3. Thanks Laurie for sharing your story. We are on the receiving end of a similar story. A 96 year old lady my wife has worked for over the past two years left her apartment to move in with us. Bette moved into our house on January 31. She has a bed in our spare bedroom and uses the other spare bedroom as her sitting room. We share meals together and the rest of the house. It is a lot of change and adjustment for all of us. It’s been hard for Bette to accept the reality that she couldn’t take care of herself anymore.

  4. After my Mom passed away in 2004, I convinced my 88 year old Dad to move from northwest Iowa 780 miles to live by me in Michigan. We rented an awesome apartment just a couple blocks from my house. He was independent, chose his own church, bought a new car. I saw him every day. About 18 months later, some scary apartment incidents, erratic driving, a stroke and hospital stay with the help of a capable social worker, we moved Dad to assisted living about 5 miles away. Tough and tearful decisions, but when the tables are turned from them taking care of you, you do what’s in their best interest. I was never close to Dad my whole life and thank God every day that we had those 3 plus years together. They weren’t always easy, but I’d sure do it again…

  5. Laurie: again a beautiful message from the heart…It is so hard in transitions , I remember it well…Know that I am wrapping my arms around you and your dad and family as you make this transition. And saying a prayer .your dad is so loved by all of his family and that is a blessing that helps us through the transitions of our lives

  6. Hi Laurie,

    how I can relate! It was the hardest thing my sister and I had to do, and accross the ocean! – Thanks again for sharing!
    Toni
    PS: are you keeping your promise to also take care of yourself?

  7. I have such fond memories of your dad. I remember skiing with him and biking too but I also remember the chairlift ride where he shared how very proud he was of you and your ministriy. To that I add, Amen!

  8. A tear has fallen on my desk! Thank you Laurie for sharing what had to be a heart wrenchig time for you not to be there with your siblings in showing your Dad how deeply he is loved. He knows!.

  9. Your timing is unbelievable. My brothers, sisters and I have been going through this with our mother the last week. It had become clear she could no longer live alone. We all dreaded the day she would have to give up her independence and at age 88 move to a place where she could be supported and safe. She surprised us by telling us she was confused and scared and she need to go somewhere she would have help. God does have a way of smoothing the way for all of us.

    • Paul,God bless you as you move through this process with your mother. What a gift that she also realized she needed help.

  10. Thank you Laurie for your blog about your father’s next journey. The conversation by the social workers and your siblings with your father was so loving and caring. I know it was hard for you not to be there too.
    It brought back memories and tears for me when I was on that journey with my mother.
    So glad to hear your father is with people who love him and will watch over him when his children can’t be there. Blessings, Barb

  11. Laurie,
    For many reasons, the quote from Robert Frost has followed me around all day. It says it all.
    Thank you and with love,
    Shirley K.

  12. Laurie,
    I feel the depth of emotion that you went through. I was also the long distance child a few years back. As a social worker, I have had to work with families and residents with the adjustment issues. It’s tough no matter what side you’re on.

  13. Oh Laurie , I cried when I read this. I was very close to my dad too and could take care of him for a long time as he just lived down the street . I now live in his house and have so many happy memories. I feel for all of you , dear. Love and prayers Bunny

  14. Hi. My dad was 88 and his Alzheimer’s was progressing. He needed more care than my mother could provide. With my husband and my 36 year-old son I found a place I liked for him to move to. I took my dad there to see a room I reserved for him and I had the contract drawn up. Although I’d also taken my younger brother to see it too–a pathetic man who hadn’t worked decades, had spent months in jail, but lived with abundant, illogical support from my mother, he refused to sign on and my mother wouldn’t get involved. So instead of moving him, my brother (and mother?) decided to withhold my father’s blood-thinning meds, Coumadin, for almost a month, despite my calling my mother many, many times to warn her that my dad, as per several calls from his cardiologist, needed his Coumadin levels checked immediately. She took the message. As I learned later, my brother and mother withheld these meds, and my dad had the predicted stroke and two weeks later he was dead. But my brother was guaranteed the $5000/month he was used to getting, since we didn’t have to pay for my dad’s care.
    My brother deliberated killed my father. I wanted to kill him. I sought out FUMC as therapy and it’s worked for me. I no longer obsess over how I will kill my brother. But I have not been able to forgive him.
    Thank you Jesus! Christina Hill

  15. Laurie, I just now had time to read this wonderful Kleenex-required post. It reminded me so much of my grandpa’s experience at Clark. He, too, was the first (along with my grandma) to occupy his beloved town home, but eventually needed to move into the “big house.” It wasn’t an easy transition, but at the same rate, it went much smoother than it could have…and it was definitely necessary. Wishing you and your family many blessings.

  16. Laurie, my heart goes out to you. My sister and I went through this same agony several years ago with our step-mother. We loved her dearly, even though she became very abusive to us and the staff, and really were her sole caregivers for quite a few years—the last 3 years in a nursing home. Our faith and trust led us through this time. Even though she would ever be able to say “thank you” we knew if she were her “old self” she would still love us and be grateful. What hard decisions we must make for those we love, and must follow the path God has made for us.

    As an aside: I just finished your book, Recess. It touched me greatly. I am blessed to have you and Gary as my pastors and you remain in my prayers. Love, Bobbie

    • Thank you for sharing your story, Bobbie. Your love for your step-mother was demonstrated in the difficult decision you had to make on her behalf. And I’m glad you loved the book. My only hope in writing it is that it might help someone else on their journey.

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