This is a tale of two aunts and their recent experiences as they have found themselves with no options but to go into a full-care home.
It’s an interesting story because it contains many of the complicated issues that are part of a family’s decision-making process when change is inevitable.
The first aunt was 102 years old when her foot got tangled up in her sheet as she got out of bed and she took a big tumble, shattering her hip so badly that she would be forever confined to a wheelchair, unable to get herself in or out of her chair for any reason.
Prior to the accident, she had been widowed for about six years and lived in her own home, by choice, for eight months of the year, spending the four harshest winter months in her son’s home.
She liked her independence and was quite capable of looking after herself.
Her days were spent keeping the fire in her wood stove going and talking to others on the phone.
She was very social, although she didn’t get out much unless someone else took her.
We were all worried, when it was obvious she would not be coming home from the hospital, that she would pine away in a home.
But instead, she has blossomed there, enjoying the company of staff and the constant hum of activity around her.
Her roommate situation has been a little unsettling for us, but she takes it all in stride and is as happy if not happier, as she was in her own home.
The second aunt, 86 years old, recently had a knee operation, which resulted in some complications that made it impossible to return to the two-storey house of her daughter, where she had been living for the last couple of years.
She has been widowed for almost 40 years and has lived a very independent lifestyle up to about two years ago, when her mobility made it easier for the family to take her in than constantly be going between residences.
The difficulty for her is that the care facility runs on a very different schedule than she does.
For much of her life she has preferred to stay up very late at night and sleep much of the day, but that is not the rhythm of an institution.
The caregivers who come to bathe her at 7 a.m. are not exactly met with joy and gratitude and, as might be expected, there is no one on staff going around giving warm baths at 2 a.m., when she’d like one.
Additionally, she’s a finicky eater and likes to have attention the second she feels she needs it, regardless of the time of day.
Put institutional food and busy staff with those needs and you have a recipe for unhappiness.
In her words, she is anxious to either get better enough to get out or to die.
Her children stew constantly about her mood, but it is not possible for them to provide her with the care she needs in their homes right now.
Putting a parent into the care of an institution is an incredibly difficult decision, sometimes necessitated by physical health issues, sometimes by mental health issues and sometimes, through the choice of a parent who might prefer the busy and social atmosphere of a home full of his or her peers.
It’s really about finding a place that can meet their needs and, with some luck, beat to the same rhythm.
Graham Hookey is an educational and parenting writer (firstname.lastname@example.org).