As we age: A choice to maintain her, our dignity

Move to the retirement home will be the third major transition for mom within a year

  • Nov. 2, 2012 6:00 a.m.

With my mom’s recent acceptance to a retirement home, she is facing the daunting task of what to take with her and what she needs to equip her room.

Given the size of the space, the easy answer is, not much.

With a little break in my work the second weekend of November, I have decided to go to Newfoundland and help her move in. I could tell in her voice early last week that there was a slight sense of being overwhelmed. She has friends who would help but she won’t confide the kind of anxiety she might be feeling to them, which would make her even more anxious. I’m a safe person to get upset with when she’s just feeling upset and doesn’t know why.

For now, we’ll be closing up the home for the winter, a common practice in the outports of Newfoundland when most people go somewhere else.  If she’s feeling up to it, or simply wants a break from the room she’ll be living in, we can reopen it in the spring or summer, when there are more people around and family heading that way for the summer holidays.

It’s been just a year since my Dad passed away.  My Mom has lived with my family for half of that time and now lived on her own for the other half.  The move to the retirement home will be the third major transition for her within a year.  That’s a lot of change for anyone, much less someone who hasn’t experienced this kind of upheaval since she was a young woman leaving home to be a bride.

She’s trying to be stoic about it, often referring to the “inevitability of aging” and the things that come with it.  She likes to speak as though she’s making choices that she wants to make, but I’ve come to the conclusion that she’s making choices that she thinks she should make so as not to become a burden.

Her parents both passed away rather suddenly in their mid-60s, but she and my dad looked after his mother for a couple of years through a difficult time, and they both decided they would not do that to their children if they had any options.

I think she’d prefer to live with us for the winter, but she is mortified to think that if she had a stroke or some other debilitating condition, that she wouldn’t be able to get out-of-province medical coverage, or would end up on a waiting list to get into a care facility in Newfoundland.

By taking a spot in a low-care facility now, she’s in the system and if something happens, she knows she’ll be taken care of and we won’t have to worry about her.

At one point, when I was visiting this summer, I commented to her, as a joke, that if she ended up needing care and she was with us, I owed her a lot of cleaned diapers from the years she looked after me.  She gave me quite the nasty gaze and declared that she’d never want that indignity to be part of our relationship.  At that moment, looking into her eyes, I understood better why she was making choices that didn’t include her children.

Of course she’d rather be with family, but only on her terms, as a strong, independent and dignified individual.  If any of that is going to be compromised, she’d rather have people professionally trained to look after her, for our sake and hers’.

That is why my entreaties for her to come and stay with us were met with such resistance each time I proposed them.  She needed to make a choice that would maintain her and our dignity, regardless of the circumstances.

On the one, hand I didn’t like it; on the other hand, it made absolute sense for the kind of independent person she is and wants to stay.

Graham Hookey writes on education, parenting and eldercare  (